Depot Day brings out the memories

Ruby Williams addresses attendees at the Old Gainesville Depot, a former train station, during Depot Day. She proposes a bookstore and coffee shop be built in or near the Depot so the Porters community can have a source of educational entertainment.

Published: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 2:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 2:26 p.m.

While growing up in Williams' Quarters west of NW 6th Street near the Porters community in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Ruby Williams remembers freight train cars traveling near her house with advertisements encouraging people to save their metal because it was needed to help win World War II.

"There would be a freight car that came by with a sign on it saying ‘Save your scraps to kill the Japs,'" said Williams, 76, during the Depot Day event Saturday that was organized by the city of Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency. "We saw that wrote on the car boxes! I will never forget that."

The CRA held the three-hour event with hopes that older members of the community would share their memories, photos and stories about the Old Gainesville Depot Building, which is being restored as part of the transformation of the former industrial site off S. Main Street and Depot Avenue.

Williams was one of several people attending the event, including Vivian Filer, who was raised on SE 8th Street in the Springhill neighborhood east of the Depot Building.

Filer, 74, sat at a table and shared her memories, which included her family going to the Depot Building after it became an ice house to get "25 pounds of ice and carting it back home" as well as "playing up and down this street."

She also said she remember a black man named "Mr. Capers," who used to work in the building, and she remembers having to take clothes off the clothesline before the trains came by because the soot from the engine would make the clothes dirty.

Williams said she doesn't remember much about the Depot Building itself because it was segregated.

"We weren't allowed to come in this warehouse, but we used to walk by here on our way to Williams Elementary School," she said, adding that a white man used to feed her and other black children something they called "chewey" as they walked to and from school.

"Looking back on it now, it might have been something they fed animals," Williams said.

Williams said she has memories about the freight cars that used to travel the tracks that led to the building. She remembers seeing a man riding on one of the freight cars that her mother said must have been a "hobo," or traveling workers.

"He was just sitting back up in there, and that was the first time I had ever heard of a hobo," Williams said.

She also remembers when Mount Moriah Baptist Church, the church she was baptized in as a child, used to be located on SE 2nd Street near the northwest corner of what is now the RTS Rosa Parks Downtown Bus Depot.

She also remembers a store that used to be owned by a lady named "Mrs. Ida," that was located across the street from the Depot Building, where children used to go to buy two cookies for a penny.

"We used to go around and ask people if they wanted us to go to the store for them because we knew they were going to give us two pennies," said Williams, adding that she also remembers a Coca Cola plant being located across the street from old Mount Moriah, where workers could be seen putting tops on soda bottles.

Paul Ortiz, a University of Florida history professor and director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History program at UF, interviewed Williams and others. He said getting input from members of the community who lived near the Old Gainesville Depot Building is crucial.

"Mrs. Vivian and Mrs. Ruby are community historians, and they know so much about the history of Gainesville from World War II on, and Mrs. Ruby was telling me about some history that a lot of people would not reveal about the scraps," Ortiz said.

"I bet you can talk to a lot of individuals in Gainesville who are professional historians like myself and have never heard that story before."

Ortiz said it is exciting to him that the CRA is going to use input from people like Filer and Williams to make the Depot project a "place where all people feel welcome."

Lindsay Rizzo, a project coordinator with the CRA, said the event was held to make sure the CRA is doing all it can to make the project inclusive of the entire Gainesville community.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top