Rance O. Braley: Archer boasts of many firsts in its history


Published: Monday, March 10, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 7, 2014 at 10:37 p.m.

By Rance O. Braley

Special to The Sun

Often, I read letters about the problems Archer has, but I would like to say why I like living in Archer. On March 15, our town will celebrate Yulee Railroad Day. This put me in mind of some of the “firsts” and “onlys” our town can boast from our history.

* Archer had one of the first and last skirmishes of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) happen in the area. Hickory Sink and the Battle of Kanapaha Prairie in 1835 occurred near town and soldiers from Fort Wacahoota were ambushed by Creeks in May 1842 near Blue Pete Lake.

* David L. Yulee, Florida's first U.S. senator and railroad promoter, made his home in Archer at the Cottonwood Plantation.

* The Confederate “Treasure Train” disbanded at Yulee's plantation in May 1865, fueling rumors of buried gold.

* Laurel Hill Cemetery is said to have the remains of several Union soldiers killed in action near Otter Creek in February 1865.

* In the 1870s, Archer had the first and for many years the only Quaker meeting house. One of the members' son, T. Gilbert Pearson, went on to co-found the Audubon Society.

* Archer helped end Reconstruction with a ballot-box stuffing incident in 1876, in which Hayes was elected over Tilden. Archer was a stronghold of black Republicans; Josiah T. Walls, U.S. congressman, taught school here briefly and was a regular visitor.

* Archer's Bethlehem Presbyterian Church is the longest in continuous service in the St. Augustine Presbytery; it was built in 1884.

* Harmon Murray, a noted black outlaw on par with Billy the Kid, terrorized this part of Florida up to 1891. Born near Archer, he died coming back to town to burn it.

* Maddox Foundry was started in 1905 to make parts for the phosphate mines in the area. During World War II, Maddox made mortar casings. It is one of the last of its type in the Southeast.

* Archer was the first town to host a town fair in 1917; this was the prototype of small town festivals throughout the 20th and 21st Centuries.

* After the Rosewood Massacre, Archer was the first town to offer sanctuary to fleeing African Americans.

* Brice Lumber was the first company in Florida to pressure-treat lumber in 1952.

* In May 1970, Archer resident Henry Cotman was the first African American to graduate from University of Florida's College of Medicine.

* In 1968, Archer Industries was the first mobile home manufacturing plant to operate in the county.

* In late May 1971, Archer was the site of Dusserah, a rock concert; it was the last such event allowed by the county.

* In September 1970, Archer was selected as the first town in Alachua County to have a federally funded housing project built in it.

* In 1974, a quarter-acre okra patch turned out to be one of the richest bone-pits found in the eastern U.S.

* Archer was the recipient of the Southwest Landfill and was the first small town to begin recycling.

* The Olympic torch passed through Archer on July 3, 1996, on its way to Atlanta.

As can be seen, Archer has a rich history in many different areas. I'd like to invite all to come out and enjoy the ambience of our town on March 15.

Rance O. Braley is vice president of the Archer Historical Society.

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