History of the Northeast Historic District

Virtual Tour

The Northeast Historic District remains one of the oldest and best preserved residential areas in Gainesville. Having survived from the 1870s until the present day, the district developed in several stages of construction, embracing eight subdivisions along with the original Gainesville section. The 290 historic buildings located within this sixty-three block area reflect the architectural styles prevalent in Florida from the 1880s through the 1930s. The most notable early landmark in the area was the wooden building which housed the East Florida Seminary on present day Northeast First Street. Destroyed by fire in 1883, it was replaced by a two-story brick building which still survives as Epworth Hall. The wooden dormitory built beside the classroom later became the White House Hotel when the University of Florida campus was established and it remained until its demolition in 1962.

Twenty-four of the Northeast homes were built before 1900, mainly in the popular Queen Anne style of the period. Houses like the Bodiford and the Richards on the corner of Northeast Third Avenue and Third Street, with their jutting gables, variety of roof forms and spacious verandas, recollect a time when leading businessmen and merchants walked home from their downtown offices to dine with their families. Two Italianate style homes also date from this period: the Doig House on University Avenue, noted for its bay windows and bracketed cornice, and the Seigler House on Ninth Street.

The establishment of the phosphate industry in the 1890s compensated for the loss of the citrus groves during the severe freezes and Gainesville became one of the largest phosphate producers in the state. Two residences con-structed in the 1900s reflect the importance of this industry for Gainesville. Charles W. Chase, president of the Dutton Phosphate Company, began building his impressive private residence in 1906. He died before its completion in 1910 and William Reuben Thomas finished the home and later converted it into Gainesville's finest hotel. Another phosphate company executive, Albert H. Blanding, purchased his Victorian "gingerbread" home on Northeast Third Street in 1901.

During this period the city constructed the Gainesville Graded and High School in 1900 on East University Avenue. A second building was added to this twelve room brick school in 1912 to accommodate increased enrollments. When the two buildings were connected and remodeled in 1939, they became Kirby Smith School. North of the school an early subdivision, the Home Investment Company's Additions, contained twenty-nine new homes built between the 1910s and the 1920s which reflected the transition from the Queen Anne style to the Colonial Revival. An earlier example of this style was the Padgett Apartments on Northeast Sixth Street with its symmetrical facade, projecting central pavilion and Palladian windows. As a result of the statewide economic growth of the 1920s many new subdivisions were plat-ted and scores of now significant residences constructed. The old Sunkist development of Major Thomas became The Highlands in 1922 with Highland Terrace and Highland Heights following soon after. The Highlands featured a hundred foot wide private park bordering Sweetwater Branch. In 1926 a water retention basin was added which became known as Vidal's Lake after the city engineer who designed it. As the number of ducks increased, however, it became the "Duck Pond" and gave a name to the whole neighborhood. These subdivisions became popular, exclusive residential sections for prominent Gainesville businessmen like the Peppers, Parrishes and Adkinses, and also for University administrators like President Tigert and Vice-President James Farr.

These homes mirror all the popular styles of the 1920s: Georgian Revival mansions stand beside stuccoed Mediterranean-Revival cottages, while Craftsman bungalows, Tudor and Prairie style homes and fieldstone houses can also be found in this area. Tall loblolly pines and huge live oaks shade these houses, while the landscaped grounds of the Hotel Thomas and Roper Park combined with the Duck Pond and Sweet-water Branch to provide ample green space for strolling and siting.

By 1939 most of the building within the district ended and the neighborhood remained primarily single family residences. The one- and two-story scale of these buildings, their uniform setback and their traditional use of wood and brick contributed to the harmony and attractive quality of the neighborhood. In the decades after World War II many of the older residences like the Baird and Stringfellow homes near downtown were demolished to make way for banks and parking lots, while the homes along First Street were converted into offices. The Northeast District itself was threatened by the business and government building expansion from downtown, and when the old Hotel Thomas closed a crisis ensued.

To save the area from further deterioration and to preserve its older homes, the Northeast citizens formed Historic Gainesville, Inc., in 1972. With broad community support and the endorsement of the City Commissioners, HGI secured an option to lease the old hotel. The city then purchased the property and began its five-year long restoration which resulted in the present day Thomas Center and which remains a magnificent example of citizen and local government cooperation.

Finally, on February 19, 1980, after a decade of study and preservation surveys, the Northeast Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places -- a step which recognized and honored an important part of Gainesville's and Florida's cultural past. As one of North Florida's first historic districts, it paved the way for the later creation of the Southeast and the Pleasant Street Historic Districts.

This information has been taken from the booklet titled: "Historic Gainesville: A Tour Guide to the Past," and edited by Ben Pickard. Published by Historic Gainesville, Inc. with funding from the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources, 1990.