In 2017, the Matheson History Museum celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Alachua County Historical Society, which merged with the Matheson after the museum opened in 1994. In addition, the museum marks the sesquicentennial of the 1867 Matheson House. In 1977, Sarah Matheson—a founding member and past president of the Alachua County Historical Society—established a trust to donate the Matheson House to the Society. Sarah Matheson was also a founder of the Matheson Historical Center, which later changed its name to the Matheson History Museum.
The roots of the Matheson History Museum can be traced to the Alachua County Historical Society, which was born on May 16, 1967 in the old U.S. Post Office and Federal Building (now the Hippodrome State Theatre). According to Ben Pickard’s book, Thirty Years of Making History: The Alachua County Historical Society 1967-1997, the Alachua County Historical Society “owes its founding to the vision and determination of just one person, Helen Cubberly Ellerbe.” Ellerbe, a librarian, served as chair of the Alachua County Historical Commission and was the founding president of the Alachua County Historical Society.
Before the museum opened, monthly meetings of the Society were held at members’ homes and featured programs by speakers such as University of Florida history professors Samuel Proctor, John Mahon and Michael Gannon; Thelma Boltin; U. S. “Preacher” Gordon; Sarah Matheson; Helen Ellerbe; John Paul Jones; Mark Barrow; Jerald Milanich; Sigsbee Scruggs; J. Wayne Reitz; Ted Crom; Kathleen Deagan; Kevin McCarthy; and Joel Buchanan.
The Alachua County Historical Society worked to preserve and interpret the history of the area by erecting historical markers and hosting regular programs and field trips to historic sites. In addition, the Society petitioned to save the old City Hall, assisted in the preservation of the Hotel Thomas and Haile Plantation, and campaigned to preserve historic buildings on the University of Florida campus. After a fire at the Matheson House in 1985, the Society financed its restoration and worked to transform it into a house museum.
“In the late 1980s,” Ben Pickard wrote, “Society members led by Mark Barrow, Marinus Latour, Helen Ellerbe, Sarah Matheson, Les May, John Paul Jones, Sam Proctor, Ben Pickard and Murray Laurie formed the Matheson Historical Center, which created the present-day museum and library and soon to be opened home museum. In fact, nearly every person on the Matheson Board had been an active member, board participant or president of the Society.” Together, the founders developed the museum’s library and collections and recruited architect Jay Reeves to transform the former American Legion Hall into a history museum.
Today, the Matheson History Museum interprets and preserves the history of Alachua County and its environs through historic preservation, including restoring the former Gainesville Gospel Tabernacle and Melting Pot building, which is now the Matheson Library & Archives; offering innovative exhibitions and programs on a variety of topics in local and Florida history; and promoting new scholarship, including the forthcoming history of Alachua County as seen through the eyes of the twin copper lion statues that once guarded the 1885 Alachua County Courthouse. The Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW) will publish this book, written by Matheson board member Mae Clark, in the fall. One of the twin lions was recently installed at the Matheson History Museum, where it joins other artifacts from the red brick courthouse.
Executive Director: Dr. Peggy Macdonald
Librarian and Archivist: Bobby Parker
Director of Development & Grants: Jason Stanford
Marketing Director: Joanna Grey Talbot
Board President: Dr. Anita Spring
President-Elect: Lawrence D. Reynolds
Board Treasurer: Lawrence Lokken
Board Secretary: Pamela Robb
At left: Augusta Florida Steele Matheson with daughter Catherine Douglas Matheson, ca. 1887. The Matheson's collections include the letters of Augusta Florida Steele Matheson and her father, Augustus Steele, who founded Cedar Key and established Hillsborough County.
MATHESON HISTORY MUSEUM
513 E University Avenue Gainesville FL 32601 US
Hours: 11:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., Tuesday - Saturday
The museum also holds special events at night and on the weekends. Please see our events page for updated information. The Matheson History Museum is free and open to the public (donations are encouraged).
Phone: (352) 378-2280
Highlights of the Matheson History Museum's collections include over 20,000 historic Florida postcards from every county in the state; 1,500 Florida stereoview cards; a large collection of illustrations of Florida from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and Harper’s Weekly newspaper; the Bone Photograph Collection, featuring photographs taken by local professional photographer Elmer Bone from the 1920s to the 1950s; records of local civic and social groups; and a large Alachua County History Subject File. A selection of the museum's postcards can be viewed online on the University of Florida Digital Collections website, http://ufdc.ufl.edu/mhcc.
The Matheson History Museum’s library books are catalogued in the collection of the Alachua County Library District and are searchable on their website, www.acld.lib.fl.us.
The Matheson History Museum also houses a large collection of stereoscopic views from the late 19th and early 20th centuries depicting locations around Florida. The cards capture a time in American history when Florida experienced tremendous growth in industry, development, tourism and agriculture. Many of the cards were designed to entice visitors and record the natural beauty and wonder of this unique geographic area. To schedule an appointment to view these rare stereograph cards, please contact the museum at email@example.com.
Congratulations to the winning name, "General Gaines!" Thank you to all who submitted names and voted. If you haven't already, be sure to come meet the General!
The Matheson History Museum's mission is to preserve and interpret the history of Gainesville and Alachua County, Florida, and surrounding regions.
Below: The second Alachua County Courthouse in downtown Gainesville. The building was demolished in 1961.