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Hanging on to history
Ornaments immortalize Gainesvilles unique past
The 1997 Main Street Gainesville ornament was an ode to the downtown square. - photo by Tom Reed

When the Gainesville City Council met in 1910 and agreed to purchase a Chandler Street property, they could hardly have known the legacy that their actions would leave behind.

The property - then known as the U.R. Waterman property - would become the home of the Candler Street School.

"The building still looks exactly the same," said Frances Miller-Haynes, who taught sixth grade at the school for 12 years.

"It was really a well-built building."

Her remarks aren't sugar-coated memories - they're completely true. By the time that she came on board around 1942, the school already had survived the 1936 tornado, which destroyed much of Gainesville.

After teaching at the school for more than a decade, Miller-Haynes got quite a surprise in 1963.

"The superintendent came into my classroom one day and said that the board had voted the night before and I had been elected principal," Miller-Haynes said.

"It really was a surprise, but I loved those little children. I felt very comfortable there."

Building the school proved to be a sound investment. It was purchased for $3,500 in 1910, the school was completed for $12,500 in 1911 and by 1912 the property's value was estimated at $20,000.

Every year, Main Street Gainesville picks a different landmark from the city's history and immortalizes it with a holiday ornament. This year's choice was an easy one to make.

"We started the planning process back in March. Everyone that I talked to kept asking when we were going to do Candler Street School, so we went with that one," said Angela Thompson, Main Street program manager.

"It's a popular piece of local history because so many people who still live in Gainesville attended school there."

The school first opened in September 1911. The teaching staff consisted of six educators - one for each grade, levels one through six. According to some accounts, around 165 students showed up to school on the first day.

Once the population began spreading throughout the county, the city school was forced to close in 1978. It was purchased in 1981 by Don Carter, who worked with partners Jim Bates and John Carter to restore the building and develop it into office suites.

In 1982, the former school building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Historic Downtown Christmas Ornament is now in its 15th printing.

The first ornament in 1996 featured the "Old Joe Downtown Square." Old Joe was unveiled in 1909 as a commemorative monument to Confederate soldiers. It was erected by the Longstreet Chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy.

The U.S. Courthouse, also known as the federal building, on Spring Street was featured on the 2003 ornament. The white marble and granite building was constructed in 1910 and at one point housed the local post office. It also survived the 1936 tornado.

Last year's ornament featured Engine 209, which is located at Engine 209 Park on West Academy Street. The city was given the engine after it was retired from the Gainesville Midland Railroad in the late 1950s.

Other featured buildings include Hunt Tower, old city hall and the Hosch Building.

This year's gold-plated ornaments can be purchased for $20 at the following downtown businesses - Frames You-Nique, Gem Jewelry, Saul's and Carol's Closet.