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Spirit, history set in granite: Gainesville High’s iconic rock gets 50th commemoration
School's traditional symbol has borne multiple messages over a half century
Gainesville High School fans on Sunday will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its painted rock located at the school’s entrance. - photo by Joshua Silavent

The big granite rock ripping through the earth along Pearl Nix Parkway between Wilshire Trails Park and Longwood Park near Gainesville High School is often painted to show school spirit and commemorate student events.

But it’s also become an emblem for the wider Gainesville community to cherish, celebrate and memorialize life’s special moments. And it all began 50 years ago.

Rockin’ 50th Paint Party

What: Celebrating the history and legacy of Gainesville High School’s painted rock

When: 4:30 p.m. today. Free shuttle service will be provided from the Gainesville High School parking lot

Where: The painted rock is located between Wilshire Trails Park and Longwood Park (and adjacent to GHS) off Pearl Nix Parkway

The Gainesville City School System will host a Rockin’ 50th Paint Party beginning at 4:30 p.m. today to honor the iconic symbol.

“It’s been a wonderful thing over the years to celebrate and mark all kinds of occasions,” said Merrianne Dyer, former Gainesville schools superintendent and a GHS graduate. “It’s been a unique tribute to whatever’s going on.”

Dyer was in high school when the rock was first given a proclamation during a student assembly. The class of 1968 was the first senior group to establish the painting tradition.

In a 1988 story from The Times, then-Police Commissioner Harold Black recalled how the rock was unearthed during a road-building project. 

“They tried to move it with the bulldozers, and it wouldn’t budge. They’d just sit there and spin,” he said in the article. “So they just kept digging out around it and it became a huge rock. ... The next thing we knew, the Gainesville High students had gone down there and painted that rock.”

Throughout the years, the rock also has been defiled by rival schools, which brings to mind one of Dyer’s favorite memories.

A few years ago, prior to a football game against North Hall High, students from Gainesville High asked for Dyer’s permission to camp out and spend the night at the rock to protect it from potential vandals.

“I took that proclamation seriously myself,” Dyer said.

Dyer agreed to grant the students their wish, but said she woke up in the middle of the night and drove to the rock to check on them.

“That’s my funniest recollection,” she said.

According to a sign posted at the site, “any person defacing the ‘rock’ or entering its legal boundaries without proper permission is subject to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.”  

The rock often is painted with birthday wishes and graduation celebrations. It has also recognized Gainesville’s connection to the 1996 Olympics.

“It’s a tradition that brings back memories,” Gainesville school board member Willie Mitchell said. “It’s a point of pride for the citizens of Gainesville.”

Indeed, it’s a landmark for the entire community.

Mitchell said other schools now have rocks unearthed that are also painted.

“It all started with the one at Gainesville High,” he added.

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