Pinesville is the kind of place, as Gerie Crawford and Michelle Rutledge tell it, in small-town USA where gravesites are among its primary historical landmarks.
It’s an unincorporated area comprised of about 230 homes near Archer Road and U.S. Route 41 and roughly between Archer and Jonesville in western Alachua County.
“I used to tell people, before we had Google Maps, that you could only find us on one of your better maps,” said Gerie Crawford, a lifelong resident and retired assistant director of the county’s court services department. “It’s a small town, with one red light still after all these decades. But it is our home and we do love it.”
Pinesville is also known as either St. Peter or St. Paul, the names of nearby churches. Indeed, Crawford is the chair and Rutledge a member of the St. Peter-St. Paul Community Council.
“The small-town feel has shaped my morals and the outlook that I have on life,” said Rutledge, a pharmacist who earned a doctoral degree from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee.
Rutledge and Crawford told Pinesville’s story during a virtual conference hosted Wednesday by Tuskegee University in Alabama. The annual history research symposium was titled “Insecure: Black Life, Resilience & Joy in the Age of Uncertainty.” Their talk was part of a session called “From Inclusion to Equality: Recovery, Technology and a Black Farming Community.”
They have focused on their hometown’s heritage, history and future for several years. Sherry Dupree, a librarian and archivist, has helped since 2006, when she learned about Pinesville while studying the role of African Americans on what’s now Dudley State Farm in Newberry.
Dupree grew up in a small town in South Carolina before her family moved to Florida in 1977.
“Muscadine grapes – we could pick them and bring them back to Gainesville,” she told WUFT News. “They were so good, I just kept picking them, and eating them as I went on.”
During the symposium presentation, Crawford said one of the oldest gravestones in Pinesville rests over the remains of Thomas Rollins, who lived from 1818-1886. His descendants still live in the area, and their neighbors also hail from families with long lineages there as well, she said.
The Nattiel family was among the most prominent back in the day and still owns a lot of land in the community, Crawford said. Dollie Nattiel was among the slaves on a plantation called Cottonwood, which is now Pinesville and continues as an African American farming community.
Crawford recalled one of her earliest memories: Herbert Nattiel, who was Dollie’s great-great-great-grandson, farming watermelon and cantaloupe.
“He was always so neighborly,” she said. “He would walk around and say, ‘Oh, I just had some extra and thought I would come on by.’”
Rutledge spoke of watching her grandfather working on a farm, with her riding on the back of her uncle’s truck as they tended to crops.
“I remember the community helping one another,” she said. “Widowers would have fruits and vegetables at their door to help take care of their families.”
They ended their presentation speaking about the everyday heroes from their neighborhood.
“Those who went to work, took care of their family, helped out a neighbor in need,” Rutledge said. “These are the kinds of understated acts that shape our community.”
While working to preserve the history, the St. Peter-St. Paul Community Council is also working to spark conversations about modern-day racial and social injustices.
“I think the more we understand our differences to appreciate them – not to divide or separate us – it could really keep us together,” Rutledge said. “That and continuing to share our stories so more people understand where we come from.”
Sheena Yaa Harris, an associate professor of history and a symposium co-chair, said in an email that Tuskegee was honored to share Pinesville’s legacy with a national audience.
“The story was intriguing, and we understood its importance to the fabric of Florida, but more importantly, its impact on American history,” Harris said.