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'A Beautiful Artifact': 25-Foot Scroll Of Alachua County And Florida History Is Now On Digital Display

Nobody knows who made the 25-foot artifact of Alachua County, Florida and U.S. history.

Nearly two years ago, an employee found a scroll rolled inside a lightweight plastic storage tube in a second-floor storage closet in the County Administration Building in Gainesville.

On the tan butcher paper are dozens of sketches depicting historical moments beginning with Native Americans and a caricature of Juan Ponce De León, the Spanish conquistador, deciding in 1513, “I’ll name it Florida.” It ends in the mid-1990s with Gainesville being “city of the year.”

Across the top are three banners. The first blares “History of Florida” and is pulled across the seas by a pre-Revolutionary War-era boat, the second  “History of Alachua” flown by early aircraft, and the third “Yesterday … Today … and … Tomorrow” strewn behind a spaceship.

The employee gave it to Kathleen Pagan, a senior planner with the growth management department and its liaison to the county’s historical commission.

“I thought to myself that it was very interesting,” Pagan said recently.

A sketch has a newspaper announcing the birth of Alachua County in 1824. Another tells that “50 percent” of its population was African American when Abraham Lincoln was elected president. The scroll also has “Gator Mania” at the University of Florida as far back as 1908.

In the 1950s, a station wagon transports a picturesque family through suburbia. Between the Sixties and Eighties, Woodstock and Watergate leave their mark on the country while The Oaks Mall and Hippodrome State Theatre open in Gainesville. In the 1990s, the internet is born worldwide, but one out of every four citizens in the county lives below the poverty level.

“It is very well-drawn,” Pagan said of the timeline.

Based on the continuity of style – the same handwriting is etched across the scroll and bright colors are consistent in all of the drawings – she believes it was outlined by one person.

Pagan quickly set out to find a new home for what she described as “a beautiful artifact that conveys history in an unusual format that we hope would generate interest in history.”

She took it to the Matheson History Museum, but it didn’t have the digital equipment and space to keep it. So the scroll collected dust in Pagan’s office for nearly a year. Then, in January, it exchanged hands once again, this time at a county historical commission meeting.

Pat Moore, the historical commission’s chair, suggested that the scroll be digitized to protect it from damage and to make it available for viewing online. Moore took it to the digital support service department of the George A. Smathers Library at UF.

Fletcher Durant, the library’s director of conservation and preservation, peered over the scroll and followed the drawings closely. He told Moore that it was in great condition due to its time away from the sun while in storage. Otherwise, the marker would have faded over time.

Jake Goodson, the facility’s large and special format imaging technician, led the four-week digitization. Goodson said he used seven pieces of equipment to capture more than 100 pictures of the scroll, which were then thanks to editing software stitched together into a seamless image.

It can now be viewed online via the Smathers library’s website or at the top of this story.

“We get a lot of maps, but this project excites me because of the drawings,” Goodson said. “A lot of the things we see here don’t have as much color. It can get monotonous.”

Meanwhile, Pagan continued to seek answers to the scroll’s mysterious origin. She turned to Jim Notestein, 77, a former Alachua County commissioner from Gainesville.

Between the sketches past the early 1900s are clusters of signatures and dates. Notestein said they belonged to community members who came together in the mid-90’s for meetings about the county’s future. The dates next signal when each participant arrived in Alachua County, he said.

Notestein is foggy about what happened at those meetings. He recalls observing the scroll in the lunchroom of an elementary school. The timeline was displayed and discussions were held regarding what local historical events were worth noting, Notestein said.

“The whole idea was to create some camaraderie and develop some confidence among ourselves to become informants,” he said.

Another former commissioner, Kate Barnes, 74, of Cross Creek, also participated in the meetings. A retired illustrator and painter, Barnes said there were four subcommittees consisting of “a real cross-section of humanity,” and “you wouldn’t believe how much we agreed on.”

They held the meetings over three years and some of the things discussed came to fruition, such as the redevelopment of downtown Gainesville, Barnes said.

Today, the artifact is back in Pagan’s office. Moore said she hopes a physical replica will be on public display someday – even as the commission continues to pursue more answers.

“We’re looking into who actually did it, what was its purpose and how it got shoved into a closet,” Moore said.

Edysmar is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.