All that Remains of Half Moon

 

Half Moon School | Alachua County, FL | c. 1930s

This school building was erected in the 1930s for African American students in rural North Florida. Over time, its community dwindled away, but this building has been relocated many times in an effort to save the only remaining history of a community that has disappeared from the maps.

Florida Southern locomotive at Gainesville, Florida, c. 1881.

The Community of Half Moon

In the 1870s, rail lines were expanding across the interior of Florida, connecting Jacksonville and Fernandina with the Gulf of Mexico. Over the following years, homes and small communities began to pop up along the transport routes. As early as 1880, a community called Half Moon appeared on the maps, located halfway between Archer and Newberry, named after Half Moon Pond. Most area residents back then worked as farmers but as the decades crept by, new industries came to rural Florida, fueled by an interconnected network of railroads to move goods. During this period that phosphate mines and turpentine camps employed many of the citizens of Half Moon.

Schools For Half Moon

By the late 1880s, the white residents of Half Moon decided it was time to build a proper school building for their children to learn in. Despite their rural location, they wanted to give their children the best chance they could at education outside of the home and farm. In 1886, they made an application for a school for white children that was accepted, provided that the community raised significant support for it themselves. Namely, they had to donate an acre of land, and raise the funds to construct the school building, which was known as Half Moon #56.

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Back then, it was customary for students to attend school in the Winter months when they weren’t needed as much on the farm.  So the community was also required to provide a pot-belly stove for warming the building in the Winter. Students who lived closest to the school would take turns coming in early to get the fire going for the other students. The school’s first teacher, Miss Birdie Dudley, had earned a certificate to teach through the 3rd grade, and for a 5-month teaching contract, she was paid $25/month to teach between 15-19 students.

Newspaper listing from November 5, 1905, announcing the teachers for Alachua County, including Half Moon #56 and #43. The white teacher for Half Moon, Donia Ford, was paid $30 and the African American teacher for Half Moon #43, W.A. Rochelle, was paid $20.

In November 1892, the first record of a school for African American students at Half Moon (referred to as Half Moon #43) appears, with James Mickens as its first teacher, earning $20 per month, although it closed in 1894 due to low enrollment. In March 1906, enrollment at the Half Moon School (white) had dropped too and was consolidated with the nearby Jonesville School. The building that once served as the Half Moon School (white) was donated to the African American students of the community and in 1907, Half Moon #43 re-opened to serve them with its first teacher, Miss Carrie Childs.

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Students came from up to 4 miles away but without public transport, most of them walked 8 miles total to get there. But I came across a story that helped to paint a better picture of what it was like here back then. Every day, a local man would pick up as many local children as he passed on his way into town. They’d climb into the back of the truck bed and ramble down the dirt farm road towards Half Moon School #43- but if you missed the truck pickup- you were walking the whole way that day.

Although this photo is not of Half Moon, it is from an African American school, built about the same time as Half Moon #43, featuring a potbelly stove, similar to the one they had. This photograph was taken in 1916.

A New Building For Half Moon #43

As one local shared about her schooldays here from 1927-1934, she recalled that Half Moon #43 was in bad shape during that time- with a leaky roof, no electricity or lighting, and only a wood-burning stove for warmth. She explained that back then, the wood for the stove had to be donated by locals or gathered by students, and sometimes- they went without. By the end of the 1930s, the c. 1886 school building was taken down and in 1935, an application was made for a new African American school at Half Moon. Along with nominal support from government programs, they raised the funds to build this 30-foot by 40-foot, one-room schoolhouse with two doors to separate entrances for girls and boys.

Changes For Half Moon

But things wouldn’t last for long here as industries shifted and another World War changed the fabric of the country. Half Moon residents moved away for better jobs and like so many other dots along the map, their community disappeared.

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In 1949, no permanent teacher had been assigned to Half Moon #43, and in 1950, the original land where it stood was sold. The schoolhouse was relocated a few miles away to Newberry Elementary. But at its new location, the building fell out of use again and became dilapidated- prompting it to be moved in 1975 to a park in Gainesville in hopes of saving it. Once more, those plans fell through and in 1989, it was relocated for the final time to Morningside Nature Center in Gainesville. Damage to the building was repaired, an accessibility ramp was added, and it was painted red. However, later research determined that the most likely color for the schoolhouse would have been white so it was repainted later.

Half Moon Community & School Today

Today all that marks the former community at its original location is the Half Moon Pond, which has dried up and refilled over the years.

In 1914, noted geologist, Elias Howard Sellards visited Half Moon during a statewide research study on the sinkholes of Florida when he created this photograph. The description reads: “Nearly filled sink hole pond– half mile northwest of Half Moon, Alachua County” courtesy of the Florida Memory Project.

This school building that was relocated to preserve its story can be visited at the Morningside Nature Center in Gainesville. The school is available for public visits during park hours (exterior only).


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