Recycle this historic building

Never forget that Lewisville was almost born at a picnic on the edge of Paynes Prairie.

William Lewis was an influential Hog Town planter with a bit of an ego. And so, when Alachua County residents gathered for a picnic, on Sept. 6, 1853, to decide what to name a proposed new town – and whether it should become the new county seat – Lewis was pitched a deal by fellow grower James B. Bailey.

Support the new town and “we’ll call it Lewisville,” Bailey promised. But if it becomes the new county seat “we’ll call it Gainesville.”

This in honor of Edmund Gaines, the American general who captured Aaron Burr (but who, ironically, couldn’t beat the Seminoles, which is probably why we never named the stadium after him).

Lewis, thinking the county seat would stay in Newnansville, said OK.

Newnansville no longer exists. And Gainesville (built on land owned by Bailey, of course) has been the county seat ever since.

Thus was Gainesville born at a picnic at Boulware Springs, whose 194,000 gallons-a-day flow guaranteed the new town water aplenty.

It was also key to luring the University Of Florida away from Lake City, in 1905, with the promise of free water. So Boulware not only birthed our city, but sealed its destiny as host to Florida’s flagship university.

Boulware Springs supplied all of Gainesville’s water until 1913. And its old waterworks building was, fittingly, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

In years past Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail users could stop there for a drink and to use its rest rooms. But if you visit today you will find that still-impressive structure boarded up – its whitewashed brick walls pocked and peeling, and mold, rust and other signs of creeping deterioration everywhere in evidence.

Still, as one graffiti visionary has scrawled right next to the front door: “You are beautiful! In this moment. Just the way you are.”

And it is still a beautiful building with all of its age marks.

The good news is that renovation is in the offing. The city commission has approved $825,000 to make it so.

“We anticipate beginning work on the design as soon as a local architecture firm with experience in these types of buildings is identified,” said Peter R. McNiece, project manager for Gainesville’s Wild Spaces and Public Places office.

All of which means that it is not too early to start thinking about how to repurpose this historic edifice.

Depot Park has, for all practical purposes, become the new western terminus of the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail. So just reopening the old waterworks as a trailhead adds little real community value.

On the other hand, the popularity of the trail insures that a steady flow of people will continue to pass by. And many would stop if they have reason to do so.

Here’s an idea. The City entered into a public-private arrangement to turn the old railway station at Depot Park into a store and beer and wine bar. One might imagine a similar partnership that would employ a restored Boulware Springs as…oh, I dunno, a bike shop, art studios, food court, distillery – any number of the sort of home-grown enterprises that are these days taking root all up and down the reengineered South Main Street corridor.

Deciding what the old waterworks should be in its next life is almost as important as restoring it to its former grandeur.

After all, this is the place where Lewisville was nearly born.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at Email him at

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