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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of lives, traditions and socialization, people yearn for a sense of normalcy and that includes long-standing traditions. One of those traditions in High Springs is the Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and this year the tradition continued, albeit with changes to match the times.

Located in the large field by Railroad Road and the new Farmers Market Pavilion, the tree lighting is sponsored by the High Springs Chamber of Commerce.

Last year, the park was filled with a record crowd of families bringing their children to watch the Christmas tree lighting and a chance to meet Santa Claus. Various business members of the Chamber and local churches provided booths distributing candy, popcorn, cookies and other treats to the children. Another booth was set up to help children make Christmas ornaments. People dressed as Christmas characters roamed the crowd interacting with the children and posing for photos.

This year, much of that was missing, but was replaced by other activities. All the hands-on booths for face painting, gift design, card making and other activities for the children were gone due to social distancing. All treats at the booths were individually wrapped to avoid cross contact. While children still got to visit with Santa, they sat next to him, with Santa wearing a face shield and the kids in required masks.

But other traditions continued. Santa still arrived by fire truck with a police escort and all lights flashing and sirens wailing. The High Springs Lions Club brought their Polar Express train over to offer free rides to the children. With the “train cars” only seating one child in open air and distanced apart, that tradition was able to continue. Booths still sold Christmas items and gifts for the children and Christmas music filled the air as the Christmas tree glowed at the end of the field near Main Street. Under the new pavilion, the farmers market brought additional vendors selling food, produce, deserts and art to the people attending the tree lighting.

“The Chamber wanted to keep the traditional tree lighting alive, but we were also concerned about pulling it off safely during the pandemic,” said Chamber of Commerce Communications Director Tina Corbett. “We had the largest crowd ever last year, with many coming from neighboring towns and we wanted to keep it more local and smaller this year for safety's sake. We didn't advertise it as much so we could keep it local for the High Springs community.

“We also spread things out a lot more and shortened the time of the overall event,” Corbett said. “It was a success with people still attending but a smaller crowd who respected the safety guidelines in this uncertain time of the virus. Everyone enjoyed the event and there was still that festive Christmas atmosphere.”

Even in light of COVID-19, the spirit of Christmas remained strong at the tree lighting ceremony as it was a time to spread good will to others.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The city of Newberry welcomed over 1,000 visitors on Nov. 21 in celebration of the fourteenth annual Fall Festival.

The event offered arts, crafts, food, and live music to kick off the beginning of the holiday season. With more than 30 vendors, there was an abundance of creativity, visual displays, and gifts for guests of all ages. 

Activities ranged from train and camel rides, which were favorites with children, to community-based blood supplier Life South, which offered complimentary gift bags, to-go souvenirs, and treats to attendees over the age of 18 who made donations.

The beautiful weather combined with the variety of vendors present at the festival made for the perfect November outing for the Newberry community. 

One local vendor from High Springs stole the hearts of residents as she used her booth to promote a higher cause. Karen Miner, 2019 Community Impact Award Winner, offered new children’s products, coupons, and information for her Just Between Friends (JBF) children’s consignment sale that will be held at Easton-Newberry this December.

The JBF franchise offers pop-up consignment sales providing local families a safe marketplace to sell their gently used children’s items to other families in the community. “We currently have around 450 families in Alachua County that sell with us and over 5,000 shoppers from all over the state through each event, partnering with local charities for eligible donations at the end of each sale—one of our largest partners being Foster Florida,” said Miner. Foster Florida is a non-profit organization that offers care and resources to foster families and children.

Once a JBF sale is finished, families are provided the option to come back and collect their products or have the non-purchased items donated to a charity where it will be properly handled and donated to a family in need.

Miner said that this year alone, the JBF franchise has donated over 67,000 in-kind donations to local charities across the country, with one sale still to take place in Newberry December 10-13 at the Easton-Newberry Sports Complex. The sale will include gently loved books, toys, and clothing for children sized newborn through teen, and more.

In addition to activities and vendors, families and friends at the festival enjoyed themselves as they indulged in various cuisines offered by food trucks also present at the event. Each truck properly provided hand sanitizer and socially distanced tables for snacking.

The 14th annual Newberry Fall Festival was a success despite COVID-19. Event coordinator Joy Glanzer explained that the festival encouraged proper social distancing guidelines with numerous signs placed throughout the festival encouraging visitors to be safe, wash their hands, and “mask-up” when within six feet.

The festival was sponsored by the Space Walk of Gainesville, Glanzer Reality, Newberry Liquor, and Kiss 105.3.

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WALDO ‒ A North Central Florida woman died Sunday, Nov. 29, after her car flipped over several times and landed in a concrete ditch.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), the woman was eastbound on State Road 24, just south of Waldo, when her vehicle left the roadway, flipping multiple times.

Alachua County EMS personnel pronounced the driver dead on the scene.

It is unknown why the car left the roadway. FHP is currently investigating the crash to determine what may have led to it.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The City of Newberry is purchasing property that could potentially be used to expand the City’s cemetery. City Commissioners voted to acquire two and a half acres of land adjacent to the City’s cemetery to be used “for a municipal purpose.” Listed property owners are M.J. and Ellen Coleman. The land is located on Southwest 15th Avenue, Newberry and is listed as Parcel #02538-004-000. The land is currently vacant with zoning listed as Agriculture.

City Manager Mike New presented this item to Commissioners and explained that this past summer, Kevin Coleman, acting on behalf of Ellen Coleman, contacted the City to inquire whether the property might be of interest to Newberry due to its proximity to the City’s cemetery.

After evaluating the request and the parcel’s location, the property was appraised as of Aug. 31, 2020, at a value of $35,000 by Applied Economics Group.

The City determined that the parcel is ideally located to support expansion of the City cemetery and also offers opportunities for other uses that could be beneficial to the City including future roadway expansion or as part of the stormwater facilities.

The property owner will accept the $35,000 appraised value for the property. However, the FY 2020-21 budget doesn’t include funding for this property, but did include $50,000 in contingency funds when the budget was approved. Since that time, the Commission directed $17,000 in contingency funds to go toward the cost of the lawsuit against the County. The remaining $33,000 in the contingency fund could be used to purchase the property. Should the Commission wish to use those funds, New said he could find another $2,000 from the approved General Fund.

New said the City could fund the purchase out of the FY 2021-22 budget, but he had the impression that Coleman wanted to sell the property soon.

New offered three options for Commission consideration. The first was to authorize him to execute a land purchase agreement to acquire the property from Ellen Coleman for $35,000. The second was to authorize him to execute all documents necessary to convey the land from the owner to the City and the third was to direct what source of funds should be used to acquire the property.

Initially, Commissioner Rick Coleman determined that even though he was related to the seller, he didn’t believe there would be a conflict of interest and said he intended to vote on the issue. However, as the discussion included the possibility of the City eventually deciding to extend Southwest 15th Avenue to County Road 337, he realized that if that were to occur, it would be a benefit to him and his immediate family. After discussing it with the City Attorney, Commissioner Coleman decided to abstain from voting on the issue in an abundance of caution.

Also not voting on the measure was Commissioner Paul Norfleet who had technical difficulties entering the meeting virtually.

However, a quorum remained. Commissioner Tim Marden made a motion, which was seconded by Commissioner Monty Farnsworth to use the money from the Contingency Fund and obtain the balance needed from the General Fund to purchase the property.

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NEWBERRY ‒ City of Newberry Director of Utilities and Public Works Jamie Jones addressed the Nov. 23 City Commission meeting to explain why the Water and Wastewater System Development ordinance was before them for the third time.

Following the first public hearing and first reading of Ordinance 2020-23 on Sept. 14, a motion was made that the wastewater system development charges would be calculated based on water meter size. Second reading was approved on Sept. 28.

Subsequently, a scriveners’ error was found on page 18, the portion of the ordinance that was to have been underlined had been struck through instead. Following consultation with the City Attorney’s Office, it was decided that the correction should be made and the ordinance should be read on second reading again.

The ordinance was placed on the Nov. 23 Commission agenda. However, Jones said he noticed just before the issue was brought up again that the error had not been corrected.

Following discussion, Commissioners moved ahead with the ordinance, but would consider this first reading instead of second. The motion to approve was made by Commissioner Rick Coleman with the caveat that the scriveners’ error be corrected prior to second reading. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Monty Farnsworth and received unanimous approval.

In other City business, Planning and Economic Development Director Bryan Thomas addressed the issue of a petition brought by William and Janet Stewart to abandon a Public Utility Easement (PUE) that runs over, across and beneath their property. The couple lives on a 2.93-acre lot located at 26304 NW 3 Ave., Newberry.

“Several years ago, the alleyways that run across the property were abandoned by the City,” said Thomas. “However, the quit claim deed used to abandon the alleyways specifically retained the PUEs that also ran along the alleyways, which is standard procedure,” he said.

In 2015, the Stewarts built a house on their property. They ordered a construction survey prior to building. However, the survey failed to identify that there were PUEs on the property and the house was built approximately in the middle of the lot and, inadvertently, over the PUE.

“The couple now has a contract for sale of the property, but the title company informed them that the existence of the PUEs creates a ‘cloud’ on the title,” Thomas said. “The removal of the PUEs will allow them to obtain title insurance on the property prior to the sale closing, which is why the owners are petitioning the City to abandon the PUEs.”

The Stewart’s petition was sent to Utility Director Jones for review. “He confirmed that the PUEs on the Stewart property were not in use and would likely never be needed by the City for any utility services,” said Thomas.

Due to Jones’ assessment, Thomas said, “staff’s recommendation to the Commission is to approve the petition.” Draft Resolution 2020-50 had been prepared and was included in the Commissioners’ packet. “It is a petition to abandon Public Utility Easements over, across and beneath Parcel 02025-000-000,” explained Thomas. The City Attorney prepared a quit claim deed as well for the mayor’s signature.

Following a brief discussion Commissioner Farnsworth moved to approve the petition. Commissioner Coleman seconded the motion, which resulted in unanimous approval.

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NEWBERRY ‒ While online purchases are surging in the face of COVID-19, shopping local is at the top of mind for Newberry Main Street Organization (NMSO) Executive Director Janiece Smith. Smith announced a “Shop Small Shop Local” Campaign during the Nov. 23 Newberry City Commission meeting. The event is being sponsored by their organization and Main Street businesses and runs from Nov. 28 – Dec. 12.

“NMSO has been designated as a National Neighborhood Champion (NNC) for the year 2020,” said Smith. “As such we have an opportunity to play an important role this holiday season by highlighting NMSO businesses in the community.”

Participating businesses can expect to receive free materials from the Shop Small campaign to distribute to their customers and to use in their business. In return each business will provide a gift certificate, holiday gift basket or voucher for services valued at $25 or above as a drawing prize. Prizes must be submitted to the NMSO chairperson by Saturday, Dec. 5.

This program is a great way to promote and support local businesses and to encourage Newberry’s citizens to Shop Small.

Shoppers could win one of those gift items from a participating business. All shoppers are encouraged to save their shopping receipts. When the receipts show $200 in purchases, shoppers are to take a picture of their receipts and text the photos to 352-949-6757 along with the shopper’s name and contact information. Smith stressed that those shoppers texting their photos should be considerate of the time when calling or texting the number. However, all texts must be received by the chairperson for validation by 10 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 12.

“Winners will be notified if they qualify by noon, Dec. 13,” said Smith. “Their name will then go into a drawing for one of the prizes.”

The drawing will take place at 6 p.m., Monday, Dec. 14, at Berry Park (Farmers Market location). Winners must be present to claim their prize.

NMSO plans to promote Shop Small Shop Local on their website and Facebook pages, through the three Newberry schools and through flyers in local participating businesses. The list of currently participating businesses is on NMSO’s web page.

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NEWBERRY ‒ Dudley Farm State Park has been nominated to the National Historic Landmarks program according to the National Park Service. One of the five parcels that make up Dudley Farm is located within the City of Newberry.  At the Nov. 23 Newbery City Commission meeting Mayor Jordan Marlowe signed a support letter for the Dudley Farm nomination as a National Historic Landmark.

National Historic Landmarks (NHLs) are historic places that are considered national historic treasures that commemorate or illustrate the history of the United States. The Secretary of the Interior designates these places as exceptional because of their abilities to illustrate U.S. Heritage to the general public. There are currently almost 2,600 NHLs in the United States. Most NHLs are owned by private citizens, organizations, corporations, tribal entities, or federal, state, or local governments. The laws that govern property rights still apply to National Landmarks and actually help preserve the sites from demolition. Designation of a property as a National Historic Landmark does not give ownership of the property to the federal government or the National Park Service, but does allow the Park Service to offer advice and support to a place designated as a NHL. It also helps facilitate eligibility for grants, tax credits, and other opportunities to maintain its historic character.

Already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Dudley State Park is a unique authentic working Florida farm rather than a re-created farmstead. Florida Parks staff and volunteers in period clothing perform chores, raise crops and tend to livestockcracker cows and horses, bronze turkeys and heritage breed chickens. The 327-acre park has 18 original buildings built between the 1880s and 1930s that still existed, including the restored family farmhouse with original furnishings, kitchen, general store, post office and cane syrup complex. Some of the buildings were not part of the original farm but were relocated in the park to give a more complete picture of what life was like in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

After Florida became a state in 1845, settlers from South Carolina arrived seeking land for cotton production. Philip Benjamin Harvey Dudley and his wife, Mary, were part of that migration, settling in Archer in 1852 and purchasing the land that became Dudley Farm in 1859. The original homesite was a log cabin northwest of the present farmhouse. No remains of the original cabin still exist except for the possible location of a well.

Dudley Sr. served the Confederacy during the Civil War as a captain of the Alachua Rangers 7th Regiment. After the war, he returned home to the challenge of managing a large cotton plantation. Dudley Sr. and his oldest son turned to grazing cattle, in addition to raising cotton and crops with hired help. Work also began on a road from the farm to Gainesville so cattlemen could drive herds to market. Another road intersected at the farm that connected Newberry, Archer, Jonesville and Gainesville. The old road is still visible today as the main path to the farmhouse. These roads and cattle production put Dudley Farm on the map as an important crossroads and commercial center.

When his father died in 1881, his eldest son Ben Dudley Jr., built the present farmhouse to accommodate his family that grew to eight girls and four boys. He also added a general store, kitchen, smokehouse, sweet potato storehouse, dairy and canning house, outhouses, corn crib and barn. All were constructed of heart pine from the property. The prosperous farm produced cotton, corn, rice, millet, rye, oats, sugar cane and sweet potatoes. Milk, butter, eggs, turkeys and sausage were taken to Gainesville to be sold. In the Reconstruction era, when jobs were scarce and poverty high in the decimated south, the farm laborers and tenant farmers were paid only with a "furnish" partly consisting of pork and sugarcane. But the farm prospered, and after Ben's death in 1918 his widow continued to work the farm along with her three sons.

Over the years, most of the siblings moved away to start their own careers and families. One son, Ralph Dudley stayed and continued to raise cattle, tobacco and vegetable crops until his death in 1967. The youngest of Ben’s 12 children, Myrtle Dudley, was the last to remain on the farm. She managed a small cattle herd and vegetable and flower gardens. As she got older, Myrtle carried out her mother’s wish to keep the farm intact by donating 24 acres to the park service in 1983.

In 1986, the state purchased an additional 232 acres to preserve the rural landscape that was part of the original Dudley land. The farm not only contained the buildings, but a wealth of documents and furnishings from the generations of Dudleys. One of the conditions of giving the state the property was that Myrtle would live on the farm until her death in 1996 at the age of 94.

Today, living history interpreters conduct daily farm work including the care of cattle, poultry, crops and building maintenance. Cane grindings take place in the fall as it did when the Dudleys lived here. A tour of Dudley Farm is a trip back in time to when Florida was a frontier. The park is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday with an entry fee of $5 per vehicle. COVID-19 has affected the park hours and opening. Effective Nov. 13, 2020 the park is open, but due to local orders, facial coverings or masks are required inside buildings for staff and visitor safety. The visitor center is closed. Picnicking and trails are available, but visitors are expected to maintain distances of at least six feet apart. The park is located at 18730 W. Newberry Road, east of Newberry.

On Dec. 10, the National Park System Advisory Board will review current nominations, including Dudley Farm, for designation as a National Historic Landmark, before making a recommendation to the Secretary of the Interior. The Secretary will make the final decision whether or not to designate the property as a National Historic Landmark. 

Both the City of Newberry and the Alachua County commissions are submitting letters of support of the designation. Newberry staff is also preparing a letter of support from Newberry’s Historic Architectural Review Board, which will be considered for authorization at their Dec. 7 meeting.

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