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ALACHUA ‒ Christmas in Alachua is in full swing this holiday season. For the past 37 years the Alachua Chamber of Commerce has hosted the annual Christmas Parade on downtown Main Street. Each year local businesses, the City of Alachua, civic groups and churches sponsor floats to entertain spectators and compete for prizes.

This past Saturday, children anxiously awaited the parade for a chance to see Santa Claus and collect sweet treats tossed from decorated floats or handed out by people walking alongside.

Due to COVID, last year many activities were canceled. High Springs opted to cancel their annual parade in 2020 but the City of Alachua moved forward with the community tradition. Last year’s event was smaller than previous years, both in crowd size and in number of floats and entries. Instead of the usual 35-40 floats, there were only 28. But the festivities, enthusiasm and spirit of Christmas celebration were still evident, despite the changes brought on by the virus.

This year, the tradition continued, and both the community and the Chamber were ready to bring back the event better than before. The weather was clear and mild with 40 floats participating to a packed crowd that lined all the way along Main Street, with many of the crowd wearing festive Christmas themed clothes and accessories. The City of Alachua and Chamber have been working hand in hand to celebrate the entire month, creating weekly Fa La La Fridays, in addition to the parade and tree lighting.

The parade always starts with a police escort. With lights flashing and sirens wailing motorcycle patrolmen lead the parade, followed by police cars from Alachua and High Springs. The parade's Grand Marshal, Emelie Matthews who is the building manager for the Alachua Woman's Club, along with Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper, greeted the crowd from a vintage convertible Mustang car. The State Champion Santa Fe High School Ladies Raiders Volleyball team was next in line, as the crowd applauded them and members of the team handed candy to the children lining the curb. Following them was a color guard of three Marine veterans. Other members of the Marine Corps League of veterans followed in a World War II army jeep.

The colorful procession of floats, sponsored by civic organizations, businesses, churches and the City of Alachua, slowly cruised Main Street while float participants tossed candy to the children lining the route. Participating floats included Lee's Pre School, City of Alachua, All Stars Twirling Academy, the 4-H Club, Momentum Dance Academy, Alachua Raiders, Santa Fe Babe Ruth baseball team, Santa Fe High School Marching Band, Mi Apa restaurant, Vystar and Kinetic Wireless.

The 4-H Club also had horses and riders decorated for Christmas. Decorated motorcycles weaved in and out on the street as did the ever-present Shriners Club riding a variety of vehicles. Another group that always enters the parade in a large and colorful float is the Hare Krishna who chant for peace as they walk down the street. Each float paused at the judging booth vying for awards.

In the Music/Dance category, first place went to Momentum Dance, second place went to Santa Fe Raider Marching Regiment and third place went to the All-Star Twirling Academy. In the general float competition, the City of Alachua took first place with their 12 Days of Christmas float, Lee's Pre-School and Tanner Construction took second and third place respectively.

While everyone enjoyed the floats and festive mood, the part of the parade the children had been waiting for finally arrived. At the tail end of the parade, Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus waved to the children as they by rode by on top of a fire truck. Children responded, waving and calling out Santa's name to try and catch his attention. While the children were excited to see Santa at the parade, they all will be dreaming of another visit from Santa…on Christmas eve.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ A chase that began in Columbia County at around 11:45 a.m., on Dec. 2, ended in Alachua County with the arrest of 21-year-old Marandoe Acell Lamar Young at approximately 4:15 p.m. the same day.

In an effort to stop the fleeing vehicle on Interstate 75, law enforcement officers used a Precision Immobilization Technique (PIT) maneuver and deployed stop sticks, which eventually rendered the vehicle immobile on I-75 at the 406-mile marker.

Young then fled from the stopped vehicle and deputies engaged in a foot pursuit, hearing what sounded like a gunshot during the pursuit. A perimeter was established to contain the suspect, with mutual aid resources from many agencies assisting in the search. Young was eventually apprehended by K-9 Officer Micco.

Investigation revealed that Young was in possession of a significant amount of cannabis and a firearm, which he discharged during the foot pursuit. Young will be charged with Fleeing and Eluding Law Enforcement, Possession of Cannabis with Intent to Distribute and three counts of Aggravated Assault of a Law Enforcement Officer.

Additional charges may be added as the investigation continues. The suspect was treated for injuries sustained during the K-9 apprehension and was booked into the Alachua County Jail.

A Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) press release indicated that all lanes of I-75 were closed at approximately 12:45 p.m. due to the pursuit.

Northbound traffic was diverted at High Springs/Alachua Exit #399 and southbound traffic was diverted off of I-75 at the Lake City/High Springs Exit #414. All I-75 traffic lanes were reopened by 4:55 p.m.

During the chase the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) provided a safety perimeter at the High Springs Community School and extended school resource officer coverage at the school for after school activities. They maintained enhanced security at the school until teachers, staff and students had vacated the school.

Students that usually walked home remained at the school for parental pickup. School buses that routed into the danger zone remained at the school.

In addition, HSPD provided traffic control on US Highway 441 and US Highway 27 due to the intense amount of traffic routed off of I-75 and through the cities.

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Highway Patrol and Alachua County Sheriff’s Office were involved in the pursuit.

Young’s bond is set at $595,000.

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ALACHUA ‒ The Alachua Woman’s Club was ablaze with lights and sounds of the season last Saturday night as they celebrated the Charity Ball of Saint Nicholas. The Alachua Woman’s Club organization and its landmark historic stone building have been fixtures on Main Street since 1936. The club itself was founded in 1912 during the summer when three new classrooms were built onto the wooden school house in Alachua. The county school board had no money available to buy the furnishings for the new classrooms, including desks, chairs, blackboards, books, and even chalk.

A primary teacher by the name of Mrs. Hilton, who had taught in other schools brought an idea that she had seen work in other places before a gathering of Alachua parents and teachers. Her suggestion was for parents and teachers to join together and form a club that would focus on solving the problems of school needs.

Originally called The School Improvement Club of Alachua, the group was charged with creating unity and fellowship for a woman's organization, so the members were primarily female.

They organized fund raising projects throughout the year and were able to raise enough money to furnish the new schoolrooms, pay a $125 down on a piano, and hire a janitor for the school, and they continued their goal though the years. In 1921 the club members decided that not only did the school need their continued help, but also there were many things they could do to help the community so they changed the club’s name to The Improvement Club of Alachua.

By 1924, the group had grown bigger and idea of an central clubhouse was discussed, but it would be another 14 years before the historic building on Main Street was built. In 1949 the club’s name changed once again and became The Alachua Woman’s Club (AWC). But the focus through the years stayed the same—an organization of women focused on helping schools and education by raising funds and volunteer work.

Each year the AWC awards a full, two-year scholarship to Santa Fe College to a girl graduating from Santa Fe High School. They also operate the first Food 4 Kids program in Alachua, which provides food for hungry children at Alachua Elementary School. Each holiday season they donate funds to the two elementary schools to help provide toys and clothes for children in need.

The clubhouse is not only a meeting place, but is also used to host events and raise funds for charitable projects as a rental event space, so the building has seen a lot of use including a restoration campaign in 2007. Old buildings need upkeep and during the pandemic shutdown, the club made some major repairs. The wood floors needed sanding and varnish. Cracks in the 73-year-old structure needed structural repairs, plastering, and painting.

“The amount of support from the community and business was amazing,” said Alachua CRA director Lindsey Rizzo. “We had volunteers to do much of the work for free and financial funding from a number of organizations.”

But there is still work to be done, so as their first event since the pandemic, the Woman's Club held their first annual Charity Ball of Saint Nicholas on Dec. 4 to thank all their sponsors and supporters and raise additional funds with a silent auction.

Saint Nicholas greeted all the guests at the door and mingled with the crowd during the reception hour as guests enjoyed appetizers from a buffet provided by caterer Taste of Gainesville while Wayne's World DJ provided music and guests had the opportunity to place bids for the silent auction.

At 7 p.m. Woman's Club Building Manager Emelie Matthews and Rizzo gave awards to their top three Gold Sponsors - Holiday Inn Express, Polaris of Gainesville and Emory Group Companies. They also thanked six Platinum sponsors and the 15 partners in the restoration efforts.

Santa, now dressed as the authentic Saint Nicholas of Myra, told the history of the man and how he transitioned into Santa Claus. The DJ also led the assembled group in a sing along of Christmas songs and the evening finished off with an hour of dancing and announcement of the winners of the silent auction, which saw all items sold. For members of the Woman's Club, who spend their energy and resources helping others, it was a night that the community gave back to them in the Christmas spirit.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The High Springs Police Department (HSPD) and the City of High Springs are currently accepting donations of new, unwrapped toys, pajamas and books to be given to children in need in the High Springs community this holiday season. Wrapping paper and supplies are also in need.

The HSPD can provide specific age/gender information for purchasing appropriate gifts. Please contact Angela Robertson at 386-454-7319 or via email at arobertson@highsprings.us for more information.

Donations, including monetary donations and gift cards, may be dropped off any time in the black mailbox to the left of the HSPD front door. Gifts can be dropped off at the HSPD during regular business hours, Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. The location is 23720 NW 187 Avenue, High Springs.

The deadline for drop-off is Wednesday, Dec. 15 at 4 p.m. If writing a check, please make it payable to the High Springs Police Department.

The City departments will team up to wrap the gifts and make special deliveries to families in need that have already been identified.

The High Springs Police Department and the City of High Springs appreciate all the support they receive from the community, which makes Operation Holiday Cheer possible each year.

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ALACHUA ‒ Alachua is doing it up big this holiday season as events are happening every weekend throughout the month. In 2006, the City of Alachua began holding several events to celebrate Christmas with the community. Longstanding events started the first Friday of the month with a tree lighting ceremony along with a visit from Santa Claus, followed the next weekend by a Christmas parade with brightly colored floats, marching bands, and all sorts of conveyances on Main Street. The event has grown every year, both in size of the crowd and participation of Alachua businesses.

But like so many other things, the COVID pandemic limited the event in 2020. While it was still held, changes were made and events were moved to Skinner Park where the outdoor space allowed for social distancing. While Santa still greeted the crowd from his carriage and did the countdown to the tree lighting, there was no face-to-face meeting with the children, music was limited, and safety concerns even impacted the tradition of giving out candy, hot chocolate and cookies.

This year, the celebration is in overdrive. On Dec. 3, Main Street was decorated with brightly lit multi-colored lights and downtown businesses sponsored candy giveaways and children's activities. Santa and Mrs. Claus listened to children's Christmas wish lists as his elves helped direct the line so each child could meet Santa. The space was transformed into a magical spot covered in Christmas lights with cookies and gifts for the children. Musicians performed along the brightly lit street as families strolled along, peeking in shop windows after the official tree lighting at 6:30 p.m. The tree lighting, visit with Santa, and the parade has become a holiday tradition throughout the community.

It is a month-long celebration as Alachua is bringing back the magic of the holiday season. Under the guidance of CRA director Lindsey Rizzo, “Holiday Nights on Main Street” features a whole series of events to keep the Christmas spirit alive. The tree lighting in Skinner park was the kick off for the season. Called “Fa La La Fridays,” all three Fridays before Christmas will feature a series of events sponsored by the businesses on Main Street, the City of Alachua and corporate sponsors. “The events are the work and coordination of numerous volunteers and businesses, and we are grateful for all the work they put into this,” said Rizzo. “We wanted to make this a celebration of the whole holiday month with participation from the whole community, not just the singular events of the past.”

Some of the changes from last year remained, such as the tree lighting at Skinner Field. Santa arrived in his carriage and announced the tree lighting countdown, but this year the children could again sit on Santa's lap.

“We found that moving all the city events to one location last year made more sense and focused activities in the park. But we also got a lot of support from businesses and organizations on Main Street,” said Rizzo. Photos with Santa were provided by Magnolia Lane Photography and Alachua Boy Scout Troop 88 provided hot chocolate. Capitol City Bank provided popcorn and costumed characters in the park while the City provided cookies and a snow machine blowing out pretend flakes.

Along with decorative lights and Christmas trees, carriage rides on Main Street offered a nostalgic glimpse of times past The City also added a selfie photo opportunity in Santa's Sleigh. Kelly's Kreations set up a candle making workshop for kids and Alachua Flowers provided an ornament making class, while the office of Michael Turner, CPA offered free gift wrapping. The Alachua Woman's Club provided other activities for children. Springs Title set up a movie screening on a building wall. Other sponsors who provided materials or funding included Vystar, Fracture, Signarama and Dollar General. All these activities are part of the Fa La La Fridays and will continue for the next two Fridays.

Other events that are part of the month-long celebration include a performance of the Nutcracker at Legacy Park on Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. The Christmas Parade will be held on Main Street on Dec. 11, a children’s bash at the Woman's Club on Dec. 12, Pizza and Pajama events with Santa at My Pizza Place on Dec. 16 and 18 and the grand opening of Manor on Main on Dec. 21. More information on all events can be found at holidaynightsonmain.com.

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NEWBERRY ‒ Florida’s newest historic landmark has been unveiled in Newberry. In what was a decade’s long process, on Dec. 4 a plaque was unveiled designating Dudley Farm as a National Historic Landmark. The 260-acre property contains 18 frame buildings built between 1882 and 1945 by three generations of the Dudley family, one of the early settlers in the area and prominent figures in the history of Alachua County.

Phillip Benjamin Harvey Dudley and his wife, Mary, originally settled in Archer but moved to the present location in 1855. They came, like many other plantation owners in Alachua County, from South Carolina and brought enslaved African Americans with them as laborers, producing mainly cotton.

Dudley rapidly became a middle-class agrarian through his ownership of 960 acres and the 30 enslaved people who cleared land and grew cotton. Dudley served in the Civil War as a Confederate officer while his family maintained the farm. When the war ended, he returned home to the challenge of managing a large cotton plantation without the newly freed slaves.

Dudley Sr. and his son, Ben, turned to grazing cattle as well as raising cotton and crops with hired help and tenant farmers. Work began on a road from the farm to Gainesville so cattlemen could drive herds to market. “Dudley” was now on the map as a community center and a crossroad connecting Newberry, Archer, Jonesville and Gainesville.

After his father died in 1881, Ben Dudley built the present farmhouse to accommodate his family that grew to eight girls and four boys. He added a general store, kitchen, smokehouse, sweet potato storehouse, dairy and canning house, outhouses, corn crib and barn. The farm produced various crops, cattle, turkeys and pork. The entire family worked on the labor-intensive farm with horses, mules and essential hired help. Though vital to the farm, laborers and tenant farmers were paid only with a “furnish” partly consisting of pork and sugarcane. Later, laborers and tenants may have worked on a cash basis.

Ben died in 1918 and his wife, Fannie, managed the farm with her sons Ralph, Harvey and Frank. They kept up with the advances in farming technology and the farm continued to expand. Most of the children moved away, but Ralph continued to run the farm until his death in 1967. Myrtle Dudley, the youngest of Ben's 12 children, was the last to remain on the farm. She managed a small cattle herd and vegetable and flower gardens.

To keep the farm intact as she grew older with no heirs, she donated 24 acres, with most of the buildings to the Florida Park Service in 1983. In 1986, the state purchased an additional 232 acres to preserve the rural landscape. Myrtle continued to live on the farm until her death 1996 at the age of 94.

The Park Service kept the historic site as an example of a late 1800s working farm by using staff and volunteers in period farm clothing to carry out daily chores, raise the crops and take care of the livestock and educate visitors to life in the 1880s. Historian and Author Maurie Laurie petitioned to get Dudley Farms added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, which was granted in 2002.

According to Dudley Park Service Specialist Sandra Cashes, the process for applying for National Landmark Status started back in 2009 and Dudley Farm was finally designated as a National Historic Landmark in January 2021.One benefit of the status is the property can qualify for more federal grants for upkeep and restoration. Another recent change was the annexation of the property into the City of Newberry. This allows the City to have more input into upkeep and changes to the property and promote it as a historic tourist destination, although all final decisions are made by the State Park Service.

The ceremony to officially unveil the plaque for the Historic Landmark designation also included farm held demonstrations by staff dressed in period clothing on a variety of activities on how the farm worked. Reenactors demonstrated the cane grinding and syrup process, blacksmithing, laundry, cooking, sausage grinding and corn husking. Other reenactors played music at various spots throughout the farm.

Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe introduced several speakers including new park manager Dennis Parsons, Cashes and Laurie, all of whom talked about the history, significance and future plans at Dudley Farms. Speaker Sherry Dupree discussed the one piece of history that has been missing is the contribution of the African Americans on the farm, first as slaves and later as laborers and tenant farmers. She spoke about the current efforts to add that history to the park and announced that another building will be added to the location.

The Perkins House, owned by Helen Saltzgiver, was home to an African American family that once worked at Dudley Farm. “James and Rebecca Perkins were one of the Jonesville pioneer African American families,” said DePree. Coming from South Carolina as enslaved African American workers, the couple owned 40 acres northeast of Dudley Farm where they raised eight children. “By bringing the house here, it will be used to educate visitors about the lives and accomplishments of African American families during the 19th and 20th centuries,” said DuPree.

Saltzgiver has agreed to donate the house to the park, and Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said an anonymous donor has agreed to pay the $75,000 cost of moving the house to Dudley. Due to requirements for the Park Service and National Landmark staff to complete site surveys, it may take up to nine months before the actual relocation will take place.

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ALACHUA ‒ Enjoy festive holiday lights and special events at Alachua’s Holiday Nights on Main. The entire month of December offers shopping, dining, strolling and much more. For a full calendar of events and an activity map, visit HolidayNightsonMain.com

On Friday, Dec. 3, get the season started with the Annual Christmas Tree Lighting and Fa La La La Fridays. Mr. and Mrs. Claus will be in their festive house on Main Street early on this Friday only from 2-5 p.m. where they’ll be taking photos with children and families while they await the tree lighting at 6 p.m.

On Dec. 10 and 17, Mr. and Mrs. Claus will be in their home from 5-8 p.m. waiting to greet children. On the evening of the tree lighting ceremony from 6-8 p.m., families can also take photos with Santa and enjoy children’s activities before they stroll down Main Street to enjoy festivities on all three Fa La La La Fridays.

Main Street will be sharing the way for pedestrians to enjoy rides in one of two horse drawn carriages. Individuals visiting the south carriage stop can catch a ride for two to four people, pick up a warm beverage at Tea Time Tranquility and Treasures and explore the shops of South Main to make ornaments at Alachua Flowers and crafts at the Alachua Woman’s Club.

Individuals traveling north on Main with holiday gift purchases can go to the Grinchmas Party at Michael Turner, CPA for free gift wrapping and ornament making and then peek in the beautiful holiday windows of the Manor on Main Street as it prepares for its grand opening as an event venue.

Next stop is Santa’s Village. After visiting Mr. and Mrs. Claus at Santa’s House on Central Main, climb aboard Santa’s Sleigh for the perfect photo. Main Street hosts many restaurants welcoming all to stop in to dine or carry out to watch the movie on the wall. Before leaving Santa’s Village, take a ride on the wagonette with room for 8-12 people.

Stop by My Happy Place on Main to pick up a specialty coffee or hot chocolate for the littles and then relax in the Elves’ Street Lounge for adult beverages. The area will be filled with sounds and sights of the season with live music and lights from the Historic Theater Park and the spectacular light changing electronic Christmas Tree. Check out the shops and join Kelly’s Kreations to design your own candle.

As you stroll, keep an eye out for “shelfie signs” to place your camera for the perfect photo opportunity, complete with a Holiday Nights filter!

On Saturday, Dec. 4, join the Alachua Woman’s Club as it kicks off a year-long campaign to save the club with The Charity Ball of Saint Nicholas (tickets at saintnickball.eventbrite.com). The Alachua Woman’s Club has been a treasured resource for family engagement since its construction in 1935. The Club’s mission is to support the youth in our community. As times have changed, so has the way in which the Club engages with the community. The Alachua Women’s Club is positioning itself to meet the needs of today’s society and wants to be a space for families to come together.

This is the year to “Save the Women’s Club” and bring it back to its shining glory both as a historic structure and as a place to create memories. With recent global events subsiding, the Club is opening its doors to a variety of engaging and fun-filled activities, starting with See It To Be It: youth have an opportunity to visit local businesses and visit with a representative to gain insight into various industries.

Budget 101: Regularly scheduled sessions grouped by age range meet at the club with a financial advisor to learn budget basics

Etiquette 101: Children have an opportunity to attend a month-long series of etiquette classes to learn etiquette in preparation for dances and formals.

Parent and Child Dances: Parents have an opportunity to take their children for dinner and dancing.

Children’s Formals: Following upscale events such as the St. Nicholas Gala, the décor will remain in place for the children to attend a fancy affair on the following day.

Ladies Night: Club members attend a relaxed evening for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.

Alachua’s Holiday Nights on Main has something to offer the entire family all month long. Don’t miss this opportunity to enjoy the season with the perfect blend of excitement and nostalgia.

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