OLD CITY HALL - LIVE OAK

Live Oak's


Old City


Hall


Reborn


If walls could talk

By Tami Stevenson  info@suwanneevalleytimes.com

When anyone witnesses a new commercial building going up in a city or town, it usually gives everyone a good feeling inside because it signifies growth and prosperity. When we witness an old historic building being preserved at great cost, years of hard work and commitment like that of Live Oak’s Union Passenger Depot or the Old City Hall, most are appreciative and curious. It creates a sense of belonging, largely in virtue of a deeply devoted people dedicated to preserving their heritage.

Live Oak City Hall has been and is being proudly reborn because of dedicated leaders who care about their ancestry.

If walls could talk these walls would be rich with the history of Live Oak. Built in 1908, Live Oak City Hall has seen a lot and was much more than just City Hall. It was the city jail where they housed prisoners, the fire station and home to the fire chief and his family, and the city administration offices were also there where people would come to pay their utility bills, all at the same time.

Photo above - View of jail door and staircase taken from the front desk. Note the beautifully rounded doorways. -Photos: Tami Stevenson

Today, it is the new location for the Suwannee County Chamber of Commerce where they rent a portion of the building. It was offered to the Chamber by the Live Oak City Council for $1 a year for 20 years.

They held a Key Presentation recently where Chamber of Commerce President John Burley officially returned the keys from the Chamber’s former location to Keith Leibfried, president and CEO of First Federal Bank of Florida, declaring their move to the Old City Hall official.

The city had applied for grants to restore this building because it is a part of the Historical Commission. The grants were approved and they hired a local business, Southern Heritage Builders, to do the renovations.

“And they did a wonderful job.” Susan Hillhouse said, “They even built the counter there in my office which matches the building perfectly.” The marble top counter is pictured in this article. They have the first floor finished and the second floor is only waiting for the already approved funding to be released, then they will begin renovations on the second floor. Their plans include installing an 

elevator and that money will also come through funding from the grants.

OLD CITY HALL -LIVE OAK INSIDE

Photo above - Old City Hall Front Office.

Susan has worked for the chamber for 9.5 years and is the Member Service Director.

“This (being in the Old City Hall) is special to me,” said Hillhouse, “Because my grandfather, Elwood Howard, was a police chief and this was his office at one time.” We were standing inside what is now the boardroom that also has a huge, walk in safe. Elwood Howard served as the Chief of Police for 20 years before retiring.

Photo above - Safe inside the boardroom.

Susan’s older sister, Janet Bosserman was her grandfather’s secretary and worked in this building as well. After Janet, their first cousin Lana Hingson became his secretary and still works for Sheriff Tony Cameron today.

     In 1952, before Howard became the police chief he was the Constable. This was the year Ruby McCollum shot and killed Dr. C. Leroy Adams and, according to Hillhouse, Howard was the one who escorted McCollum out of town to protect her until she could be brought to trial.

The Old City Hall has come full circle now it would seem, having another member of the Howard family working there again. “Just being a part of the history is one of the things I like best about being here,” she added. “And there is a lot more room too.”

Mayor Sonny Nobles and Chamber member Roy Crain played an integral part in advocating the renovation of the Old City Hall from the historical side, and for the Chamber being here, according to Hillhouse.

The east bay is where they used to house the horses when the fire department used horse drawn fire wagons.  “Along the one wall they said they found nips from the horses. You can still see them today,” she said.

They were also able to leave some of the original steel jail doors as well. They have turned the old jail cells into office/storage space. “Inside this cell you can still see graffiti from some of the prisoners and we kept that. Here is one,” she said, pointing to an area on the wall inside the cell, “that clearly says October 11, 1937.”

Hillhouse’s office was the bay where they kept the fire trucks. At the other end of the building where the entrance faces Ohio Avenue, is where people would come to pay their utility bills. “There used to be a wall there. It had a huge glass window you would come up to, to pay your water and gas bill.”

After we made our way up the wide staircase there were two large offices. The view from one overlooking the north side of 129, or Ohio Avenue, is just gorgeous. The other overlooks the now restored Union Passenger Depot and the south side of 129. There is talk they may rent these offices once the second floor has been restored.

Beyond that was an even bigger room with a raised platform on one end, and windows all along each wall on either side. “They used to hold the County Commissioner meetings here. At one time it is where one of the fire chiefs and his family lived,” said Hillhouse. “In the corner was a pole where the fireman would slide down when there was a fire.” There were two doors in the floor with a round hole cut for the pole, but the pole has long since been removed.

The whole building, with its tall ceilings, beautiful woodwork and staircase, is so grand and solid. When we walked up the staircase there were no creaks. The floorboards, even on the second floor, were so tight you couldn’t stick a piece of paper between them and even they did not creak when we walked across them.

Restoring this building was a wonderful thing to do for the people and the historical value of Live Oak. To the many people responsible for making this a reality, thank you!

Photo Above - Chamber Member Service Director Susan Hillhouse.