East Florida Seminary, A State Military and Collegiate Institute
Ocala and Gainesville, Florida
The best source of information for East Florida Seminary is a University of Florida publication called Honoring the Past, Shaping the Future by Carl Van Ness and Kevin McCarthy. Digital images are available from Alachua County Library, and the Florida Memory collection as well as the University of Florida. The Tampa Tribune carried some school news.
The Seminary Act of 1851 provided for two institutions of higher learning in Florida, one east and one west of the Suwannee River. The East Florida Independent Institute at Ocala became the East Florida Seminary in January 1853. The onset of the Civil War brought that school to a close in 1861.
In 1866 East Florida Seminary reopened, this time in Gainesville. Like the Ocala EFS, the Gainesville EFS was pretty much a local public school for students of all ages. As late as 1882-83, over half of the EFS students were from Alachua County. It was not until 1877 that a minimum age was established--13 for males and 12 for females. While both seminaries were licensed to grant college degrees, Van Ness and McCarthy believe that "there is little concrete evidence to indicate that the East Florida Seminary ever did so."
In 1881 EFS became a military school, with all males placed under discipline. Van Ness and McCarthy note that the catalog had more pages devoted to cadet regulations than to the curriculum. The 1889 catalog asserts that military training was not a "mere adjunct" but the "predominant feature" of school life. It led to "erect and manly forms, in graceful carriage. . . and most decidedly in the improved scholarship."
School photos show around 150-200 students. These students were involved in enough extracurricular activities to attract community support. Cadets held a dress parade each Friday. An EFS commencement program shows the presence of debate performances, of musical programs, and of calisthenics exhibitions. The one student organization noted in newspapers was the Eleve Association composed of former cadets. This society sponsored an annual banquet and ball.
The Buckman reorganization of state schools closed EFS in May of 1905. A new state college for white males--the University of Florida-- was placed in Gainesville--largely because of community support for EFS.
Bricks and Mortar
When East Florida Seminary opened in Gainesville, it occupied the campus of Gainesville Academy. A major fire in 1883 destroyed all campus buildings. A new two-story brick structure was built on the same site. Now called Epworth Hall, it contained four classroom on the ground floor with a study hall, offices and the library on the upper floor. It briefly served the new University of Florida before being deeded to the Methodist Church in 1911. Placed on the National Register in 1972, it was renovated in 1973 and still stands today.
A barracks, added in 1886, was the largest building on the campus. Measuring 190 by 95 feet, it contained 50 sleeping rooms, 12 rooms for professors, and the mess hall, built around a central court. This building was purchased by the city of Gainesville in 1906 and became part of the White House Hotel in 1907. The site, containing a historical marker, is part of Roper Park today.
Colors: Black and Orange (The orange has become part of the University of Florida colors).
EFS played both football and baseball. The Tampa Tribune shows that East Florida Seminary played football from 1902 through 1904, the last year. After defeating Stetson, the 1902 team claimed to be "champions of the state."
They lost a return match with Stetson. The 1903 team split games with Florida Agricultural College but defeated West Florida Seminary and Tampa twice. The 1904 team lost to Stetson twice and defeated South Florida Military Institute.
EFS also played baseball, defeating SFMI twice in 1905. Florida Agricultural College charged that EFS used ringers in baseball games against them.
Epworth Hall in 1936 (Alachua County Library District Collection <fumcgnv.org/MoreFUMC/History/EpworthHall_files/EpworthHall1936-400dtpin.jpg>) accessed 2-06-2017
Barracks in 1903 (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, <floridamemory.com/items/show/3581> accessed 2-07-2017
East Florida Seminary football team 1902 (National Collegiate Athletic Associational Football Guide <babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=umn.319510014155349;view=1up;seq=140) accessed 2-07-2017