Before the car came to Alachua County, oil companies were serving the needs of residents.
In the early years of the 20th Century, general stores and other businesses provided grease for equipment powered by horses and mules and kerosene for lighting around the county. Bulk oil plants delivered to the businesses, then customers came to the businesses to fill containers with kerosene and buy grease in containers.
Curbside gas pumps sprouted up in front of general stores between 1900 and 1915. During this time, garages and tire stores began to emerge.
Over time, pull-in gas stations became the norm.
These are some of the facts that Don Davis has discovered during his three decades of fascination with the local oil industry—a fascination that began in 1981 when Davis and his wife, Sandy, visited her uncle, a oil company employee and industry buff, in Louisville, Ky.
Davis, local president of Capital City Bank, shared pictures and memorabilia in the Fill ‘Er Up exhibit at the Matheson Museum and in a presentation to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Heart of Florida Chapter.
After U.S. 441, U.S. 301 and U.S. 41 were paved in the 1920’s, “tin can tourist camps” popped up. “Families that couldn’t afford to take the trip to Florida on the train were able to travel here by car,” Davis said during his presentation to the green building council, which met at Volte Coffee, Tea and Chocolate.
By 1927, the Gainesville city directory listed 27 gas stations, 18 garages and 14 auto dealers. “These seem like high numbers, considering the county’s population was between 30,000 and 40,000,” Davis said.
Gas stations flourished in the boom following World War II. “Signs became larger because the cars were faster. Stations used ‘clean restrooms’ and maps to promote themselves,” Davis says.
Today the service stations in Alachua County total 118.