The Matheson History Museum has been a cultural fixture in downtown Gainesville since it opened its doors to the public in 1994 but the roots of the Museum can be traced to the Alachua County Historical Society, which was born on May 16, 1967 in the old U.S. Post Office and Federal Building (now the Hippodrome State Theatre). 

Sarah Hamilton Matheson and Gainesville Mayor William Painter cutting the ribbon on March 12, 1994, courtesy of the Matheson

The Alachua County Historical Society worked to preserve and interpret the history of the area by erecting historical markers and hosting regular programs and field trips to historic sites. In addition, the Society petitioned to save the old City Hall, assisted in the preservation of the Hotel Thomas and Haile Plantation, and campaigned to preserve historic buildings on the University of Florida campus. 

In 1977, Sarah Hamilton Matheson—a founding member and past president of the Alachua County Historical Society—established a trust to donate the Matheson House to the Society. After a fire at the Matheson House in 1985, the Society financed its restoration and worked to transform it into a house museum.

In the late 1980s Society members led by Dr. Mark Barrow, Marinus Latour, Helen Ellerbe, Sarah Matheson, Les May, John Paul Jones, Sam Proctor, Ben Pickard and Murray Laurie formed the Matheson Historical Center, which created the present-day museum and library and soon to be opened home museum. The founding Board members developed the museum’s library and collections and recruited architect Jay Reeves to transform the former American Legion Hall into a history museum.

Black and white image of the American Legion Hall in 1933
The American Legion Hall in 1933, image by Elmer Harvey Bone

Today, the Matheson History Museum interprets and preserves the history of Alachua County and its environs through historic preservation, including restoring the former Gainesville Gospel Tabernacle and Melting Pot building, which is now the Matheson Library & Archives; offering innovative exhibitions and programs on a variety of topics in local and Florida history; and promoting new scholarship.