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. 

By 1977 Sarah Matheson agreed to donate her home and its contents to the society as a living house museum that all of Gainesville could enjoy and as a center for historical research. As a result of this gift a Matheson Trust Fund was established to ensure the preservation of the house and surrounding grounds. The Alachua County Historical Society, however, lacked the funds or the capacity to manage such a gift, and the deed for the transfer remained unfinished.

In the spring of 1985 Dr. Mark Barrow renewed his efforts for a county historical museum, considering the Sarah Matheson home and the downtown Masonic Lodge building as potential sites. He organized a committee named the Historical Archives and museum of Alachua County and Gainesville, which soon became known as the “Ham ‘n’ Eggs” society after its acronym of HAMAG. Composed of historians, preservationists, and community leaders like Jess Davis, Marinus Latour, Barbara Gallant, Blair Reeves, Margaret Johnson, Jean Marshall, and most importantly Sarah Matheson, it met at the Barrow home four times during the next three years. His plans for the publication of the book, “An Anthology of Alachua County and Gainesville,” failed to materialize, but he organized a nonprofit organization, Friends of the Matheson Home, Inc., and secured from Sarah Matheson the promise of a deed to her home. This donation became the starting point for the Matheson Center, and she remained on the board until her death.

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.