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The Matheson homestead dates from 1857, when Alexander Matheson brought his family from Camden, South Carolina to establish a home on the Sweetwater Branch at the eastern edge of the new town of Gainesville. The present one and a half story Matheson House is believed to incorporate much of the original one story home. Alexander moved his family back to South Carolina in the early years of the Civil War. After the war and settlement of a mortgage foreclosure, the property was acquired by his younger brother, James D. Matheson, who had served as an officer in the Seventh South Carolina Cavalry and surrendered at Appomattox. He moved into the home in 1867 with his new bride, Augusta Florida Steele, daughter of Judge Augustus Steele, founder of Cedar Key, and an influential Florida pioneer during the territorial and early statehood period. James, a prominent businessman and merchant, ran a successful dry goods store and engaged in other commercial enterprises. He was also a trustee of the East Florida Seminary and served on the Alachua County Commission from 1895 to 1899. Elected County Treasurer in 1909, he held that office until his death in 1911.
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By 1907, James and Augusta had enlarged their home, adding the
second floor bedrooms, the distinctive gambrel roof and gabled dormers, a first floor sitting room, and enclosing part of the back porch. Their son, Christopher, born in 1874, continued to live here after completing his education at the East Florida Seminary and the Citadel. He established a law practice in 1900, and served as mayor of Gainesville from 1910 to 1917 and in the Florida Legislature in 1917 and 1919. Ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1919, he left his law practice to serve the ministry in Oklahoma for the next 26 years. During this time the house was rented to various tenants. On his retirement in 1946, he returned home with his wife, Sarah Hamilton Matheson. She maintained her residence here after his death in 1952, and in 1989 donated the property to the Matheson Historical Center, Inc. The evolution of the Matheson House from a modest, mid-19th century farm house to its early 20th century appearance reflects the increasing prosperity of its owners in a growing community. It is preserved today as a reminder of their accomplishments and of those other early residents of Gainesville.