The black pioneer settlers of the Pleasant Street neighborhood came from nearby plantations, as well as other southern states. Among the many who were born in Camden, South Carolina were Rosetta and George Smith, grandparents of Claronelle Smith Griffin. Claronelle Griffin writes: “These pioneer settlers proceeded to carve out the pristine woodsy area, choosing home sites . . . large enough for large flower gardens and with back yards large enough for small family vegetable gardens and small yards for chickens. In a few cases the family owned a milk cow for family use. “ . . . this unusual group of pioneers included: carpenters, bakers, barbers, painters, blacksmiths, ministers, musicians, tailors, seamstresses, draymen(driver of a flat-bed wagon without sides pulled by horses or mules), hackmen (driver of a carriage), liverymen (worker in a stable), doctors and shoe cobblers. All of whom were ready to begin building a neighborhood. Churches, a public school, theatres, play grounds, etc. were built.”
Early physicians included Dr. Robert B. Ayer, Sr., barber and medical doctor, and Dr. Julius Parker. Businesses included Edward Martin Print Shop, Charles W. Duval Shoe Repair, and Garrison Boarding School. “Baker” Ella Davis operated a popular bakery on NW 2nd Street across from Mt. Pleasant Church. Isaac Davis, Ella Davis’ father-in-law, was instrumental in acquiring land for Union Academy and Mount Pleasant Church. Union Academy, established by the Freedman’s Bureau in 1866, was a teacher training institution as well as a grade school and was the intellectual heart of the black community.
During the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War, many black men were elected to local and state offices. These included Theodore Gass, Matthew M. Lewey, Alexander DeBose, George Smith, Lawrence Chestnut, Rev. Trapp, Primus Player, Isaac Davis, Jennings Feltner and the Martin brothers, as well as J. T. Walls, Florida’s first Representative to the Congress of the United States of America. The Pleasant Street Historic Society received Claronelle Smith Griffin’s house in 2003 when she passed away at the age of 96. Her great-grandfather purchased the property in the 1870s and built a house on the site. That house was enlarged to a two-story house in 1903 and added onto in the 1920s. Mrs. Griffin’s will specifies that the house will be used as an historic exhibit. Fundraising efforts by the society are underway to restore the house and to create a museum, which will highlight the contributions of the African American citizens of Gainesville and Alachua County.