Milwaukee Springs was a segregated African-American recreational area operating northwest of Gainesville in Alachua County at least as early as 1940. During World War II, white and African-American leaders alike had high hopes it would be turned into a health and recreation facility for African-American soldiers stationed at Camp Blanding and elsewhere.
One of the earliest references to Milwaukee Springs comes from a biennial report of the Florida Fresh Water Fish and Game Commission published in 1940, which briefly notes that the commission’s game technician had participated in a wildlife camp for African-American boys held at this location.
The site surfaces again in the paper trail during World War II. As war clouds threatened during the months before Pearl Harbor, the state government and local communities organized defense councils to coordinate preparations for the U.S. to enter the conflict. With Jim Crow in full force throughout Florida at this time, communities frequently used separate organizations to coordinate the wartime efforts of African-American civilians, with their leaders keeping in close contact with their white counterparts for the sake of cooperation.
Managing and rationing supplies and manpower were critical, of course, but these defense councils also planned for recreation, for civilians and soldiers alike. A number of African-American leaders were concerned that troops of their race had too few options for recreational activities, which was bad for morale. A group of local Alachua County citizens led by Charles Chestnut, president of the Colored Businessmen’s Association of Gainesville and chairman of a local African-American civil defense organization, proposed that Milwaukee Springs be converted into a facility to provide African-American soldiers with a place to relax during their time away from Camp Blanding or other nearby military posts.
Chestnut’s proposal won the endorsement of local Alachua County representative Samuel Wyche Getzen, and together these men called on Mary McLeod Bethune of the federal Office of Negro Affairs and Executive Secretary James White of the NAACP for help in getting the federal government involved.
Although the Federal Security Administration appears to have visited the site to consider the project’s worthiness, and a public hearing was held to discuss the matter in early 1942, it is unclear whether Milwaukee Springs ever became the center of African-American health and recreation its sponsors had hoped for. In fact, aside from a few references in the documents of Florida’s State Defense Council and the papers of the NAACP, very little else exists to document the site.
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