Katheryne Pryor

All that remains is a church and sparsely threaded weeds laced about the gravestones of members of a nearly forgotten community.

"In Rixford a train ran north and south everyday until just after 1947," said 90-year-old Katheryne Pryor, who was born and grew up in a house on land adjoining Antioch Baptist Church, north of Live Oak on CR 795.

Rixford was a sprawling sawmill community marked by a naval store, a grist and rice mill and a rural cotton gin erected long before by George R. Rixford, for whom the area was named.

"Rixford was hardly anything more than a store, although it had a little post office," Pryor said.

"These days you can hardly tell where the old railroad track was."

Pryor, born in 1919, is twice granddaughter to William Lewis Allison, who took up residence in Rixford.

"My mother and father were second cousins," Pryor said. "Back then, marrying your first cousin was not really considered legal, but it was OK if you married your second cousin," she smiled. "Family intermarried a lot. Those types of things have been going on since the beginning of time."

Gripping her forehead with the fingers of her left hand, Pryor jarred her memory.

"When I was about 4 or 5 years old, they still had school at Rixford -- a 'lil country school. And the Bird school was further north," she said, taking that same hand and placing it on a black and white photo of Rixford schoolchildren taken about 1910. "The Rixford school in the picture burned before I was born. It was gone long before I remember, but they rebuilt it on the west side of the railroad near 52nd Terrace. Several members of my family are in this photo."

As a child, Pryor became accustomed to life as a farm kid surrounded by horses and crops.

"My father John Lee Allison owned land on both sides of 795. He would farm a different side each year and was one of the first to start in crop rotation," she said.

"He rarely grew peanuts because he said that would just burn the land. He mostly grew corn and t'bacca, and didn't grow much cotton either," she said. "I don't know if you tried to pick cotton or not, but it takes a long time. It has those bulbs, that sharp pod it's in and it hurts your fingers."

One thing Pryor did recall was stringing tobacco.

"As kids we worked somewhere different (on the farm) everyday of the week. All the young people worked together. You got up early and worked 'till after dark," she said. "I don't remember it being drudgery, but it wasn't all easy."

She stood and steadied herself, donned a playful smirk, and began demonstrating the stringing process.

"I was short and it would take all that I had to work that stick. One person would stand on the left and another on the right and string that t'bacca. The string was tied to a stick, and we would loop it in the twine, and then those sticks were hung into the barn on a tier to cure it."

The work, which looked rigorous enough without the actual tools in hand, was how Pryor earned her allowance.

"That's how I earned the money to buy my clothes to go to school," she explained.

She made as little as 50 cents per day, and said, "later some folks made $1 a day, but I never worked much for anyone but family."

Aside from working, Pryor said, regular visits from relatives was the highlight of her youth.

"We had a large farm house, and you could imagine how much fun it was to have other children come over," she said.

Along with her siblings, older sister Grace, sister Ceva and brother George Curtis, relatives from Vero Beach, Daytona and Jacksonville would all visit Rixford during the summer. It was family tradition to gather in the small community dear to them all.

"Our family has been active at Antioch since 1858, when they came from Yolabusha County, Mississippi, by covered wagon," Pryor said.  "It was a six week trip." However, she said the exact reason for the family's move to Florida still raises questions.

"That is kind of a mystery, but I think I solved it," said Pryor, who has extensively researched her family genealogy, compiled a book on the Allisons and their kin, and was led by historical artifacts found in a family trunk passed down to her from her mother and grandfathers.

"Dr. William Perry was my great-grandfather on my mother's side, and his brother George was my father's grandfather. William Louis was their father and we called him the old man," Pryor said.

"Well, he fought in the American Revolution and must have gotten a land grant in Florida. I believe he had had one in Mississippi. I don't think they would have come here had they not had land.  Two of them came to check out the land before they moved the family here --"

Pryor would later teach Sunday school at Antioch Baptist, following in her rich family heritage. She has been a member for over 75 years.

In 1936, she and her first husband David Musgrove attended the first Allison family reunion at Suwannee Springs. From that marriage her son John was born. After two years, Pryor and her husband divorced.

"One day my mother (Janie Ophelia) pointed her finger at me and told me what I was going to do. She said you're going to college and you're going to major in home economics or home extension work; and that's exactly what I did," Pryor said.

She graduated from Florida State College for Women, now FSU in 1943, and "it took the whole family to pay for it," she laughed. "But, I earned my degree and was certified to teach chemistry, most sciences, home economics and qualified for home extension work.

"God was so good to me. I was raised in a nice community. We didn't know we were poor folks, but we were," Pryor said. "Mama told me what I was going to do. It was odd because I don't think my sister would have chosen that, but I think it's still what I would have done if it were my choice."

In 1946, she met Lee Pryor, who had moved to Suwannee from Washington State and attended Antioch. The two were married in April 1947, and remained married for 56 years until his death in 2002.

Katheryne Pryor worked in Broward County and at Baker County High School, before the door opened at Suwannee High School, her alma mater, to teach home economics.

"The old Suwannee High School building was on the side by Church Street near First Baptist, and the new building faced south, but the new one is the one that cracked after the flood of '64 and was condemned," Pryor said.

"I hardly ever go to the store without seeing one of my former students," said Pryor, who retired from teaching after some 30 years. "I loved those kids -- true they were mischievous, but that's just part of being young. It makes me fell good when they tell me that I taught them, though sometimes I don't always remember them all. Most are much older now."

One by one Pryor has watched members of her family pass away. It's the one thing that brought her close to tears.

"I took care of my father and mother during the last years of their life. Daddy died in 1955, he was 87 I think. Mama died in an accident in Vero Beach later. She lived to be 74. My one brother George Curtis died at 28 from blood poisoning in the face from a pimple. Grace -- the oldest -- died at 43, Ceva lived to be 82, and here I am at 90," Pryor said.

"A lot of my relatives lived very long," she said, pointing out the notations in her Allison history book.

"My cousins Mae Scott, the mother of Allison Scott of Check and Scott Drugs, of Suwannee, and Mintie Johnson, of Hamilton, were my last close cousins on my father's side. We were the last three of those, but now I'm the last one. It has been real sad, but God has been so good to me. I still have cousins on my mothers side, but all of them are much younger than I am."

Pryor's son John lives just up the road from his mother on the east side of town.

"I'm fine," said Pryor. "I have no heart problems or big problems like that, but I am diabetic, which I keep well controlled. Being a home economist, most of the time I'm pretty good at taking good care of myself. My hearing is not as sharp as it used to be, but like I said, God is still good to me."

As Pryor shifted in her chair and prepared to rise to close the interview, her phone rang.

A voice on the other end of the receiver asked: "Mrs. Pryor, how are you doing today?"

"I'm doing good," Pryor responded.

"O.K. we were just calling to check on you."

"Thank you, I'm doing very well," Pryor responded.

The call ended.

Pryor returned to her seat.

"That was just the sheriff's office. They call everyday to check on me. That's a nice service. They deserve credit. Suwannee County is such a good place to live."

Excerpts from the following texts were referenced in preparation for this article:

"Reflections of Suwannee County," Eric Musgrove, 2008.

Pryor's book titled "The Allisons and Our Kin," which is available for reading at the Suwannee Valley Genealogical Society library and elsewhere, 2007.

"The Voyage of the Paper Canoe.," N. H. Bishop. 1878.

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