Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Community Matriarch Turns 100 Today; If You Want Stories about Old-Time Sweetwater, She's the One to Tell Them

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Community Matriarch Turns 100 Today; If You Want Stories about Old-Time Sweetwater, She's the One to Tell Them

Article excerpt


Madleane Johnson Scott remembers Sweetwater when it was a tranquil rural community with dirt roads, no electrical lines and a handful of houses set among pine, oak and fruit trees.

But then she was born 100 years ago today.

It was a time when her family had to walk 2 miles to get their mail, milk was delivered by horse and buggy and she could ride her horse Nelly through the woods.

Scott's family settled the close-knit African-American community in the late 1800s. At one point, the family owned 45 acres in Sweetwater, whose streets bear such Biblical names as Luke, Matthew, Mark, John, Esther and Moses.

Scott and her relatives even sold 17 acres for $2,600 in the early 1950s for construction of the Cedar Hills Armory, now the Mary Lena Gibbs Community Center, 6974 Wilson Blvd. That's where relatives, friends and community members will be celebrating her 100th birthday from 3 to 6 p.m. today.

Her grandmother, a midwife, delivered Scott at home. She attended school for eight years at Bethel Baptist Church in Sweetwater, founded by her father, George Johnson. As a teenager, she moved to Lake Okeechobee to live with her sister and met her husband, Henry Scott, who worked for the railroad.

They returned to Sweetwater and had six children: Arthur, Verdell, Henry Jr., Herman, Isalene and James. After her sister died, she reared her six nieces and nephews.

"Once you drink the Sweetwater, you have to come back," said her daughter, Isalene Scott Jordan.

Her nephew, Curtis Johnson, who has lived in his Matthew Street house more than 50 years, recalls how the community got its quaint name. Moonshiners were hauling sugar on Old Middleburg Road when the "revenuers" started chasing them, he said. Their truck turned over, spilling its cargo in the creek. Someone remarked that all the sugar in the branch made it "sweet water," Johnson said.

For the past two decades, Scott has lived in St. Catherine Laboure Manor in Riverside. Her son, James, also lives there. She can't walk because of knee problems but otherwise is in good health, takes only vitamins and doesn't even wear glasses.

Her children, 23 grandchildren, 43 great grandchildren and 16 great great grandchildren often come to reminisce with the matriarch whose memory is still sharp. But they know not to come during bingo, horse racing or other games.

On a recent afternoon, seven relatives were visiting the easy-going woman they say has a deep love for people in need. Her fingernails were painted a cheery rose to match her brightly colored afghan, and she waved in recognition as she spotted each one.

Her home was a meeting place for friends and family, granddaughter Marlaine Mills said. She made sure neighbors had rides to the grocery store or the doctor. …

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