The American Legion Building, presently the Alachua County Historic Trust: Matheson Museum, Inc., was built in 1932. Erected on the land donated by the City of Gainesville in 1926, it replaced the old Tabernacle Hall, which burned in 1927. The Tabernacle itself was a part of Gainesville history for over twenty years. Constructed in 1906 by the Florida Winter Bible Conference for its annual convention, the Tabernacle could seat 2000 people, making it one of the largest auditoriums in the state. The popular Chautauqua assembly and the lyceum also held regular sessions here. In 1911, the city purchased the building for a civic hall and it became the center for local clubs, conventions and business conferences. By 1926 the city deeded the building to the American Legion as their first permanent facility and, when it burned down, the insurance money helped fund the construction of a new facility on the same site.
Though smaller than the old Tabernacle building, the new structure was a handsome, red brick Georgian styled building that faced East University Avenue. Approached by a wrought iron railing on concrete steps, the main entrance displayed double doors repeated by matching pilasters supporting a triangle, overreaching pediment. In characteristic Georgian fashion two large windows with half circle or fan transoms flanked the entrance portal. An enclosed east wing, which contained a kitchen, offices and bathrooms was matched by an open air terrace on the west where large French doors decorated with half circle transoms opened for a view of Sweetwater Branch.
The interior of the building displayed a central assembly space of some 3800 square feet, providing a seating capacity of 800 and a dance floor for some 200 couples. The ceiling featured exposed eight-by-eight beams that spanned the entire building, projecting a sense of strength and stability. Along the east wall was a massive red brick fireplace, some thirteen feet high and eleven feet wide, over which hung a propeller from a World War I fighter plane.
Throughout its first twenty years of existence, the building not only served as the social and business center for its 400 Legion members, but it also functioned as the town's main community hall. In its first year of operation, 1933, many Gainesville civic clubs, the Chamber of Commerce, the Boy Scouts and other organizations held regular meetings here; the Welfare Department, Better Milk League, the Gainesville Recreation League and the United Daughters of the Confederacy sponsored conventions in the hall; while the University fraternities and local clubs arranged dances like the Charity Ball. In 1934 the Hall served as the convention center for the annual meeting of the Florida American Legion. This four day meeting brought some 2000 legionnaires into town along with sixty-two beauty contestants from all over Florida, vying for the title of Miss American Legion of Florida, and scores of drum and bugle units engaged in another state contest. A two-hour parade starting at the Legion hall and proceeding down University Avenue to the Florida campus opened the festivities on Wednesday, June 6, 1934.
After the opening of the Gainesville Recreation Center in 1943, the Legion Hall was not used so extensively, but during the war years it provided beds for over fifty soldiers on weekend leave in Gainesville from nearby Camp Blanding. With the return of the veterans after the war, Legion membership swelled to over 450 and its increased activities necessitated the enclosure of the outdoor terrace. This area, which later became a long bar serving drinks and refreshments, added an additional 660 square feet to the building.
The postwar decades brought a decline in the civic use of the building as town business and entertainment moved westward around the greatly expanded University campus and the new suburban malls. Still antique fairs, book sales, business conventions, boxing matches and even rock concerts were held at the hall. By the 1970's the now somewhat deteriorated building served mainly as a social club for the Legion and in the mid 1980's the American Legion decided to sell the building and move to a new location rather than attempt needed repair and renovation. So the building then came to the Matheson Center group, now the Alachua County Historic Trust: Matheson Museum, Inc.
In two other significant ways this building is intimately connected with Gainesville's past. The architect for the original building was Sanford W. Goin who went on to become one of the city's most respected architects and whose firm of Goin and Moore still exists today. Goin also designed the main addition made to the Hall in 1949.
The building was named for Haisley Lynch, one of the forty-three Alachua men and women who died in World War I. Haisley, though, was the only Alachua soldier who actually died in combat, and his father, Louis, served as the City Postmaster from 1906-1915 and again from 1921-1931. At the age of fifty the elder Lynch enlisted in the army and served in France as an officer with the Engineers. Medical problems and a frail constitution initially prevented Haisley from entering the service, but he persisted and managed to enlist in a Machine Gun Company organized in the city. Determined to see active service he transferred to a unit being sent to France as part of the famed Forty- Second Rainbow Division. He then fought in the battles of Chateau Thiery, St. Meheil and Meuse-Argonne. Killed in practically the last major battle of the war, his father, still overseas, found his body five months later and had it transported to Gainesville for burial.
To memorialize his courage, Post 16 became the Haisley Lynch Post and one of its earliest commanders was his father, while his mother became vice president of the Women's Legion Auxiliary.