A Brief History of Gainesville
Around 12,000 years ago Paleo-Indians inhabited the area around Gainesville. As those early peoples remained settled in one place, their culture evolved into what archaeologists classify as the Deptford culture, remains of which were found under the Law School Burial Mound. In recorded history, the area of Alachua County was inhabited by a tribe of Timucua descent.
After first contact with Hernando de Soto in 1539, the native population began to decline as European diseases made their way through the communities. Suppression of native revolts claimed more lives, and the remaining Timucua were converted to Catholicism and missionized by Franciscan priests when Florida was under Spanish control. Raiders from the Carolinas along with their Yamasee allies killed or captured many of the Timucua, and most of those who remained fled to St. Augustine. Prior to these raids, Spanish colonists had began ranching cattle in Paynes Prairie with Timucua labor, naming the largest hacienda La Chua, taken from the Timucua word for "sinkhole". Though this hacienda was destroyed by the aforementioned raiders, its name was applied to the Seminole tribe which settled in the area later in the 1700s. At this point Florida was controlled by the British Empire.
In 1817, Gainesville and North Florida was part of a land grant to Don Fernando de la Mata Arredondo from the Spanish Crown. The wealthy merchant and most of the Spanish activity focused around cattle farming in and around Paynes Prairie.
The earliest town in Alachua County was created in 1824 and called Newnansville. When the cross Florida railroad bypassed Newnansville and was located further south, the town of Gainesville was established. It was named for General Edmund P. Gaines, who was considered a hero during the Seminole Wars. The railroad connected the shipping port of Fernandina with Cedar Key. Florida became a state in 1845. Gainesville became the county seat of Alachua County in 1854.
Many believe that Gainesville came from a settlement named Hogtown, but that Indian village was located in present day Northwest Park, on the Hogtown Creek. The City of Gainesville would later annex the area and include what was Hogtown Creek into the city borders.
On January 6, 1853, Florida Governor Thomas Brown signed a bill that provided public support to higher education. The East Florida Seminary in Ocala was one of the first schools to use this funding, but it swiftly closed on the outbreak of the Civil War. By 1860 the City of Gainesville had reached a population of 269 and included a general store and three hotels. The city saw action twice during the war, with a small skirmish from a raiding party connected with the main Union force defeated at the battle of Olustee on February 20th, 1864. After the war, the East Florida Seminary reopened in Gainesville, and would eventually become the University of Florida.
Gainesville was incorporated on April 14th, 1869. At the time the largest industry was cotton production. By 1882 the population had reached almost 2000, and the 1880s and 90s would see the creation of a public utility system providing gas, water, telephone and electric services. As the new century dawned, Gainesville was the fifth largest city in Florida and had a population approaching 5,000. Early neighborhoods included the Highlands and Duck Pond neighborhoods in Northeast Gainesville, as well as the Pleasant Street area in Northwest Gainesville.
When the State wanted to consolidate the higher education system, Gainesville competed with Lake City to be the location of the new University of Florida. The city won by offering land, money and an agreement to "furnish water to the University without charge." When the telegraph office in Gainesville announced the good news to the waiting crowd, a noisy celebration began with ringing church bells, a parade and exploding firecrackers. The University campus in Gainesville opened for registration on Sept. 24, 1906, with classes beginning two days later for the 102 students enrolled. Twenty years later the student body numbered 2000 and attended classes in thirteen Gothic-style buildings including a library, a gymnasium and an auditorium. By the 1930s the University had become the most important staple in the County's economy and helped it weather both the land boom collapse of the mid-1920s and the long depression of the 1930s.
The decades around the turn of the century brought Alachua County's agricultural economy troubled times, as freezes destroyed the citrus industy and the boll weevil blighted the cotton crops. World War I brought an end to the phosphate industry as international trade was disrupted. As John J. Tigert began his presidency at UF, Florida came under yet more hard times. The Mediterranean fruit fly crippled the state's citrus production in the South, and the deadliest hurricane to ever hit Florida destroyed what was left of the state's economy. A year later, the Great Depression began with the collapse of the stock market in 1929. Gainesville had experienced a land boom and bust some years before the main collapse, so by the time the Depression hit the rest of the country Gainesville had already entered a holding pattern and was not much affected.
As World War II mobilization began, soldiers were brought to Florida for training, notably to Pensacola for flight school and Jacksonville for naval deployment. After the war (and the fortuitous invention of air conditioning), Florida experienced population boom as newly returned servicemen moved to the state, drawn by memories of excellent weather and cheap accommodations. As the 1950s and 60s progressed, many high-tech industries began in Florida, most notably the Space Program at Cape Canaveral. As the state's population expanded, so too did its universities. From the 1940s to the 1970s, The University of Florida went from being a school of 5,000 white men to a having a diverse student body of more than 28,000 men and women.
For the last several decades, the University of Florida has diversified and expanded into one of the top research universities in the nation. With a focus on excellence in research, teaching, technology and athletics, coupled with innovative public/private partnerships, the University of Florida will certainly remain a leader in higher education.
Today the largest employer in Gainesville and Alachua County, the University of Florida and UF-Shands continue to influence the area for the better. Gainesville has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Florida, and the strong outlook for Gainesville and UF includes biotechnology, innovative agriculture, online education and business partnerships in the broader community. Gainesville continues to be one of the best small cities in America, a unique place in the heart of central Florida, and as another new century dawns the future looks bright.