History Happened Here

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Gainesville

Alachua County

Year Founded: 1853Founded by: Residents of Alachua CountyPreviously known as: none, although a false, but popular local legend says it used to be named Hogtown

History

The land upon which Gainesville now sits was once a Timucuan Indian village. In 1817, it was part of a land grant that was given to a Spanish merchant. Gainesville was founded in 1853 when Alachua County residents wanted to place the county seat of Alachua County on the proposed route of a Florida Railroad Company line that went from Fernandina Beach southwest to Cedar Key. After the courthouse was built in 1856, the county seat officially moved, and the Florida Railroad Company line was completed in 1859. The original city plat and streets were built on a grid system, something that remains today except for a few major thoroughfares. During the late 1800s, cotton, citrus and vegetable farming, phosphate and lumbering were economically significant. In 1884, a number of fires burned many of the buildings around the city square, and brick building replaced many of the burned structures. By the early 1900s, Gainesville had grown to become the fourth largest city in Florida, with a population of 4,000. This growth surged after the University of Florida began operating in Gainesville in 1906. The decision to move the university to Gainesville was made after the city offered the school free water. The fact that the county was a dry county was also viewed as a factor that made Gainesville the more favorable selection. By 1920, Gainesville’s population had more than doubled to more than 10,000 residents. The university was important to Gainesville’s economy, especially when the local phosphate and cotton industries collapsed during World War I. As the university grew, the city expanded westward. During the Depression, the University of Florida again helped stabilize the economy because of its 1,000 employees and 2,000 students. The end of World War II brought more growth to Gainesville, mostly due to a G.I. Bill that allowed military veterans to attend college. From 1940 to 1950, Gainesville’s population doubled. In the 1960s, the Victorian-styled courthouse was torn down, making room for a newer building. Some people thought the destruction was unnecessary and they brought forth the idea of preserving historic areas of the community. The city now has four historic districts and a number of historic structures that are on the National Register. Dozens of Victorian and Queen Anne residences have been restored , and more than 20 buildings on or around the university were constructed in the Collegiate Gothic style architecture. Today, Gainesville’s population has grown to 125,000 year round residents, with an additional 70,000 students from the university and Santa Fe College, and the city now covers approximately 62 square miles.

Little Known Facts

Historical Sites

Name: Hippodrome State Theatre
Location: 25 SE Second Place, Gainesville, FL 32601
Historical Significance: Hippodrome State Theatre (added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1979): The building that is now known at the Hippodrome State Theatre was originally built in 1911 and served as downtown Gainesville’s Post Office on the first floor and a courthouse on the second floor. In 1972, local actors founded the state theatre. Today, Broadway and off-Broadway productions and art house films occur year round at the Hippodrome State Theatre.

Name: Thomas Center
Location: 302 NE Sixth Avenue, Gainesville, FL 32601
Historical Significance: Thomas Center (added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1973): What is now known as the Thomas Center started as Sunkist Villa, the private residence of William Reuben Thomas, a Gainesville politician and businessman, and his family. In 1928, he more than doubled the size and converted it to a hotel, or Hotel Thomas. In 1968, the family sold the property who leased it to Santa Fe Junior College. In 1974, the City of Gainesville purchased the property and designated it as a cultural center. The Historic Thomas Center now houses two art galleries, city offices, three 1920s period rooms and the grounds are sought after for weddings, conferences, meetings and other social events.

Name: Seagle Building
Location: 408 W. University Avenue, Gainesville, FL 32601
Historical Significance: Seagle Building (added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1982): The Seagle Building was originally built as Hotel Kelley or the Dixie Hotel during the economic boom of the 1920s. Before the last floor was built, the project failed, and the building sat unfinished for a decade. In the mid-1930s, George Seagle finally finished the building. Following its completion, the building served the University of Florida until the 1960s. The building sat abandonded for a number of years before it was sold to a developer for $1, with the agreement that the building would be completely renovated. Today, the building houses six floors of commercial space and five floors of residential space. At 11-stories tall, this building is the tallest building in downtown Gainesville.

Name: Boulware Springs Waterworks
Location: 3300 SE 15th Street, Gainesville, FL 32641
Historical Significance: Boulware Springs Waterworks (added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1985): In 500 BC, Boulware Springs provided water to early native Americans. Gainesville purchased the springs in 1891 in order to provide its residents with water. In 1905, Gainesville offered the University of Florida free water for life if the university moved to Gainesville rather than Lake City. To this day, the university does not pay for water. Today, Boulware Springs and the original pump house have been restored for use as a public park and meeting facility.

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