- Columbia County
- Year Founded: 1859
- Previously known as: Alligator
From its earliest frontier days to the early 21st century, Lake City has been a crossroads. Indians, settlers, trains, automobiles and ideas have made their way through and into, the City of Lake City. As the initial city encountered by travelers today into Florida, Lake City proudly boasts many “firsts” for the region and for the state.
Seminole Indians in north Florida established a community known as “Alligator.” By the late 1700s this settlement on the shores of Lake Desoto was thriving and it was linked by paths to a smaller Indian settlement on the north shore of Alligator Lake. By the early 1800s, white settlers began to trickle into the area. The population grew into the 1840s and the Town of Alligator emerged with substantial farming. A series of forts were constructed throughout the young territory for protection including Fort White on the Santa Fe River and a stronghold in present-day downtown Lake City known as Fort Lancaster. The final Indian attack occurred in 1842 and within two years the last Indians left the area or were forcibly shipped west. The declaration of Florida’s statehood in 1845 opened up more opportunities for the new state’s gateway city.
With the Seminole threat vanquished, the population of Columbia County and “Alligator” doubled between 1840 and 1860. The main thoroughfare, now known as Marion Avenue, was a dirt road edged by wooden buildings and planked sidewalks. Stores and merchants served farmers who purchased supplies. The town, excited to hear that the Florida Atlantic and Gulf Coast Railroad would include a stop in Alligator, welcomed the line in March of 1860. As Alligator opened up to the outside world, many residents grew self-conscious about its name.
According to legend, a local woman complained that her daughter at college was embarrassed when she told people she was from “Alligator, Florida.” So a local senator introduced a proposal to rename the town in 1858 and on the last day of the 1859 session – January 15, 1859 – the Governor signed the bill renaming the town as “Lake City.”
Entering the 1860s with a new name, Lake City played a prominent role in the Civil War. In early 1864, Union forces moved through Jacksonville and west towards the rail lines and ultimately the state capitol, but they were defeated just outside of Lake City at Olustee, in present-day Baker County in early February. To preserve the history of the event, the Blue-Grey Army Inc stages the Olustee Festival and Battle Re-Enactment on President’s Day Weekend each year.
Infrastructure improved with a fire department in 1883, to complement a police department created during the Civil War. The Lake City Reporter printed its first edition on August 6, 1875 to the delight of local residents. Lake City was the first city in Florida to have electric lights from a local Power and Light Company which began operating in 1891. By that time Lake City enjoyed some of the first maintained roads in the state. Railroad service was expanded south to Fort White, home of a lucrative but short-lived phosphate mine and continuing north to Macon and Atlanta. The city was poised at the gateway of a booming state that offered land and resources to an industrializing nation.
Education remained important to Lake City and its stature as an important Florida city reached a peak in 1884 with the opening of Florida Agricultural College. Starting with just five faculty members and a small group of male students, the college blossomed into a full university with twenty-five instructors by 1904. In a landmark 1905 decision, the institution now called the “University of Florida” was moved to Gainesville despite the protests of many local residents. The site of the University briefly was utilized as a Baptist college and then in 1920 was made into a Veterans Hospital. The confluence of senior citizens, war veterans and education would mark Lake City’s growth for the next century.
The city expanded on the west side in the 1950s and early 1960s to welcome the interstate highways and the face of Lake City was changed forever. The bustling downtown of department stores and theaters eased into a quiet, daytime center of local government and banking. Meanwhile, service industries including hotels and restaurants began to welcome tourists on their way to Disney World or the beach and these convenient locations continue to thrive. More recently, Lake City has welcomed several light industries while continuing to serve Florida’s visitors. The most recent population estimate shows Lake City with about 12,000 residents in the city limits, which cover about eleven square miles. The Gateway City enjoys a stable population, an advantageous location and an optimistic
Story of City’s Founding
According to legend, a local woman complained that her daughter at college was embarrassed when she told people she was from “Alligator, Florida.” So a local senator introduced a proposal to rename the town in 1858 and on the last day of the 1859 session January 15, 1859 the Governor signed the bill renaming the town as Lake City.
Little Known Facts
- Lake City was the first city in Florida to have electric lights from a local Power and Light Company which began operating in 1891
- Major Highways and Interstates that run through Lake City are Interstate 75 (North and South) Interstate 10 (East and West), Highway 90 (East and West), Highway 41 and 441 (North and South), State Road 47
- In 1959 the community celebrated the Centennial Anniversary with a Parade, Theatrical Production and the creation and burial of a “Time Capsule” over a 3 day period
- In 2009 the community celebrated the Sesquicentennial Anniversary with monthly community events and culminated the year-long celebration with the preservation of the items from the Original Time Capsule and the addition and burial of a “New Time Capsule” to be opened in 2059