One of the larger inland counties in Florida with 961 square miles, Alachua County was named by the Indians for its natural features. Some believe that the word was the Indian name for sinkholes, which are scattered throughout the county and particularly for one called the Alachua Sink or "the Jug." Others think the name meant prairie or savannah. Alachua County is renowned for one of each, Paynes Prairie and the Devil's Millhopper. A rolling, hilly county with much pineland and hardwood forests, it has numerous lakes and scores of creeks and ponds, as well as a number of sparkling clear limestone springs that pour into the waters of the Santa Fe River. Lakes Lochloosa, Newnans and Orange flow into the St Johns River, while other drainage is to the sinks. Most of the early settlers in the region were framers who came from other southern states in search of land, and they farmed cotton and rice until the Civil War. Afterwards, vegetable crops, lumbering, citrus and phosphate mining became dominant industries, but only agriculture has remained important.
Alachua County has many places of archaeological, historical and natural significance. A brief sketch of the most significant natural sites follows.
1. Arredondo Grant
Don Fernando de Maza Arredondo, a Spanish merchant and citizen of St. Augustine, had assisted in raising troops in 1811 for the town's protection and played a significant role in its civic life, hazarding his own fortune to aid the city when public resources failed. As a compensation for his services in 1817, the King of Spain granted him 280,000 acres embracing most of Alachua County with its center in Micanopy. On this grant, Horatio S. Dexter and Edward M. Wanton, agents for Don Fernando, began the settlement of Alachua County. In November of 1820 Wanton settled near present day Micanopy and erected two houses. By 1826 Wanton's town had a post office, twenty-five homes and a powered sawmill and it was soon to be renamed Micanopy, after the great Seminole Indian chief and warrior.
2. Paynes Prairie
U.S. 441 (Southwest 13th Street)
Paynes Prairie, now a State Preserve, is a large, flat, marshy plain covered by grass and scrubby trees. It measures eight miles long with a width of one to four miles. Water draining into the Prairie goes underground through the soluble limestone of Alachua Sink. Historically Paynes Prairie has alternated between being a lake and a prairie. It was occupied by Timucuan Indians until the late 1600s when the land served as a large cattle ranch for the Spanish. In 1774 the famous naturalist William Bartram visited the Prairie and described this area as the great Alachua Savannah. In 1871 the sink was plugged with logs and debris and so became the Alachua Lake, plied by low-draft steamboats like the "Cicola" which shipped citrus. In 1892 the sink became unplugged and rapidly drained, once again reverting to its prairie state.
3. Boulware Springs Waterworks (1895-1908)
3400 Southeast 15th Street
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A natural spring that had been a local swimming and picnic area, Boulware Springs gained historic significance in the summer of 1853. The citizens of Alachua County met there and voted to move the county seat from Newnansville to a new, yet-unnamed town, the future Gainesville. In 1892 the city purchased the springs and built Gainesville's first central water works, functioning as the sole source of Gainesville's drinking water from 1898 to 1913. The pump house, built in 1902, is an excellent example of Florida industrial architecture with its white brick walls, standing seam metal hip roof and segmented arches located above several windows. When restored, the building will serve as part of a city park with connecting nature trails.
4. De Soto Trail
State Road 121 & US 441
Florida's De Soto Trail commemorates the overland route of Hernando De Soto, who made a four-year exploration of the southeastern United States from 1539 to 1543. His approximate passage through Alachua County in August, 1539, follows State Road 121 from Levy County through Gainesville to U.S. 441. Interpretative exhibits are located along the trail, one at a wayside park near Hague.
5. Kanapaha Botanical Gardens (1978)
State Road 24 and 63rd Boulevard
Founded by the North Florida Botanical Society, these gardens display a wide range of native and imported plants in their appropriate habitats. Situated on the southern end of Lake Kanapaha, it includes a vinery, herb garden, water lily pond and bamboo garden among many others. Nearby are the Kanapaha cemetery with the graves of several Alachua County pioneer families and the Kanapaha Presbyterian Church built in 1880 and restored by its congregation in the 1970s.
6. Haile Plantation (c.1850)
Southwest of Gainesville
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Located eight miles southwest of Gainesville, this frame vernacular plantation home with its classical proportions is one of the few extant homes from the pre-Civil War era. Built on four-foot-high flintstone pillars, it contains pine beams over one hundred feet long. Thomas Evans Haile moved to Florida from South Carolina in the 1850s and built this house as part of a cotton and rice plantation. Ten children were born here and it functioned as the family home until 1897. Since then used as a weekend retreat and mainly unchanged, the house functioned as a background site for Victor Nunez's Earn, "Gal Young Un'," based on a story by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. The house has since been stabilized, but still needs extensive restoration.
7. The Devil's Millhopper
4732 Northwest 53rd Avenue
Now a state geological site, this large sinkhole was formed when a cavern roof of limestone collapsed, creating a bowl-shaped cavity some 500 feet in diameter and tapering to one hundred feet at its bottom. With a depth of approximately 120 feet, this site has attracted visitors since first described in the 1880s. During the summer months, the coolness within the sink and its lush plant growth resemble the deep ravines of the Appalachian Mountains. Fossil shark teeth and marine shells found in the sink indicate that the sea once covered this whole area.
8. San Felasco Hammock
Northwest Gainesville (Off State Road 232)
This state preserve offers a wide diversity of plant communities and geological features, including sandhills, swamp areas and a rare climax mesic hammock. Many prehistoric and historic Indian sites are found in the preserve. During the Second Seminole War Colonel John Warren fought off a party of Seminoles here in a battle lasting an hour and a half.
9. The Bellamy Road
Near the City of Alachua
Constructed from 1824 to 1826 by John Bellamy, a surveyor and engineer, this was the first federally financed road in Florida. Connecting Pensacola to St. Augustine, the road was twenty-five feet wide and the stumps were cut to within twelve inches of the ground so that wagon axles would clear them. Bellamy used his own equipment and slaves and suffered natural hazards, as well as Indian attacks, during the construction. This road opened the interior of North Florida to exploration.
10. Newnansville (1824-1890)
Northeast of the City of Alachua
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Newnansville was the site of a well-developed nineteenth century rural village which became the first county seat in Alachua in 1828. Standing at the junction of several important roads, it prospered as a commercial center for the corn, cotton and citrus industries of the expanding Middle Florida frontier. In 1854 the county seat was moved to Gainesville and the town declined in population and importance. When a new railway line, built in 1884, bypassed the town, Newnansville was abandoned. Today all that survive are two cemeteries and the remains of a road.
11. O'Leno State Park
North of High Springs
In this park the Santa Fe River vanishes beneath the ground in a sink and reappears out of a rise about three miles away, thus forming a natural bridge. The Spanish Trail and the Bellamy Road both used this bridge to cross the river. A town named Keno, later renamed Leno, was founded just upstream of the river sink. In 1876 the town had a mill, general store, hotel, livery stable and post office. Bypassed by the railroad, it became a ghost town by the turn of the century. The area became a state park in 1923, and during the depression the Civilian Conservation Corps built cypress pavilions and bridges.