Gainesville is the largest city and county seat of Alachua County, Florida.
Gainesville is primarily known for being home to the University of Florida, the flagship university of the State University System of Florida and the third-largest university in the United States. Santa Fe Community College, one of the nation’s largest community colleges, is also located in Gainesville.
The 2000 Census reported the population of Gainesville to be 95,447. Following a successful annexation in 2002, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated a 2004 population of 108,856. However, the Welcoming Gainesville and Alachua County and United Nations Association estimates the 2003 population at 117,182. The Gainesville Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which includes Alachua and Gilchrist counties, has a population of 239,114 as of 2005 Census Bureau estimates.
Gainesville’s original inhabitants were the Timucua Indians. Spanish colonists began cattle ranching in the Payne’s Prairie area using Timucua labor and the largest ranch became known as LaChua. Though the ranch was eventually destroyed by British raiders, it nevertheless gave its name to the Alachua band of the Seminole tribe who settled in the region in the 1700s under the leadership of the great chief Ahaya the Cowkeeper.
Gainesville was originally formed along the Florida Railroad Company’s line stretching from Cedar Key to Fernandina Beach as part of a route eventually carrying cargo from New Orleans to New York. In 1854 Gainesville became the new Alachua County seat (moving from the more populated but inconveniently located Newnansville). The city is named for General Edmund P. Gaines, commander of U.S. Army troops in Florida during the Second Seminole War.
Gainesville was the scene of small-scale fighting in the Civil War. On February 15, 1864, a skirmish erupted when about 50 Union troops entered the city intending to capture two trains. The Second Florida Cavalry successfully repulsed this raid. The raiding party was eventually defeated at the Battle of Olustee five days later. Later that year, the Battle of Gainesville took place on August 17, 1864. Three-hundred Union troops occupying the city were attacked by the Florida Cavalry. The Federals were driven out of town and suffered significant casualties.
Following the civil war, the city prospered as a major citrus growing center, with direct rail access to ports on the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. However, this prosperity ended when the great freezes of 1894 and 1899 destroyed the entire crops, and citrus growing moved permanently south to the Orlando area. Other attempts to replace this lost industry included phosphate mining, turpentine production and tung oil had only moderate success.
Gainesville’s fortunes took a major turn for the better, however, when the University of Florida was created by the Florida Legislature in 1905. Gainesville was chosen, beating out other cities who saw their colleges close, such as Lake City and Bartow. Fortunately, the city had the foresight to construct a modern municipal water, sewer and electric system and was able to offer these services to a new university location for free. A site was selected at a location then considered about a mile west of town. The first classes were held at Buckman Hall in the fall of 1906.
Over the past century, the university has brought the town a youthful population, cultural opportunities, and world class medical facilities. The sports drink Gatorade was invented in Gainesville as a means of refreshing the UF football team and UF still receives a share of the profits from the beverage. However Gatorade’s headquarters are now located in Chicago, Illinois.