Hernando de Soto and his army passed through Gainesville in August 1539 towards the beginning of their four-year exploration of what is now the southeastern United States, the third village where they stayed, Utinamocharra, having been in the dense cluster east of Moon Lake at the northwestern edge of present-day Gainesville.
The Native Americans, having little resistance to diseases introduced from Europe, declined significantly in number after the arrival of Europeans, and Spanish suppression of native revolts further reduced the population.
The remaining Timucua were converted to Roman Catholicism and organized into missions overseen by Franciscan priests. The Mission San Francisco de Potano, the first doctrina (a mission with a resident priest) in Florida west of the St. Johns River, was founded in 1606 at the south edge of present-day San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park. In or adjacent to present-day Gainesville were two other missions (each named for the saint’s day the first Mass was said in it, Santa Ana and San Miguel, which were south of and within a day’s walk from San Francisco, and are thought to be in the cluster east of Moon Lake where Spanish and Indian artifacts from the Mission-period have been found. The earliest missions were apparently established adjacent to native villages visited by De Soto’s expedition; Santa Ana is thought to be located where Utinamocharra lay, and in 1606 the friar who served as the priest was told of cruelties that the chief, when a boy, had suffered from De Soto’s men. Chief Potano’s town was relocated in the colonial period to the vicinity of the Devil’s Millhopper, which is now inside the Gainesville city limits, from the western shore of Orange Lake.
In the first decade of the 18th century, however, colonial soldiers from the Province of Carolina and their Yamasee Indian allies had killed or carried off nearly all the remaining native inhabitants (10,000 ? 12,000 native Floridians were taken as slaves, according to the governor of Spanish Florida) and the few remaining Timucua fled and ended up living in the vicinity of St. Augustine.
Spanish colonists began cattle ranching in the Paynes Prairie area using Timucua labor, and the largest hacienda (ranch) became known as La Chua (which combines the Spanish article La with the Timucuan word Chua, meaning “sinkhole”). Although La Chua was destroyed by the above-mentioned raiders from Carolina, the ranch nevertheless gave its name to the Alachua band of the Seminole tribe who settled in the region in the 18th century under the leadership of the great chief Ahaya the Cowkeeper.
Gainesville was founded to place the Alachua County seat on the proposed route of the Florida Railroad Company’s line stretching from Cedar Key to Fernandina Beach. County residents decided to move the county seat from Newnansville (and chose the name Gainesville) in 1853, as the proposed railroad would bypass Newnansville. A site on Black Oak Ridge where the railroad was expected to cross it was selected in 1854. It is generally accepted that the new settlement was named for General Edmund P. Gaines, commander of U.S. Army troops in Florida early in the Second Seminole War. The railroad was completed from Fernandina to Gainesville in 1859, passing six blocks south of the courthouse.
It is claimed that Gainesville was originally named Hogtown; however, Hogtown was actually an early 19th-century settlement in and around what is now Westside Park (in the northeast corner of the intersection of NW 8th Avenue and 34th Street) where a historical marker notes Hogtown’s location at that site. Hogtown is the eponymous village of the adjacent Hogtown Creek which flows 5.7 miles (9.2 km) through Gainesville. Hogtown continued to exist until after Gainesville was founded, as evidenced on a map showing both towns which was published in 1864 based on surveys from 1855. Two residents of Hogtown played a prominent role in establishing Gainesville. William Lewis, who owned a plantation in Hogtown, delivered 20 votes pledged to him to create a new town on the expected route of the railroad, in an attempt to have the new town named Lewisville. Tillman Ingram, who also owned a plantation and a sawmill in Hogtown, helped swing the vote to move the county seat to the new town by offering to build a new courthouse at a low price. Residents of Newnansville, disgruntled at losing the county seat, called the site chosen for the new town “Hog Wallow”, because of its location between Hogtown and Paynes Prairie. The former site of Hogtown was annexed by the City of Gainesville in 1961.
A town site of 103.25 acres (41.78 ha) was purchased for $642.51. The County Commission ordered the public sale of lots in the town site in 1854, but no deeds were recorded until 1856. A courthouse was constructed in Gainesville in 1856, and the county seat was then officially moved from Newnansville. A jail was built in 1857, and a well was dug and a pump for public use installed the same year. Property values rose quickly. A city block on the edge of town purchased for $14.57 in 1857 sold for $100 in 1858. The railroad from Fernandina reached Gainesville in 1859, and connected to Cedar Key the next year. By that time, there were eight or nine stores and three hotels surrounding the courthouse square.
In the 1850s secessionist sentiment was strong in Gainesville. Half of the white residents in Gainesville had been born in South Carolina (where secessionist sentiments were very strong), or had parents who had been born in that state. Aside from a few foreign-born residents, the other whites in town had also been born in Florida or other Southern states. Another factor was fear of blacks. Blacks, mostly slaves, were a majority of the population in Alachua County (although there were few in Gainesville itself). John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 frightened the whites in Gainesville, leading them to organize a militia company called the Gainesville Minute Men.
The Gainesville Minute Men were incorporated into the First Florida Regiment soon after Florida seceded from the Union. Several more companies were recruited in Gainesville and Alachua County during the Civil War. During the war Gainesville served as a depot for food requisitioned by the Confederate government from the surrounding area. A small post on the east side of Gainesville called Fort Lee was an induction point for men entering the Confederate States Army.
Fighting on a small scale reached Gainesville twice. On February 15, 1864, a small Union raiding party occupied Gainesville. Elements of the Second Florida Cavalry attempted to drive the Union force from the town but were defeated in a street battle. The raiding party was associated with a larger Union invasion of Florida that was defeated at the Battle of Olustee five days later. The Union troops did not seize or destroy any property on this raid, but did distribute food stores to the residents, who were suffering from shortages. Six months later, early in the morning of August 17, 1864, 265 Union troops and 15 “loyal Floridians” reached Gainesville. The troops stopped just east of town to prepare breakfast and care for their horses. A small home guard of 30 to 40 old men and boys attacked the Union camp, and were easily driven off. The Union troops then broke ranks and started looting the town. While the Union troops were scattered throughout the town a large number of Confederate troops were spotted approaching. The Union troops resisted the Confederate advance for an hour and a half, but were finally driven from Gainesville with heavy casualties.
For several months following the Civil War, the 3rd United States Colored Troops were stationed in Gainesville, which encouraged freed men to settle there. At the same time black farm laborers were recruited from Georgia and South Carolina to help harvest what was expected to be a very large cotton crop, but heavy rain ruined the cotton, and the recently arrived blacks were left without work. Black residents soon outnumbered whites in Gainesville, which had had 223 white residents in 1860. Vagrancy and theft became major problems in Gainesville, and large numbers of blacks were arrested by federal troops.
White residents resumed political life in Florida immediately after the end of the Civil War. Gainesville incorporated as a city in 1866, but the city government was weak and the council did not maintain a regular schedule of meetings. With military control asserted over Florida in 1867 as part of Reconstruction, the reconstituted Florida legislature required all cities to re-incorporate, and Gainesville did so in 1869. During Reconstruction Gainesville blacks were elected to a number of state and local offices. Blacks had largely been disenfranchised by the 1890s, however.
Downtown Gainesville on Alachua Avenue (now University Avenue) circa 1883
Following the Civil War, the city prospered as an important cotton shipping facility. Florida produced more Sea Island Cotton in the 1880s than any other state, and Gainesville was the leading shipping point for cotton in Florida. Two more railroads had reached Gainesville by the 1880s, and citrus and vegetables had become important local crops. However, the citrus industry ended when the great freezes of 1894?95 and 1899 destroyed the crops, and citrus growing was largely abandoned in the area. Phosphate mining and lumbering became important parts of the local economy. A manufacturing area grew up south of downtown, near the railroads.
The first school for blacks in Gainesville, the Union Academy, was established in 1866 by the Freedmen’s Bureau to educate freed slaves. White residents of Gainesville were opposed to education for blacks and treated the teachers at the school badly, including incidents of boys throwing “missiles” into the classrooms. By 1898 the school served 500 students, and it continued in operation until 1929. White students had only private schools available before 1869, including the East Florida Seminary, which moved from Ocala in 1866 and merged with the Gainesville Academy (founded in 1856). Even after a public school system had been established in Alachua County, most white children who went to school did so at private schools, and the Union Academy was in session for a larger part of the year, and its teachers were better paid, than was the case for the public schools. Public education remained underfunded into the 1880s, classes having to meet in abandoned houses or rented rooms. The school year for public schools was as short as three months for some years. The first public school building was built in 1885. The Gainesville Graded and High School, with twelve classrooms and an auditorium, opened in 1900, and most of the private schools closed soon after. The county school board also provided some funds for upkeep of the Union Academy.
There was no dedicated church building in Gainesville in the first years of its existence. A church built in 1859 by the Presbyterians was shared by itinerant preachers of several denominations until 1874. The Methodist mission to Gainesville lapsed during the Civil War, and a church they had built was used by a black congregation after the war. Several white Protestant denominations organized congregations and built churches in the 1870s. Catholics, who had been holding services in private homes for 25 years, built a church in 1887. Jewish families began moving to Gainesville in the late 1860s. Although a Jewish cemetery was established in 1872, there was no synagogue in Gainesville until 1924.
Gainesville was a rough town after the Civil War and into the early 20th century. Whites and blacks commonly carried firearms, and gunshots were often heard at night. Killings and serious injuries were frequent. Some of the violence was racial. Young Mens Democratic Clubs (usually a cover name for the Ku Klux Klan), formed in the late 1860s to fight political domination by Republican northerners and blacks, reportedly burned the homes of many Republicans and killed nineteen people, including five blacks. A black man was taken from the jail and lynched in 1871. In 1891 a black man and a white man, members of a dreaded gang, were also taken from the jail and lynched. Later that year a black man accused of giving shelter to Harmon Murray, another member of that gang, was also taken from the jail and lynched. The city had only a single police officer until well into the 20th century, which was inadequate to deal with the violence. A posse authorized by the city council also did little to stem the violence. Punishments for crime included public executions, the pillory, lashes and fines.
The Charter for the First National Bank of Gainesville was granted on June 1, 1888. In the 1930’s the bank became affiliated with the Atlantic National Bank of Jacksonville, later changing its title to the Atlantic First National Bank of Gainesville. 31 large and 34 small size notes are known on this first chartered Gainesville Bank.
Signed by Charles A. Faircloth, cashier and Wm. R. Steckert as vice president.
Signed by W.H. Burdick, cashier and T.W. Shands as president.
The Gainesville National Bank received its charter on July of 1907 and to facilitate a merger the bank was voluntarily liquidated on December 27, 1918. Only 4 notes are known on this Gainesville rarest chartered bank.
The Florida Bank of Gainesville was converted into the Florida National Bank of Gainesville and was issued its charter on January 9, 1913. The bank was eventually liquidated on August 19, 1922. On August 21, 1922, the Florida National reorganized under the state law as the Florida Bank and Trust Co. of Gainesville. Only 15 notes known on this charter #10310, six of which make up the only complete set known of all types and denominations are featured in this collection.
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Notes & Currency
- 18__ Fernandina $3 Obsolete Note
- 1882 $50 Jacksonville Note Charter #3869
- 1902 $10 Punta Gorda Note Charter #10512
- 1882 $5 Palatka Note Charter #3223
- 1902 $5 Key West Note Charter #7942