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Prepared by Ben Pickard
Alachua County Historic Trust
Matheson Museum, Inc.

Historical Overview

Long before the Spaniards arrived in Florida, Alachua County's unique combination of fertile soil, broad prairies, clear lakes and abundant game had spawned a complex Indian civilization called Timucuan. Throughout the 16th century, DeSoto and other Spanish explorers plundered the region, then Franciscan priests founded missions and finally ranchers established a large cattle ranch on Paynes Prairie.

18th Century | 19th Century | 20th Century | Postwar Era | Since 1970 | Significant Dates | Larger Historic Towns
Small Historic Towns | Significant Homes | Significant Buildings | Significant Sites | Historical Figures

Historical Figures

Hernando De Soto This Spanish explorer and warrior marched through the Alachua region in the summer of 1539 on his way north, ravaging the land and plundering villages throughout North Central Florida. Cowkeeper A Seminole chief who lived near Micanopy in Tuscawilla, Cowkeeper hosted William Bartram during his Alachua County visits. A noted warrior, he despised the Spanish rule.

William Bartram This famed naturalist writer twice visited the Alachua region in 1774 and wrote extensively about Paynes Prairie, the Alachua Sink and Seminole culture.

King Payne Cowkeeper's successor, who routed Col. Newnan's militia in a one-week battle near presentday Newnan's Lake. Payne's Prairie was named after him.

James Bailey One of the earliest county settlers who helped found Gainesville and worked to make it the county seat. His plantation was located near Sweetwater Branch and his house, built in 1854, is the oldest one in the city.

J. J. Dickison A cavalry captain who some called Florida's finest soldier. He led the Confederate forces in their August 1864 defeat of Union forces at Gainesville.

Madison Starke Perry A prosperous Alachua planter from Rochelle, Perry became Florida's fourth governor.

Josiah Walls Wells was the most important African-American political leader in Alachua County after the Civil War. He was the first African-American elected to Congress from Florida and served as Gainesville's mayor.

Leonard G. Dennis An ex-Union soldier who became the political boss of Alachua County during the Reconstruction period. He perpetrated the Archer vote fraud of 1876, which altered a national presidential race.

Henry F. Dutton Another ex-Union officer who migrated south and became the county's leading businessman. He ran the region's largest cotton gin, and His Sea Island cotton was prized in northern markets. His Dutton Phosphate Mining Co. was the largest phosphate exporter in the Southeast. William Reuben Thomas A long-time mayor of Gainesville, Thomas helped bring the University of Florida to Gainesville. He ran the White House Hotel and built the Thomas Hotel, which later became the Thomas Center.

Christopher Matheson A Gainesville lawyer, Matheson served as the city's mayor from 1911 to 1917. Although he became a Presbyterian minister in Oklahoma, he retained his family home--the second oldest one in the city--and finally returned to it. His wife Sara, a prominent civic leader, left the Matheson home as a museum.

A. A. Murphree He was the second president of the University of Florida, serving from 1909 to 1927. Murphree oversaw the growth of the small college from 200 student to more that 2,000. He also organized the university into four colleges and oversaw the construction of 11 new buildings, including the library and auditorium.

Eberle Baird Baird founded his hardware store in 1890, and by 1910 it was one of the largest in the state. He constructed the Baird Warehouse on South Main Street. He opened the Baird Opera House on the south side of the square and purchased the adjoining block.

Sarah Lucretia Robb Refused medical training in the United States because she was a female, Robb had to obtain her degree in Germany. She practiced in Gainesville as the county's first female doctor and specialized in the care of women and children. Her home has been restored as a museum and Medical Society office.

C. Addison Pound Pound became president of Baird Hardware in 1930, which was Gainesville's largest business for 40 years.

W. A. Shands A prominent Gainesville businessman, Shands served in the State Senate from 1940 to the 1958. As president of the Senate, he secured the first public medical school in the state, which was at the University of Florida. UF's teaching hospital is named after him.

John J. Tigert The longest-serving president of the University of Florida, Tigert guided the school through the Depression. During his tenure, UF granted its first doctor of philosophy degrees. During his 19 years as president, Tigert transformed UF from a somewhat parochial college of 2,300 students into a major research institution of 9,000 students.

U.S. "Preacher" Gordon For 40 years, Gordon served as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Gainesville. He was noted for his tolerance and wit.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings A resident of Cross Creek from 1928 until her death, Rawlings writings about the area garnered her international acclaim. The Yearling won a Pulitzer Prize in 1938, while her book Cross Creek artfully captured "Cracker" Florida.

Jessie Aaron A folk sculptor from Gainesville, Aaron did not begin his work until he was 81, when he responded to a religious call. From then until his death at 92, he carved hundreds of expressive figures and animal forms from stumps and cedar logs.

Sid Martin A Hawthorne native who served as a county commissioner for 18 years and then served in the Florida House for 15, Martin was noted as being the voice of the ordinary man as well as a fighter for racial equality, the environment and controlled growth.

Neil Butler A Gainesville native who grew up under segregation, Butler went on to become the first African-American to serve on the city commission and to become mayor since Reconstruction. Manning Dauer earned all his degrees at the University of Florida and taught in its Political Science Department for 47 years. He wrote the Florida reapportionment law of 1967, which ended the dominance of the rural "Pork Chop Gang" that had controlled the Legislature.

William C. Thomas A beloved Gainesville physician who helped found Alachua General Hospital and was its first chief of staff. In his long career, he delivered 8,000 children and saw patients until his death at 81.

A. Quinn Jones Jones spent more than 70 years as a teacher and then principal of the county's two most important African-American schools, Union Academy and Lincoln High School. He served as the principal of Lincoln from its opening in 1923 until the 1970s. The school was renamed in his honor.

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