The Gainesville region was originally inhabited by Paleo-Indians approximately 12,000 years ago. The European explorer Hernando de Soto passed through the area in 1539. Once the Europeans arrived, many Native Americans perished from diseases that were brought over.
The city of Gainesville was founded to serve as the Alachua County seat because of its position along the Florida Railroad Company’s route. The original proposed name of the city was Hogtown, but a settlement located near Westside Park already had this name, so the city name was adopted. This former site was later annexed in 1961.
In 1854, the public sale of lots was ordered. Two years later, a courthouse was constructed, and the following year, a well was dug and a jail was constructed. The property values during this time began to rise quickly. The city continued to grow and by the end of the 1850s, there were multiple stores and hotels.
Gainesville was incorporated as a city in 1866, but the government was weak at this time. The city was reincorporated in 1869 by order of the Florida legislature. After the Civil War, the city’s economy revolved around cotton shipping and was the leading shipping facility in the state. More railroads arrived, continuing the growth of the city. For a brief period, citrus growing became an important part of the economy but ended following freezes.
Heading into the 20th century, Gainesville became known as a rough city. Lots of violence included severe injuries and killings. This included racial violence.
In the 20th century, a new charter was requested and was granted in 1905. The borders of the city were also expanded. A bond issue was offered this year and was used to launch a sewer system and pave roads. A generating plant was built in 1914. The University of Florida had also been established by this time.
The city faced its hardships in the 20th century, including exhausting its water supply. A new well was drilled and a water tower built. Agriculture remained the dominant industry in Gainesville. It was also still a major shipping point through until a boll weevil infestation destroyed crops.
In the 1920s, a land boom occurred, and new subdivisions were developed. More schools opened, the government added a city manager, and the police force expanded. The city continued to grow. When the Great Depression hit, Gainesville wasn’t affected nearly as bad as other cities and had a lower unemployment rate than many other areas in the country. During World War II, the city continued to grow both in terms of the economy and population. The airport was updated, and the hospital was expanded, while the university was used to train military personnel. Following the war, enrollment at the University of Florida grew, bringing veterans and their families to the area.
The city continued to see a pattern of growth through the 1960s when it became known for college activism. This rose again during the 1980s. Today, the city has been named as one of the best places to live in the U.S. It is known for its low cost of living. One drawback is that with so many educated residents, the job market is quite weak and the median income falls below the national average. The city welcomes many visitors each year, who come to see the cultural facilities and festivities, historic sites and landmarks, and other attractions that Gainesville has to offer.