| Alachua is one of
Floridas older counties, dating to territorial times (1824). The name is of even
older origin. Allen Morris reports that it is Creek for "jug" or
"sinkhole," in keeping with the areas unique geology featuring numerous
large sinkholes and caves including the famous
"Devils Millhopper." The Alachua sink was in the vicinity of Paynes
Prairie, a vast open expanse south of Gainesville. In antebellum times this prairie was
covered with water and plied by steamboats, but it drained when the sinkhole opened.
Among the earlier settlements in Alachua County was "Hog Town," which grew up in the early 1800's around a trading post. When Senator David Levy Yulee constructed a railroad from Fernandina to Cedar Key, Hog Town residents felt a more euphonious name was in order and eventually decided upon Gainesville in honor of General Edmund P. Gaines, a veteran of the Seminole wars. In 1853 Gainesville replaced Newnansville as the county seat. Until 1828 residents had attended superior court in St. Augustine, St. Johns County. Thereafter, Newnansville served as headquarters not only for Alachua but for several surrounding counties as well. Until boundaries were readjusted, Newnansville was briefly located in Columbia County.
The Gainesville courthouse shown here is the second of four. It was built in 1885 and demolished in 1958. Among the more celebrated trials to have occurred here was a suit for invasion of privacy filed in 1943 against Cross Creek author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who had written an unflattering description of the local census taker. Professor Patricia Acton has written a delightful account of this "warfare of pleadings" and the spirited hearings that followed. The current courthouse was constructed in 1975.
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