Excerpted from an article by Laura B. Taylor Beautiful Florida, Vol. 5, No. 8, April 1929.
To one not familiar with the locality a history of Payne's Prairie sounds incredible and fantastic. Geologically it is referred to as a "Solution basin," being the central and largest of several located in Alachua County. Underground solutions are responsible for the reduction of the original surface level. It covers an area of eight miles long and varies from one and a half to four miles wide, containing about 12,000 acres. Low divides separate this basin from Kanapaha and other prairies on the west, from Levy, Ledwith, and smaller lakes on the south, and from Newnan's Lake on the northeast. Taking these various basins entire there is an area of not less than fifty square miles.
During dry seasons there is a dense growth of grasses and weeds on the prairie, serving as pasture for herds of cattle. During the youth of the present generation it was used as a racing course and for other sports of the day and many are the stories of romance told. During wet seasons will be seen the Lotus (Nelumbo lutea), yellow and water lilies and, of course, the ever present water hyacinth.
The principal stream, entering this basin, is a creek flowing from Newnan's Lake and into the sinks, of which there are two. During heavy rainfall this stream draining from Newnan's Lake carries water more rapidly than it is able to escape through the sinks; under these conditions the basin fills and temporarily becomes a lake. At times the drainage sinks become completely clogged, retarding the escape of water, and in this case, instead of a prairie, there is a lake for several years. This happened in 1871 when a series of rains swelled the creek to the dimensions of a lake. For fifteen years there was sufficient water on the prairie to allow steamers to run from shore to shore. One in particular had a splendid business during the fruit season.
For several years the lake gradually lowered and then suddenly, within two weeks, Alachua Lake diasappeared entirely, except for the creek and the usual amount of water immediately around the sinks. This was the second disappearance since 1823. Most interesting descriptions of Alachua Lake were published in the Providence Journal of September of Sept. 14, 1891, and in the Washington Evening Star of Sept. 19, 1891. There have been temporary overflows since 1891 but most of the time Payne's Prairie has been a very well behaved prairie and used for grazing until the present writing . . . In years past there were roads across the prairie during dry years and in 1918 the army planes used it as a landing field.