Detail, William Bartram's sketch of Alatchua Savannah (now Payne's Prairie [orig. in British Museum; from Travels in Georgia and Florida, 1773-74, American Philosophical Society, 1942])

Images of Alachua

From Plains to Trains,
Sinks to Citrus
 
"Now on a sudden opens to view an inchanting scene, the great Allatchua Savannah. Behold, a vast Plain of water in the middle of a Pine forest 15 Miles in extent & near 50 Miles in circumferance, verged with green level meadows, in the summer season, beautifully adorned with jeting points & Prometoryes of high land."
 
From William Bartram's Travels in Georgia and Florida, 1773-74, A Report to Dr. John Fothergill [published by the American Philosophical Society, 1942].
 
When William Bartram arrived in the vicinity of Alachua in the 1770s he perceived it as a frontier recently reclaimed from the wilderness. The only colonial settlement was a trading post and the largest population center was the Indian town of Cuscowilla. Orange trees, punctuating the forest with gold, stood as silent tokens of an earlier, vanished residency and cultivation. Yet when Bartram rhapsodized about the area in later years, these features of the landscape became a mere backdrop to his most vivid recollection, the strange enigma of the Great Alachua Savannah, an elongated prairie of scrub and grassland that could mysteriously convert itself (so legend said) into a vast lake. This low basin with its surrounding ridges of high hammock captivated his imagination.
 
In fact, Billy Bartram was not so much an explorer of Alachua as the first in a long line of tourists. Hernando De Soto had already passed through the region in 1539 enroute to Apalache. In 1606, the Franciscan friar Martin Prieto conducted a reconnaissance of Alachua when he established the mission of San Francisco de Potano near present-day Ocala. The creation of Prieto's evangelical outpost inaugurated a long period of Spanish activity in the area, centered around missions and cattle ranches. By the mid-1700s, when both John and William Bartram passed through Alachua, these earlier activities had been swept away by Queen Anne's War and other conflicts. The fertile lands now comprising Alachua, Gilchrist, Levy, and Marion counties were slowly coming under the domination of the Seminoles. Variously known as La Chua, Latchaway, and Allatchua, this interior district stretched from the western banks of the St. Johns River to the drainage of the Suwannee and controlled the cross-peninsular routes of travel. It remained the center of Florida's "Indian Territory" until the conflicts of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). During that war, the U.S. Army created a network of forts and military encampments in Alachua to protect home-steaders and assail Seminole strongholds.
 
By the time of the Civil War, Alachua had became a major depot for the Florida Railroad and the heartland of the state's first citrus industry. In the 1880s and 1890s, the era from which the images in this exhibit are drawn, small villages and towns dotted a landscape of groves, sugar mills, and vegetable farms [see the James Calvert Smith and Harrison and Flora George images].
 

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