FLORIDA HISTORY

Florida history is quite a bit more recent than most of the states in the eastern and southern states of the United States of America. 

Yes, it's true we have St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied city in the United States, but development was extremely slow after that historic founding in 1565.

Castillo de San Marcos, St. AugustineCastillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine

In fact it wasn't until after the U.S. Civil War ended in 1865 that things began to happen in our fair state.

Although it is a relatively young state, there is still a lot of interesting history to learn and heritage sites to be visited.

One of the first things that struck me about Florida when I moved here was how young it was compared to the rest of the country. 

Most towns and places in Florida (other than Pensacola and St. Augustine) were settled in the years just before and after the Civil War. 

Before then, it was a barren state that many people considered to be uninhabitable.

Florida Cracker Cowboys by Frederic Remington

I first lived in north Florida, the home of the Florida Cracker.  

These were true southerners, and I learned a lot about Florida and the southern culture from these people. 

A good deal of Florida heritage is derived from the Old South, especially in north Florida.

Florida History Timeline

The Florida history timeline begins about 12,000 years ago with the first known human inhabitants. 

There were several ancient Indian tribes that lived in Florida thousands of years before the Seminoles arrived.

These tribes are gone, but are remembered in the history of Florida.

There were at least 15 of these tribes in Florida before the Seminoles arrived in the early 1800s.

Original Florida Native American TribesOriginal Florida Native American Tribes

Most historians break Florida history down into at least 11 periods:

1Early human inhabitants, including ancient Indian tribes that were here long before the Seminoles. Some of these include the Ais, Calusa, Tequesta and Timicua.  Today, only the Seminoles remain in Florida.

2. European exploration and colonization(1513-1565). Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon landed in Florida in 1513.  Pensacola and St. Augustine were founded during this period.

3First Spanish Period(1565-1763). Spain had total control over the Florida peninsula for almost 200 years.  During this period the Spanish connected St. Augustine to Pensacola and extended their trail westward to California.  The Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine was completed in 1695.

Old Spanish Trail Preceded I-10 and US-90 Through FloridaOld Spanish Trail Preceded I-10 and US-90 Through Florida

4. British Florida(1763-1784). The British got Florida in 1763 in a land swap for Havana, Cuba after the Seven Years War(1756–63), known as the French and Indian war in American history.

5. Second Spanish Period(1784-1821). The Brits left Florida after losing the Revolutionary War. The Spanish came back for another try.

6. Territorial Period(1821-1845). Spain gave Florida back to the United States. Andy Jackson became governor, and Florida became an American territory.  Tallahassee was chosen as the capital because it was about halfway between Pensacola and St. Augustine.  Two of the three Seminole Wars took place during this time.  Many Florida towns have "Fort" as their first name derived from the forts built during these wars.

Chief Micanopy on the left and Osceola on the rightChief Micanopy on the left and Osceola on the right

7. Statehood(1845-1861). The Seminoles were finally vanquished and most of them relocated out west, although they never surrendered.  In the 1860 Presidential election, no Floridian voted for Abe Lincoln.  Florida was deeply Southern in culture and sympathies with very few in support of the Union.

Pickett's Charge, Battle of Gettysburg, July 3, 1863. Painting by Mort KuntslerPickett's Charge, Battle of Gettysburg, July 3, 1863. Painting by Mort Kuntsler

8. Civil War and Reconstruction(1861-1877). Florida was one of the Confederate States of America and was punished for it from 1865-1877 during Reconstruction.  The state was physically and financially devastated.  Major settlement of north Florida took place during this period as families from war torn Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and elsewhere moved to the state.

9. Florida Development(1878-1926). Steamers, railroads, dredges, swamp reclamation, new towns, cities, developments, highways.  The citrus industry prospered until the Great Freezes of 1894 and 1895.  Florida became a major cattle raising state.  The 1920s saw a major land boom in Florida with many new towns being created.

10. The Great Depression in Florida(1926-1940). What the sorry economy didn't destroy, the 1926 Miami hurricane did.  The huge land boom of the Roaring Twenties went down with a crash.

11. World War II and the Post-war Boom(1940-2009). Army bases were turned over to Florida cities and counties after the war.  The space program began at Cape Canaveral in the late 1940s.  Martin Marietta opened in Orlando in the 1950s.  Walt Disney World opened in 1971.  Continuous economic growth lasted until about 2008. The first year in which population did not increase was 2009.  The boom continues to the present with almost 1,000 people moving to the state each day.


Florida Heritage Sites

The State of Florida organizes its heritage sites by theme of the site as well as the county it is located in.  Here are the 23 themes:

  • Archaeological Sites
  • Cemeteries and Mausoleums
  • Civic and Social Clubs
  • Commercial and Industrial
  • Educational Facilities and Campuses
  • Florida Main Streets
  • Gardens
  • Heritage Trails
  • Historic Attractions
  • Historic Bridges and Spans
  • Historic Districts
  • Historic Movie Theaters
  • Libraries and Archives
  • Maritime
  • Markers and Monuments
  • Municipal Buildings
  • Museums
  • National Historic Landmarks
  • Parks, Preserves, and Sanctuaries
  • Performing Arts
  • Sites of Military Significance
  • Sites of Religious Significance
  • Transportation

Each of Florida's 8 geographic regions has its own interesting history.  These pages tell you about that history and also show you the registered historic and heritage sites in that region.  All told, Florida has 1,300 such sites.

CLICK BELOW FOR REGIONAL HISTORIES & HERITAGE SITES


A recent part of Florida history is the demise of so many tourist attractions that existed and flourished in the years before Walt Disney World opened in 1971.

HERE ARE SOME OF THESE LOST ATTRACTIONS


There are hundreds of local Florida historical societies ranging from small town operations to major metropolitan organizations. 

Many of the smaller societies are staffed by volunteers who have an obvious love of history as it relates to their own communities.

Florida Historical Society Headquarters, CocoaFlorida Historical Society Headquarters, Cocoa

The Florida Historical Society is the oldest of these, and is located in Cocoa Village, Florida.

It's collections and journal cover the history of the entire state. Even so, there are local societies that have larger collections and more members.

The Cocoa Village office has an excellent resource library and a cadre of volunteers in addition to a very small and efficient professional staff.

Their efforts help keep Florida history and heritage alive; without them we wouldn't know much about what went on before us.

Listed below are a few of the local historical societies.

  • Alger-Sullivan Historical Society - Century
  • Boca Raton Historical Society - Boca Raton
  • Cedar Key Museum State Park - Cedar Key
  • Citrus County Historical Society - Inverness
  • Davenport Historical Society - Davenport
  • Dunedin Historical Society - Dunedin
  • East Hillsborough Historical Society - Plant City
  • Florida Baptist Historical Society - Graceville
  • Florida Historical Society - Cocoa
  • Geneva Historical Society - Geneva
  • Gulf Breeze Area Historical Society - Gulf Breeze
  • Historical Society of Avon Park - Avon Park
  • Indian Rocks Beach Hist. Society - Indian Rocks Beach
  • Key West Art and Historical Society - Key West
  • Marco Island Historical Society - Marco Island
  • Micanopy Historical Society - Micanopy
  • Mount Dora Historical Society - Mount Dora
  • Osceola County Historical Society - Kissimmee
  • Panhandle Preservation Alliance - Florida Panhandle
  • Pensacola Historical Society - Pensacola
  • Pompano Historical Society - Pompano Beach
  • Santa Rosa Historical Society - Milton
  • St. Augustine Historical Society - St. Augustine
  • Washington County Hist. Preservation Society - Chipley

We choose not to give you the internet links to many of these societies because they are unreliable. 

Sometimes the website is up and running;  other times you won't find a thing. 

You will have to rely on Mother Google to find a website, if any, and learn more about the group.


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