OCALA, FLORIDA

By  Mike Miller  Updated December 11, 2021

Ocala, Florida is a busy city south of Gainesville and north of The Villages Florida. It is the seat of government of Marion County.

The city has a population of about 61,810 but it's in the middle of Marion County with 378,613 people.

Ocala Florida Horse Statue DowntownHorse Statue in Front of Ocala City Hall

HISTORY OF OCALA FLORIDA

The town takes its name from Ocali, a major center of the Timucua Indians in the 1600's.  The name in the Indian language means "big hammock".

Not long after Florida became a territory in 1821, the U.S. Army built Fort King near what is now Ocala. The fort was one of many in Florida to protect white settlers from the Seminole Indians.

Modern day Ocala, established in 1846, grew up around Fort King.

The railroad came through Ocala in 1881, and the town began to boom. The boom was slowed down, however, when most of downtown Ocala burned down in 1883.

Most of the downtown buildings were replaced with brick buildings and Ocala became known by many in the state as "The Brick City".

Silver Springs Ocala FloridaSilver Springs with its Glass Bottomed Boats

Citrus was the biggest industry in the area until the freezes of 1894 and 1895 wiped out nearly all of the groves.

As Florida began to grow in the years after World War Two, Ocala became a well known tourist destination.

Some of the local attractions included nearby Silver Springs, one of the earliest tourist destinations in Florida.  Silver Springs is now owned by the state as Silver Springs State Park.

Some other earliest tourist attractions were Wild Waters Water Park and Six Gun Territory

Carl Rose and HorsesCarl Rose and Horses

In the modern era of Ocala history, Carl Rose developed the first farm for thoroughbred horses, Rosemere Farm, during World War Two on acreage along State Road 200.

Rose was a road builder, and noted during earlier visits that the limestone that underlies much of the area helps provide nutrients that help build strong and fast horses.

Gornil, one of Rosemere's first horses, won a race at Miami Tropical Park. It was the first thoroughbred raised in Florida to win a major race.

Soon after this, other thoroughbred operations began to show up in central Florida.

Marion Hotel now known as Sovereign BuildingMarion Hotel now known as Sovereign Building

A landmark that still dominates the Ocala skyline is the Sovereign Building.  It began its life in 1927 as the Marion Hotel. 

It is currently used as an office building as in on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

OCALA FLORIDA TODAY

These days the rolling hills around Ocala are known as prime territory for raising thoroughbred horses.

Needles, Winner of the 1956 Kentucky DerbyNeedles, Winner of the 1956 Kentucky Derby

Ocala is now internationally famous for its thoroughbreds. in 1956 Needles became the first Florida raised horse to win the Kentucky Derby. 

Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978.

Ocala, Florida Cottage

These successes have helped the area around Ocala become one of the biggest thoroughbred centers in the world.

There are almost one thousand thoroughbred farms and another few hundred horse farms devoted to other breeds.

The World Equestrian Center is a facility in Ocala located on 378 acres.  It includes arenas for equestrian events as well as first class stables for horses.  It has set aside another 300 acres for future expansion.  It has a very busy schedule and numerous shopping opportunities for horse lovers.  

Ocala and Marion County have been among the fastest growing places in the United States since the 1970's. A lot of the growth is due to the attraction of the area as a good place to retire.

The Villages Florida and the developments along State Road 200 are now home to thousands of retirees.

An Ocala rival to The Villages is the modern planned development of On Top Of The World west of the city.

Ocala Florida Office BuildingOcala, Florida Office Building

Ocala has done an excellent job preserving historic buildings and residences in its downtown area. Several structures are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Horse Statue in Downtown Ocala

Many of the beautiful old Victorian homes are in the tree shaded neighborhoods along East Fort King Street.

Equestrian statues are a focal point of the downtown area.  You will see many beautiful horse statues.

The city is on the edge of the Ocala National Forest, the second largest of all national forests in Florida.

Some other worthwhile places to visit in this small city include the Appleton Museum of Art, the College of Central Florida, and the Paddock Mall.




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