Sometimes I forget how much history my hometown has. I grew up in Micanopy, Florida, the oldest inland town in the state (second oldest town in the state next to St. Augustine). Perhaps it looks familiar? It was used as a filming location for the Cross Creek and Doc Hollywood movies (I appeared in the latter as an extra – just a blur in the parade scene). It was a great place to grow up. My friends and I rode our bikes all around town, our dogs following us close behind.
The Town of Micanopy (mick-ah-No-pee) encompasses 1.03 square miles near the Alachua-Marion County line between Gainesville (home of the University of Florida) and Ocala (the horse capital of the world) in rural north- central Florida. Micanopy was named for Seminole Chief Micanopy (ca.1780-1849). Ancient oak trees covered in Spanish moss create tunnels for the narrow streets and dirt lanes. Florida’s aboriginal records show that Hernando De Soto encountered an early Timucua Indian Village here in 1539. Later, Pennsylvania botanist William Bartram visited a Cuscowilla village here in 1774. Micanopy is the oldest inland town in Florida having been included in a land grant made by the King of Spain in 1817 to Don Fernando del la Maza Arrendondo of Havana and St. Augustine.
Founded after Spain relinquished Florida to the United States in 1821, Micanopy became the first distinct American town in the new territory. Originally an Indian trading post, Micanopy was built under the auspices of the Florida Association of New York. A leading member of this company, Moses E. Levy, along with Edward Wanton, a former Anglo-Spanish Indian trader, played important roles here.
In 1822, a select group of settlers and skilled craftsmen departed New York harbor and set sail for Florida. After disembarking on the banks of the St. Johns River (at the site of present-day Palatka), and with the added labor of 15 slaves, these men forged a 45-mile road with eight bridges to Micanopy–a vital new pathway into the interior. These first settlers arrived on February 12, 1823, and were in close contact with both Seminole and Miccosukee Indians, as well as the black descendants of runaway slaves who resided among them. This initial period was one of relative peace. Micanopy means “head chief,” a title awarded to the leader of the Alachua Seminoles.
The onset of the Second Seminole War in December 1835 caused great devastation. Nearby sugar plantations and homesteads were burned. Families sought the safety of Micanopy, which had been barricaded with log pickets and renamed Fort Defiance by the military. During the summer of 1836, the Battle of Micanopy and the Battle of Welika Pond took place here. On August 24, with most soldiers sick or wounded, the US Army evacuated the fort and town and all buildings were intentionally burned. The town was rebuilt after the Seminole War, with few of the original inhabitants returning.
A New DAWN
Cotton replaced sugar cane as a staple crop and cattle production assumed new importance. Following the Civil War, with the advent of the railroad, the Micanopy area became known as the “leading orange and vegetable growing section of Florida.” After a freeze in 1894-95, orange cultivation was crippled. Farmers continued to flourish by growing winter vegetables for northern markets. By the 1920s, truck farming was largely displaced by the lumber and turpentine industries. Many of the town’s larger surviving homes reflect the previous era of agricultural prosperity.
Dedicated on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, Cholokka Boulevard, once an Indian trading route, is Micanopy’s main street. It’s also the town’s primary tourist destination famous for its antique shops. Micanopy’s eclectic mix of authentic rustic storefronts lure casual shoppers, collectors, seasonal scouts from all over the country, and Hollywood film makers (Doc Hollywood, Cross Creek, and most recently, The History Channel’s, Top Gear). Charming diners and the nationally lauded Herlong Mansion Historic Inn (1845), provide Southern hospitality as a bed and breakfast. A two-story brick schoolhouse (1895) now houses Micanopy Town Hall, the Town Commission Chamber, and the Micanopy branch of the Alachua County Library District. Across the street, the wood-planked
Thrasher Warehouse (1890) boasts the Micanopy Historical Society Museum and the Archives showcasing the relevance of earlier times for historians, genealogists, and students. Numerous historic homes and old cracker houses add to the picturesque warmth of “the town that time forgot.”
Visit Micanopy if your looking for a slice of Florida history!