Long before the Spaniards arrived in Florida, Gainesville's combination of fertile soil, broad prairies, clear lakes and abundant game had attracted a complex Native American Civilization known as the Timucuan. Throughout the sixteenth century Spanish explorers, including Hernando DeSoto, ranged across the region seeking land and treasure. Next, Franciscan priests founded missions, and finally ranchers established a large cattle ranch on Payne's Prairie. During the early 1700s the English and their indigenous allies destroyed these missions and later the Seminole established settlements around Micanopy.
One of the most significant events in the more recent history of the County occurred in 1905 when Gainesville was chosen as the site for the University of Florida. The University opened a year later with 102 students, fifteen faculty and two unfinished buildings. Twenty years later the student body numbered 2000 who attended classes in thirteen Gothic-style buildings including a library, a gymnasium and an auditorium. By the 1930s, the University had become the focus of the County's economy, helping it weather both the land boom collapse of the mid-1920s and the long depression of the 1930s. At the turn of the 21st century, the student population had grown to over 44,000, and the upward trend continues today.
In addition to the University, visitors can experience the thrill of drag racing at the Gainesville Raceway. With a quarter-mile drag strip 167 feet above sea level, it's a thrilling experience. For a little Florida history, take a trip along the Old Florida Heritage Highway. Located along U.S. 441 from Williston Rd. to the Marion County Line, there are 48 miles of U.S.441 just south of Gainesville providing a vista of rural landscape, cattle, state parks and historic towns.
Nearby are a host of once-in-a lifetime adventures. Visitors can canoe down the Santa Fe or Ichetucknee Rivers near High Springs, hike the trails at O'Leno State Park in High Springs, see the sink holes at Peacock Springs near Branford, even canoe down the Suwannee River made famous by composer Stephen Foster, or take a houseboat cruise along the Suwannee River near the west coast of Florida. In addition, just two hours south of Gainesville is Orlando, home of the Walt Disney World Resort and the most popular vacation destination in the world.
Due to its location in sunny central Florida, any time of year is fine for a visit to Gainesville. It is a busy time of year when the University of Florida is in full session (and anytime the Florida Gators are playing a home football game). Winter tends to be even busier as visitors from the north visit Gainesville while also stopping in at other areas in Florida. With the exception of a few summer days, temperatures are quite pleasant. Winter brings a midday high near 70 making it ideal for any of the many outdoor activities available. Spring and fall bring a rise in temperature during the day but evenings are just cool enough for a relaxing dinner at one of the city's many fine restaurants followed by a stroll through the area or on the University campus. The heat and humidity rise in summer, making it the perfect time of year for a dip in the pool and a cool drink. Whatever the season or whatever the reason for visiting, this true Florida City has something for everyone.