Introduction to Gainesville, Florida
The Florida city of Gainesville is the county seat of Alachua County, and also the county's largest city. It is situated 37 miles north of Ocala, 71 miles southwest of Jacksonville, and 114 miles northwest of Orlando. The city is served by an extensive road system, including Interstate 75, US Route 301, US Route 441, and Florida State Highways 20, 24, and 26. Gainesville is noteworthy for being the home of the University of Florida, Florida's principal state university and the fourth-largest university in the nation. Gainesville is also home to Santa Fe Community College, one of the largest community colleges in the U.S.
Incorporated in 1869, Gainesville was named in honor of General Edmund Pendleton Gaines, a noted commander in the Second Seminole War. During the latter part of the 19th century, the city and its county prospered, riding the success of the citrus and phosphate industries. The city's advantageous central location also made it a prime target of the burgeoning railroad industry. Although the early part of the 20th century brought the boll weevil and its devastating effect on cotton crops, the new century also brought construction of the University of Florida (1906), giving Gainesville a staple that would later prove vital in helping the city's economy weather the depression era. The university has also been a key factor in the continued prosperity of Gainesville during the latter half of the 20th century. Today, Gainesville boasts world class medical facilities, historic districts, new or newly-restored city buildings, and numerous cultural venues. Fittingly, Money Magazine in 1995 named Gainesville as the #1 best place to live in America.
Arts and Culture in Gainesville
Considered Gainesville's cultural hub, the Thomas Center is the site of a variety of art exhibits and musical programs. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Center contains art galleries, local history exhibits, performance space and meeting rooms, as well as the surrounding Thomas Center Gardens and the adjacent Grace and Sidney Knight Children's Theatre. Other cultural facilities in Gainesville include the Florida Museum of Natural History, the Hippodrome State Theatre, the Harn Museum of Art, the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, the Olustee Battlefield State Historic Site, the Civic Media Center, the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, and the Gainesville Community Playhouse.
Gainesville has undertaken a large historic preservation initiative over the past several decades, resulting in a number of buildings which have been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Some of the structures in and around the downtown area include:
- Matheson Center Home (1867)
- Masonic Temple (1913)
- Bailey Plantation House (1854)
- Baird Hardware Company Warehouse (1910)
- Thomas Hotel (1928)
- Seagle Building (1937)
- Cox Furniture Store (1887)
- Star Garage (1903)
A two-hour drive provides access to a number of hugely popular Central Florida attractions, including the Kennedy Space Center (located on Merritt Island) and the Orlando tourist destinations of Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and Sea World.
Sports in Gainesville and Alachua County center on the University of Florida Gators, a perennial national college football powerhouse. The other prime focal point for area sports fans is the sport of auto racing. Gainesville Raceway, a local drag racing landmark which opened in 1969, has long been recognized as one of the fastest tracks on the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) circuit. The facility is annual host to one of NHRA's largest national events, the "Gatornationals", held every March since 1970.
Within a two-hour drive you can cheer your favorite major league professional sports teams with the NBA's Orlando Magic, the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, and Arena Football's Orlando Predators. Minor League baseball action can be found in Jacksonville, where the Suns, a AAA-affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, reside. During Spring Training in March, baseball's Atlanta Braves play their games at the Walt Disney World complex in Orlando.