Gilchrist County

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The popular story of how Gilchrist County came into being concerns a bluff by citizens in the western part of Alachua County. The citizens there in what was called "The West End" wanted a road from the Suwannee River at Fannin(g) to Gainesville, the county seat of Alachua County. When the County Commission refused to build the road, the citizens in the western part drew up plans for a new county and presented it to the Alachua County Commission.

When the County Commission still refused to build the road, the citizens had to save face, so they sent a petition that would create a new county to the Legislature, meeting then in a special session in Tallahassee. The bill passed and was signed by Governor John W. Martin on December 4, 1925. As a result, there came into being Florida's sixty-seventh county, the last and smallest Florida county.

There were other reasons for the establishment of Gilchrist County, including the issue of the no-fence law and the distribution of racetrack money.

Alachua County favored a no-fence law*, a law that would fence in cows and prevent them from wandering at large; many people in the Western End did not like such a law. Also, many citizens in the western part of Alachua County felt that they were not adequately represented on the Alachua County Commission. In 1925, for example, that Commission wanted to bridge over the Suwannee River at Fort Fannin to go unattended; the Commission felt that it was just too expensive to keep a bridge tender there.

The people in the West End felt neglected by the Alachua County Commission, a feeling partly brought on by the distances involved. It would take all day, especially on the sandy roads before the roads were paved, to make the trip to Gainesville and back in a Model-T to do any official business with the school superintendent or the sheriff, whose offices were in the courthouse in Gainesville.

Many people in the West End believed they would be better off financially, especially because a new county would receive an equal share of the state's racetrack revenue, which the state distributed equally to each county.

The citizen group had chosen the name Melon County as its name to honor the many watermelons grown in the area, and at first it seemed to be a good idea.

Concerning the mane of the new county, the Legislature had its own ideas. Legislators first suggested the name Wilson to honor the late President Woodrow Wilson, but then decided to name the new county after ex-Governor Albert Waller Gilchrist, who was ill at the time in a New York hospital.

Gov. Gilchrist finally died of cancer on May 15, 1926, and was laid to rest in Punta Gorda, north of Fort Myers. While most of his estate of a half-million dollars went to charities, his will also stipulated that part of it be set aside to provide the children of his beloved Punta Gorda with ice cream every Halloween because, in his words, "It costs but little and affords much happiness." His name was a fitting choice for the new County.

On December 4, 1925, Governor John W. Martin signed the law creating Gilchrist County. On January 1, 1926, Gilchrist County came into existence, the law county to be established in Florida. it consisted of 339 square miles or 226,560 acres, most of which was farmland or timberland.

          

* According to a legal consultant the "no-fence" law is not what the name implies. It is more of a "fence law" that is just the opposite of "open range" and requires cattle owners to fence their cattle in. This was enacted in 1950 for the entire state. Before then it was up to counties or cities to enact their own fence law.




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