Many of us accept the places we are born and live in as an anchor. A place to begin and end. A place to return to. Home. There is an implied sense of permanence to the word. We simply can’t vision a community or a house simply vanishing.
It happens. The story of Newnansville is one that illustrates how transient human endeavors can be. Newnansville once was one of the largest cities in Florida. Today, finding any of its “bones” is a project. The sign pictured above commemorates where it was. A building or two that their owners claim stood when the town thrived and a cemetery are pretty much what mark the corpse’s location. The site is near the current city of Gainesville.
The city was named after a prominent figure who fought in the “Patriot’s War.” That war is one of those bodies buried by national pride and the obscurity of the area’s history. The Patriot’s War was an attempt to seize Florida from Spain during the early 1800’s for the fledgling United States. Supposedly a settler’s attempt to throw off Spanish rule, it was a thinly disguised American exploit. It failed, partly because of the poorly organized clandestine effort the US made, partly because the Tories who had been expelled from the colonies during the Revolutionary War sided with the Spanish, and partly because it paralleled the War of 1812 that found the US scurrying to survive. Daniel Newnan took a hero’s part in the ill-fated attempt made to conquer St. Augustine.
Andrew Jackson then demonstrated to the Spanish it was time to leave. He announced his intention to make war on the Seminole’s and other tribes in the region. His edict to the Spanish Governor in essence stated “stay out of my way or I’ll make you eat dirt.” The Spanish weren’t that enamored with Florida and ceded its territory to the United States in 1821.
The war ended badly for the Native Americans. The Seminoles resisted relocation and resorted to moving further south while fighting with the settlers over lands seized by them.
In 1824 the five building community sited in the Indian territory’s original name was “Dell’s Post Office.” When Newnan settled there the town renamed itself, “Newnansville.” The government built a road that stretched from St. Augustine to Tallahassee. The Bellamy Road was the main connection between East and West Florida. Newnansville became the major station along its length. Fort Gilleland was built nearby to protect the road, the town and the steadily increasing number of white settlers homesteading the area.
Justifiably alarmed by the continuing incursions of the settlers, the Seminoles were pushed to the point that war broke out in 1835 when Colonel Dade and a hundred men were ambushed and killed in the area. During this period of time (1835-1842) Newnansville became the largest settlement in the area exceeding 1000 people. When the war ended, the city retained its prominence until the railway decided not to lay rails through the community. Instead the railway went to Alachua a few miles away. With it went commerce, with commerce went people … Newnansville literally was abandoned over the succeeding decades.
Today the most prominent reminders of the town’s existence are the sign and some old grave stoves, like the one below. People things, aren’t permanent things, as much as humans like to believe they are.
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