|Paynes Prairie: History|
It is hard to imagine a prairie once submersed as a lake. Would you believe that there used to be the largest cattle ranch in Florida on this now marshy land? Perhaps the preserve seems calm and quiet now, but at one time a war was fought on its soil.
Paynes Prairie holds the key to a lush past and history. Human occupation in this area dates back as far as 12,000 BP (before present). In the late 1600's the largest cattle ranch in Spanish Florida was formed here and named La Chua. Two hundred years later the Seminole Indians occupied the area. The prairie is thought to be named after a Seminole Chief named King Payne. However, around the prairie several small battles were fought for the Second Seminole War. This war lasted from 1835-1842 and was the Indians' retaliation for being forced to leave their home.
After the war, in 1871, heavy rains caused the basin of the prairie to flood. Although this area was not inhabitable, people still found a way to use the prairie. Steam-powered boats traveled across what was now called the Alachua lake to transport lumber, goods and passengers to the shoreline. It wasn't until 1891 that the main drain for the basin became unclogged and the water drained. In 1892 the prairie was again considered a marsh.
In the 1900's, William Camp began cattle operations on the prairie. It seems as if the prairie's life cycle had come full circle. After 70 years, the state decided that this habitat was important enough to preserve. In 1971 Paynes Prairie became Florida's first state preserve. Three years later it was designated as a National Natural Landmark.
The prairie is alive and well today because of the preservation efforts of the state of Florida. Over 400 species of animals live in this vital environment. This preserve also supplies hours of entertainment to people from around the state of Florida. Visit the Florida State Parks Web site for information on the activities provided. Its preservation has allowed generations of animals and humans to enjoy the nature and beauty that it offers, plus there's more to come.