History of Tallahassee, Florida

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The History of Tallahassee, like the History of Leon County, begins with the Native American population and its interaction with British and Spanish colonists as well as colonial Americans, as the Florida Territory moved toward statehood. Growing numbers of cotton plantations increased the settlement's population greatly. It became a city and capital in 1821.

Main article: Tallahassee, Florida

Early history[edit]

Tallahassee is situated within the Apalachee Province, home of the Apalachee, a Mississippian culture of agrarian people who farmed vast tracts of land. Their capital, Anhaica, was located within Tallahassee's city limits.

The name "Tallahassee" is a Muskogean Indian word often translated as "old fields", or "old town."[1] This may stem from the Creek (later called Seminole) Indians that migrated into this region in the 18th century. The Apalachee's success as agriculturalists did not go unnoticed by the Spanish, who sent missionaries to the area throughout the 17th century. Several mission sites were established with the aim of procuring food and labor for the colony at St. Augustine. One of the most important mission sites, Mission San Luis de Apalachee, has been partially reconstructed as a state historic site in Tallahassee.

16th century[edit]

The Spanish missionaries were not the first Europeans to visit Tallahassee, however. The Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto spent the winter of 1538-1539 encamped at the Apalachee village of Anhaica, which he had taken by force. De Soto's brutal treatment of the natives was fiercely resisted, and by the following spring De Soto was eager to move on. The site of Anhaica, near present day Myers Park, was located by Florida archaeologist, B. Calvin Jones, in 1987.

19th century[edit]

Locating a capital[edit]

The founding of Tallahassee was largely a matter of convenience. In 1821, Florida was ceded by Spain to the United States. A territorial government was established, but the impracticalities of alternately meeting in St. Augustine and Pensacola — the two largest cities in the territory at the time — led territorial governor William Pope Duval to appoint two commissioners to establish a more central meeting place.

In October 1823, John Lee Williams of Pensacola and Dr. William Simmons of St. Augustine selected the former Indian settlement of Tallahassee (roughly midway between the two cities) as a suitable place. Their decision was also based on its location near a beautiful waterfall — now part of Cascades Park — and the old capital of the Apalachee chiefdom. In March of the following year it was formally proclaimed the capital. Florida did not become a state, however, until 1845 (Tebeau:122).

On November 1, 1823, John Lee Williams wrote to Congressional Delegate (and later Florida Governor), Richard Keith Call, about the location of the capital:

"Doct. Simmons has agreed that the Site should be fixed near the old fields abandoned by the Indians after Jackson's invasion, but has not yet determined whether between the ... old fields, or on a fine high lawn about a mile W. In both spots the water is plenty and good."

Founding of Tallahassee[edit]

In 1824, The City of Tallahassee, the county seat and only incorporated city in Leon County, was established following a decision by the state legislature to locate the capital of the new Florida Territory midway between the population centers of St. Augustine and Pensacola.

In 1824, General Marquis de Lafayette was awarded a land grant by the United States Congress. The grant consisted of a 6-mile (9.7 km) by 6-mile (9.7 km) square of land in what is today Northeast Tallahassee. Although the Marquis never visited his property in Florida, he sent people to grow limes and olives and to produce silk from moths. However, the colony failed, and most of the residents went to New Orleans or back to France. Those who remained lived in an area of Tallahassee that still is called Frenchtown. Lafayette eventually sold his property.

In 1826, Prince Achille Murat, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, moved to the general Tallahassee area most likely in response to the July 4, 1825 Lafayette Land Grant which also attracted many other French settlers. He purchased land in Jefferson County, Florida and named it Lipona Plantation.

The following outline represents a brief historical sketch of the area:

In 1827, Ralph Waldo Emerson, after a visit, called Tallahassee "A grotesque place of land speculators and desperados."[2][3] Emerson would become a great friend and confidant of the aforementioned Achille Murat for years.


First bank[edit]

Union Bank of Tallahassee
Brown's Inn in 1834.

Around 1830, the Union Bank, Tallahassee's first bank was established by William Williams. The Seminole Wars, unsound banking practices, and the Panic of 1837 caused the closing of the bank in 1843. In 1847, the bank was purchased by cotton plantation owners William Bailey and Issac Mitchell. It later became a Freedman's bank from after the Civil War until 1879. The building has been used as a church, feed store, art house, coffee house, dance studio, locksmith's shop, beauty shop, and shoe factory. In 1971 the bank was moved from the original site on the west side of Adams Street, between College Avenue and Park Avenue, to just east of the Capitol on Apalachee Parkway and Calhoun Avenue.

Capitol building[edit]

The rough hewn frontier capital gradually grew into a town during Florida's territorial period. In anticipation of becoming a state, the territorial government erected a greek revival masonry structure that would befit a state capitol. The structure opened in 1845 in time for statehood and eventually become known as the "old Capitol" which stands in front of the current new capitol high rise today.

Tallahassee-St. Marks Railroad[edit]

In 1834, The Tallahassee Railroad is constructed connecting St. Marks with Tallahassee to ship cotton to northeastern ports. It is reported to be the third oldest railroad in the United States). Also in 1834, Thomas Brown, who would later serve as Florida's governor, built an inn called Brown's Inn and was located on the west side of Adams Street between Pensacola and Lafayette streets


Reform Mayor[edit]

Florida Capitol Building 1845

In 1841, Francis W. Eppes, grandson of Thomas Jefferson and a successful cotton plantation owner became Intendant mayor of Tallahassee. Eppes served as mayor until 1844. Eppes described the town's Marion Race Course "A hotbed of vice, intemperance, gambling and profanity." He held that the rest of the town was little better. Eppes would again serve from 1856—1857.

Tallahassee Police Department begins[edit]

In 1841, the Tallahassee Police Department was established after complaints were heard by then intendant mayor Francis W. Eppes. Tallahassee followed the models set by the Philadelphia Police Department (1751) and Boston Police Department (1838). Its creation made TPD the 3rd oldest police department in the U.S.[4]


During the antebellum period, Tallahassee was at the center of the fast-growing "middle counties" of Florida, which held the bulk of the antebellum state population. For several decades before the Civil War, nearby Gadsden County was the most populous in the state. Cotton and tobacco plantations and smaller farms were the main draw for population growth as well as economic and political power. Many cotton plantations such as the William Bailey Plantation, Barrow Hill, Francis Eppes Plantation, La Grange Plantation were built within what is now Tallahassee.


Civil War[edit]

Florida Capitol Building 1902

Tallahassee was the only Confederate state capital east of the Mississippi not captured by Union forces during the Civil War. The Battle of Natural Bridge was fought outside Tallahassee, mostly by students of what would later become Florida State University, which is the only non-military academy or service academy school to have such a claim.


Following the Civil War, much of Florida's industry shifted to the south and east, a trend that continues to this day. The end of slavery caused the cotton and tobacco trade to suffer, and the state's major industry shifted to citrus, naval stores, cattle ranching, and even tourism, all of which occurred to the south and east due to climate and geography. This growth was especially noticeable around the Jacksonville area and the St. Johns River.


First University[edit]

In January 1883 Reverend John Kost, A.M., M.D., LL.D of Michigan proposed to carry out the mandate of the 1868 Constitution requiring a state university. Kost selected Tallahassee and the West Florida Seminary for the location of the university. Classes were held at the West Florida Seminary from 1857 until 1863, when the state legislature changed the name to The Florida Military and Collegiate Institute to reflect the addition of a military section which trained cadets.[5] The university was called the Florida State College for Women and later called the Florida State University.[6][7]

On October 3, 1887, the State Normal College for Colored Students began classes, and became a land grant university four years later when it received $7,500 under the Second Morrill Act, and its name was changed to State Normal and Industrial College for Colored Students. However, it was not an official institution of higher learning until the 1905 Buckman Act, which transferred control from the Department of Education to the Board of Control, creating what was the foundation for the modern Florida A&M University.

Capital City Bank[edit]

Dry goods store owner George W. Saxon began making loans to farmers during the 1880s which led him to filing for a bank charter in 1895. The bank grew and by 1975, Saxon's great grandson and bank director, DuBose Ausley, began formation of several banks into one group. Capital City Bank now has 70 banking offices and serves people as far north as Valley, Alabama and Macon, Georgia to Port Richey, Florida in the south.[8]

Carrabelle, Tallahassee and Georgia Railroad[edit]

During the 1880s and 1890s Tallahassee was served by the Carrabelle, Tallahassee and Georgia Railroad which ran from Georgia to Tallahassee and on to Carabelle in Franklin County.

St. James and Leon Hotels[edit]

The St. James Hotel was constructed sometime during the 1870—1883 period was a 3-story hotel with a porch wrapping two sides was located on the corner Monroe Street and Jefferson Street. The St. James became the Bloxham House from 1909—1913. Moved to 410 N. Calhoun Street, this building possesses both local and statewide significance having served as the residence for Governors William D. Bloxham and Madison S. Perry 1881—1901. It is also Tallahassee's finest remaining example of Federal residential architecture. In 1980 the Florida Heritage Foundation oversaw the restoration of this building.[9]

In 1881, the Leon Hotel was constructed at 110 East Park Avenue. A Victorian style 2-story building, it had ornate porches on both first and second floors with sprawling grounds. The Leon caught fire and burned in 1925.


20th century[edit]

Throughout much of the 20th century, Tallahassee remained a sleepy government and college town, where politicians would meet to discuss spending money on grand public improvement projects to accommodate growth in places such as Miami and Tampa, hundreds of miles away from the capital. By 1901, the infrastructure development continued to trend growth to the south, first by the Plant System Railroads to the fledgling port of Tampa and then the Flagler railroad to the remote outpost of Miami. However, Tallahassee was firmly entrenched as capital and in that year the 1845 capitol building was expanded with two new wings, and a small dome.

1900 to 1930[edit]

In 1905, Florida State College became a women's school called the Florida Female College and, in 1909, the name of the college was changed to Florida State College for Women.[10]

In 1919, The Florida Legislature passes a new city charter for Tallahassee, authorizing a Commission-Manager form of government. The position of directly elected mayor ends and a system of rotation among city commissioners for mayor begins.

The Floridan Hotel was constructed opened May 2, 1927 on the corner of Monroe Street and Call Street. It became the home of state legislators during legislative sessions and it has been said that more of Florida's business took place in the Floridan than in the Florida Capitol. The Tallahassee Rotary Club met in the Floridan during this decade. The Floridan was demolished in 1985.

In 1928, the City of Tallahassee purchased a 200-acre (0.81 km2) tract of land for $7028 for its first municipal airport. It was named Dale Mabry Field in honor of Tallahassee native Army Captain Dale Mabry. The airport was dedicated on November 11, 1929 with its first manager being Ivan Munroe.

1930 to 1950[edit]

In 1931, The Lively Vocational Technical School is established and is still in existence on Appleyard Drive. The 4-story Cherokee Hotel was constructed this decade.

In 1947, the Governor returning Florida State College for Women to coeducational status and naming it The Florida State University.[10]

Musician and entertainer Ray Charles made Tallahassee his part-time home. Charles began sitting in with the Florida A&M University student band and playing with jazz brothers Nat Adderley and Cannonball Adderley.[11]


Tallahassee bus boycott[edit]

Reverend C. K. Steele and Edwin Norwood

On May 26, 1956, two Florida A&M University students were arrested by the Tallahassee Police Department because they refused to give up their seats next to a white passenger. They were charged with "inciting a riot", though the white woman they sat next to made no objection. The next night a cross was burned outside their rooming house.[12] Carrie Patterson, a FAMU junior, was a 21 year old wife and mother from the small town of Lakeland, Florida. She was able to return home just twice a year. Wilhemina Jakes, a FAMU senior, was a 26 year old born in Hardeeville, South Carolina and was from West Palm Beach, Florida. Both young women were studying elementary education at FAMU.

Rev. C. K. Steele and Robert Saunders representing the NAACP began talks while blacks started boycotting the city's buses. This boycott was similar to that in the Montgomery Boycott with Rosa Parks. Former bus patrons began a car pool lasting through May 26, 1957, several other events took place which would change segregation in Tallahassee. The Inter-Civic Council ended the boycott on December 3, 1956.

On January 7, 1957, the City Commission repealed the bus-franchise segregation clause because of a recent federal ruling that outlaws segregated buses in Florida. Tallahassee's bus terminal would later be named after Steele.

In 1959, Betty Jean Owens, an African American woman, was brutally raped by four white men in Tallahassee.[13] The trial of Owens' rapists was significant in Florida, and the South as a whole, because the white men were given life sentences for their crimes. This severe of a sentencing had not occurred for white men in the South accused of raping black women previous to Owens' case.[14]


Civil Rights Protests[edit]

On March 16, 1960 the Tallahassee Police Department used tear gas to break up a student protest demonstration in the city. Protesters also attempted a boycott against "the Mecca", a popular eatery across from the gate of Florida State University in Tallahassee. Similar protests were launched against McCrory's, Woolworth's, Walgreens, and Sears.

The new capitol building[edit]

Florida Capitol Building under construction

By the 1960s, there was a movement to move the capital to Orlando closer geographically to the growing population centers of the state. That motion was defeated however, and the 1970s saw a long term commitment by the state to the capital city with construction of the new capitol complex and preservation of the old capitol building. In 1961, Tallahassee Regional Airport is opened.

First subdivision[edit]

In 1964, Killearn Estates became Tallahassee's first planned community. Formed from land owned by the Coble family and known as Velda Farms, it was unusual in that it had underground utilities preserving a natural appearance.[15]

Tallahassee Community College[edit]

In 1966, The Tallahassee Community College is established just east of what was Dale Mabry Field. TCC would grow and educate over 14,000 students per semester.

Recent history[edit]

Tallahassee has seen an uptick in growth in recent years, mainly in government and research services associated with the state and Florida State University. However, a growing number of retirees are finding Tallahassee an attractive alternative to South Florida's high housing prices and urban sprawl.


Ted Bundy[edit]

On January 9, 1978, serial killer Ted Bundy arrived in Tallahassee from Atlanta by bus. While in Tallahassee, Bundy rented a room at a boarding house under the alias of "Chris Hagen". Bundy went on a spree committing numerous petty crimes including shoplifting, purse snatching, and auto theft. In the early hours of Super Bowl Sunday on January 15, 1978, he bludgeoned to death two sleeping women, Lisa Levy and Margaret Bowman, and seriously wounded Karen Chandler and Kathry Kleiner inside their Florida State University Chi Omega sorority house. He then clubbed and severely injured another young woman, Cheryl Thomas, in her home a few blocks away.

On February 15, Bundy stole an orange VW Bug belonging to Rick Garzaniti of Tallahassee. Bundy was stopped shortly after 1 a.m. by Pensacola police officer David Lee. When the officer called in a check of Bundy's license plate it was proven to be stolen. Bundy scuffled with Lee before finally being subdued.


In 1997, Tallahassee citizens selected Scott Maddox as their first directly elected Mayor since 1919.


The U.S. presidential election of 2000 between Al Gore and George W. Bush would play out to a great degree in Tallahassee. Bush won the election night vote count in Florida by a little over 1000 votes. Florida state law provided for an automatic recount due to the small margins.

The closeness of the election was clear and both the Bush and Gore campaigns organized themselves for the ensuing legal process. The Bush campaign hired George H. W. Bush's former Secretary of State James Baker to oversee their legal team, and the Gore campaign hired Bill Clinton's former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Tallahassee attorneys W. Dexter Douglass and John Newton.

The Gore campaign, as allowed by Florida statute, requested that disputed ballots in four counties be counted by hand. Florida statutes also required that all counties certify and report their returns, including any recounts, by 5 p.m. on November 14.

At 4:00 p.m. EST on December 8, the Florida Supreme Court, by a 4 to 3 vote, ordered a manual recount, under the supervision of the Leon County Circuit Court, of disputed ballots in all Florida counties and the portion of Miami-Dade county in which such a recount was not already complete. That decision was announced on live worldwide television by the Florida Supreme Court's spokesman Craig Waters, the Court's public information officer. The Court further ordered that only undervotes be considered. The results of this tally were to be added to the November 14 tally. This count was in progress on December 9, when the United States Supreme Court 5-4 (Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer dissenting) granted Bush's emergency plea for a stay of the Florida Supreme Court recount ruling, stopping the incomplete recount.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Name Origins of Florida Places". Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  2. ^ "Login". 
  3. ^ "Tallahassee". 
  4. ^ WCOT City Talk, interview by Michelle Bono with Phil Kiracofe and Chief Walt McNeil, October 2006
  5. ^ "Calendar of the Florida University - Organization". Retrieved 2009-02-24. 
  6. ^ "p.46, History of Education in Florida (George Gary Bush, Ph.D; Washington GPO 1889)". Retrieved 2008-12-12. 
  7. ^ p.21, Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of Florida, June 1885. Retrieved 2009-02-24. 
  8. ^ https://www.ccbg.com/index.cfm?show=Our-History
  9. ^ "Downtown Tallahassee Historic Trail" (PDF). 
  10. ^ a b "About Florida State University". 
  11. ^ Lydon, Michael, Ray Charles: Man and Music, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-97043-1, Routledge Publishing, January 22, 2004.
  12. ^ "Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement -- History & Timeline, 1956". 
  13. ^ "It Was like All of Us Had Been Raped: Sexual Violence, Community Mobilization, and the African American Freedom Struggle". 
  14. ^ McGuire, Danielle L. At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance- a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. Print. Pg 139
  15. ^ http://www.killearn.org/aboutkillearn.html
  • 1839 history
  • K.C. Smith, Museum of Florida History
  • Paisley, Clifton; From Cotton To Quail, University of Florida Press, c1968.
  • Florida Department of State
  • Tallahassee Democrat