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The Rich and Colorful History of Ocala Florida – Timeline of Events

Historical Timeline of the History of Ocala, Florida

How Did Ocala Get Its Name?

Most historians agree that the name Ocala is a form of the name of a city named Ocale which was inhabited by Native Americans long before the Spanish explorers of the 1500s. Hernando de Soto wanted to visit this tribal town of the Ocale because it was rumored to be full of gold and silver. An alternative theory is Ocala got its name from the Timucuan Indian word “Ocali”, which meant “Big Hammock”.

What is Ocala Florida known for?

Ocala Florida is known for its rich history dating back thousands of years. Over the past two centuries, Ocala has been known for phosphate mining, citrus crops, and unique 19th century building techniques, leading to the name “Brick City”. At one time Ocala was the 5th largest city in Florida. Currently, Ocala is considered the “Horse Capital of the World”.

The History of Ocala Florida by Year Timeline

12,000 some years before Columbus – Artifacts in the Silver River Museum date back long before Europeans discovered America. Those artifacts indicate Native American people were well-established in Marion County.

1539-1540 – The history of Ocala Florida includes the belief that Hernando de Soto visited the area as part of his march through La Florida. Sites in Marion County have been discovered that indicate such a visit.

Silver Springs a decade ago in history of Ocala Florida
Steamboats brought visitors up the Silver River to Silver Springs over a decade ago.

1821 – United States acquires Florida from Spain.

1827 – Fort King was established to protect settlers from Indian raids. Was critical refuge during Second Seminole War 1835-1842. The history of Ocala was forever changed as Fort King became central Ocala.

1843 – Military abandons Fort King. Settlers inhabit the fort. This was the beginning of the formation of downtown in the history of Ocala, Florida.

1846 – Ocala becomes the county seat of the newly formed Marion County.

1852 – Silver Springs was founded and is an important attraction in the history of Ocala Florida.

1865 – Civil War had decimated the Ocala economy. Population was down to 200.

1868 – Ocala incorporated as a town in Florida.

1870 – The first census was taken with 600 residents counted.

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1876 – Rail service established in Ocala.

1880 – Population was 803 people. Ulysses S. Grant visits Ocala after his presidency.

1883 – Fire destroys almost all of downtown Ocala. This was a major event in the history of Ocala, Florida. New construction of buildings included non-flammable materials like bricks and steel. Thus the history of Ocala, Florida and how the name “brick city” came about.

history of Ocala Florida timeline fire bell
The original fire bell that notified residents of a fire is preserved in Ocala.

1885 – Ocala Fire Department was created. Is now one of the oldest in the country.

1889 – Phosphate was discovered on the outskirts of Ocala. Business and population soared.

1890 – The Ocala Platform was adopted at the convention of the National Farmers Alliance and Industrial Union. Several political positions were generated including direct election of senators by the people, abolition of national banks, a graduated income tax, and unlimited coinage of silver. In the history of Ocala Florida, this political move made national headlines.

1890 – Population reaches 1895 which was the 5th largest city in Florida.

1895 – 4597 residents counted in Ocala.

1907 – First motion picture theater was established in Ocala.

Ocala history timeline
Ocala center of town circa 1890.

1908 – Ocala National Forest opens just 3 miles east of Ocala. Second largest in Florida and the largest national forest east of the Mississippi at the time.

1915 – Census counts 5370 residents. Population growth was due to the phosphate mines, railway opening, and Ocala’s citrus farming.

1935 – First thoroughbred horse farm was established called Rosemere Farm.

Ocala history by time line
Needles won the Kentucky Derby in 1956 putting Ocala on the map as a horse breeding mecca.

1956 – Needles won Kentucky Derby and put Ocala on the map as a major horse breeding area.

1984 – Tuscawilla District in Ocala named to the National Register of Historic Places. The few blocks in the district include Victorian-style homes and buildings dated a century ago. Many reflect Ocala’s prosperity as a central Florida business hub.

1999 – USDA’s Census of Agriculture recognizes Ocala/Marion County as the Horse Capital of the World with over 900 farms in the area. More than any county in the country.

2013 – State of Florida takes over Silver Springs to create Silver Springs State Park. Now one of the largest attractions in Florida. The park attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. The crystal clear waters of the Silver River provide the backdrop for one of the state’s most beautiful parks.

Ocala history timeline in the history of Ocala Florida
The World Equestrian Center is one of Florida’s newest attractions located in Ocala, Florida.

2021 – World Equestrian Center opens. A major Florida attraction, the facility is the largest of its kind in the world and includes the area’s only 5-star hotel. 

The hotel has several restaurants and a viewing of the activities in the horse jumping arena.

In addition to the hotel, the site has campgrounds for everything from tents to large motorhomes.

1960s – 2023 – You can talk about the history of Ocala, Florida without talking about the largest retirement community in the world, The Villages. The Villages started selling lots in the 60s and today there are over 125,000 people who visit or live in the Villages just 20 miles south of Ocala. As the result of unprecedented growth in the Villages, Ocala’s economy has benefited from the hundreds of homes being built annually and the needs of the homeowners. Ocala is the nearest large city.

2023 – Based on estimates from the 2020 census, Ocala’s current population is over 64,000 people. Ocala is number 54 on the list of Florida’s 100 largest cities

The rich and colorful history of Ocala Florida mirrors the growth and prosperity of Florida. As history is created, Florida Travel Blog will update this timeline.

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