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Brief History Of Union County

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All photos Courtesy of the Florida Memory Project

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Union County, established on October 1, 1921, is the smallest of Florida's 67 counties. Its 245 square miles are bounded by Baker County on the north and by the natural boundaries of Olustee Creek, the Santa Fe River and the New River. Once occupied by the Timucuan Indians, this area was a part of the Spanish Florida colony ceded to the United States in 1821.

Early settlements, centered around Providence, a stage stopover, and Worthington Springs on the Santa Fe River, which were protected by military posts at Fort Ward and Fort Call during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), while Fort Crabb secured the area north of Lake Butler. Cattle, lumber, and sea island cotton provided a basis for economic development, and in 1859, the town of Lake Butler was established as the county seat of the newly created New River County (later Bradford County in 1861).

The lake and town were named after Colonel Robert Butler, the first Surveyor General of the Florida Territory. Growth and prosperity in the area were forestalled by the Civil War, and then hampered by the lack of adequate transportation facilities. But by 1890, the Georgia Southern and Florida Railroad had crossed the county, with depots at Lake Butler and Guilford. Lake Butler prospered and was incorporated as a city in 1893. The Jacksonville and Southwestern Railroad (later a branch of the Atlantic Coast Line) was completed in 1899, serving Raiford, Johnstown, Lake Butler, Danville, Dukes and Worthington Springs. Cattle, dairy and food crop production expanded after the boll weevil struck the cotton fields in 1918. Raiford was the center of lumber and naval stores operations, while Worthington Springs became a popular resort noted for its health-giving waters, and in 1913, a state prison farm established near Raiford provided additional economic stimulation and diversity to the local economy.

By 1920, the demand for division of the area from Bradford County had peaked and on May 20, 1921, the State Legislature created Union County, from that portion west of the New River. The name Union was chosen to reflect unity. With a population of more than 10,000, Union County has retained its rural character. Forest products and agriculture continue to provide its economic base, supplemented by the state prisons, light manufacturing, and the trucking industries that have replaced the railroads as its transportation link with the nation.

For more information, see Union County Waymark




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