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Communities in Profile - City of Alachua

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Alachua County Today file photo

Alachua City Hall, a component of Alachua's Municipal Complex, is a reminder of the City of Alachua's nearly 10,000 population and its place as the second largest municipality in the county.

ALACHUA – A cemetery, a dirt road, and a Florida Historical Marker are all that note the existence of the first major city in Alachua County.

Forest, mobile homes and houses now reside nondescriptly on most of the land that was once Newnansville, the first Alachua County Seat and metropolitan hub in North Central Florida.

Newnansville sprang up in the early 1820s on the first major transportation route to cross Northern Florida, the Bellamy Road, which also doubled as the town’s Main Street, remnants of which still exist in part as a private dirt road.

It became the center for trade, local plantation commerce and government in the area, then later a refuge for settlers during the Second Seminole War with the construction of Fort Gilleland within its borders.

By slim margins, leading county residents voted to move the county seat to the newly-created town of Gainesville in 1853 because it was plotted on the first major railway to pass through the county.

When the Savannah, Florida and Western Railway completed a new line to Gainesville about a mile and a half southwest of Newnansville in 1884, residents and businesses began to migrate to the new transportation hub.

So it was that Newnansville was slowly abandoned and the City of Alachua created in its stead, leaving Alachua as the inheritor of its history and tradition.

Alachua is the second largest community in the county, with a population of approximately 9,000 as of the 2010 U.S. Census.

It self-identifies as “The Good Life Community," and when it comes to recreational departments, that is surely the case.

Alachua has one of the area’s more extensive recreation programs, with facilities that range from the Hal Brady Recreation Complex to a downtown baseball field to four neighborhood parks and a Splash Park.

“I’ve lived here for 41 years, and the best thing I ever did was move here,” Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper said.

Mayor Coerper said the underlying motivation for many Alachua residents has been to have a self-sufficient community.

“The universal want here has always been to be able to live, work and play in Alachua,” he said.

Dating back to the town’s relocation from Newnansville to its present site, Mayor Coerper stated that economic prosperity has long been a major priority for the city.

“Alachua has always been a business-minded community,” he said. “It was started by business people and is why it became so successful.”

He also noted that Alachua is not negligent of its land and heritage, highlighting the over 1,000 acres of environmentally-sensitive land the city has set aside over the past six years as well as the importance of the city’s Downtown Historic District.

Part of Newnansville’s legacy, however, is not positive. As in most small Southern towns (indeed, in every community in Alachua County), vestiges of segregation still exist in the form of distinct sections of the city split between predominantly “white” and “black” populations.

As underscored by Mayor Coerper, leading residents of Alachua still respond to the entrepreneurial drive that motivated their forebears to leave home for economic opportunity: Alachua actively seeks to attract businesses within its borders, having welcomed the Progress Corporate Park and Dollar General and Wal-Mart Distribution Centers within the past 30 years.

Perhaps in a related way – and somewhat distinctly from most Alachua County communities – Alachua emphasizes community growth more through new expansion and construction than historic or cultural preservation.

The newly-approved master plan for the vast Legacy Park; recent construction of the new City Hall and Police Department complexes; the just-completed Publix shopping center; and the long-disputed proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter are all evidence of the former.

Alachua has at least one potential opportunity for more of the latter: the Newnansville Town Site itself – though technically just outside the Alachua city limits and already listed on the National Register of Historic Places – remains an untapped cultural and historical goldmine, with incredibly little archaeological work having been performed or even attempted on one of Florida’s earliest and least-disturbed pioneer settlement sites.

Contingent on the approval of the property owners of the several parcels that comprise the site, perhaps Newnansville still has lessons left to teach.

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Alachua’s Legacy Park - Master Plan Adopted

 

Q - Legacy Park 2015-10-26ALACHUA – The Alachua City Commission unanimously approved on Monday the implementation of a master plan to construct a large city park adjacent to the Hal Brady Recreation Complex.

The City of Alachua purchased the 105-acre parcel in 2012 with this intention. The parcel had previously been approved for a 200-home residential community.

The Legacy Park Master Plan proposes four phases of construction that would include two regulation-size baseball fields, two Little League fields, tennis courts, a multi-purpose center, two game fields, a tournament field with stadium seating, an amphitheater with stage, a disc golf course, two dog parks, and walking trails.

Elisabeth Manley, a landscape architect Buford Davis and Associates, estimated the cost for the entire park to be between $19.7 to $20 million.

“We want to integrate Legacy Park with Hal Brady to create one park,” she said.

Manley also stated that the first phase of construction would focus on creating the main entrance off of Peggy Road along with building the approximately 36,000 square foot multi-purpose center.

She said the estimation for Phase I costs is $9 million.

Assistant City Manager Adam Boukari said the City is soliciting proposals for construction documents for Phase I, with target dates for design completion set for February 2016 and start of construction for April 2016.

The initial design of the multi-purpose center calls for a single space of nearly 26,000 square feet to hold four basketball courts with motorized bleachers seating 460 people.

Some of the proposed walking trails would also be included in Phase I, trails that Manley said would eventually cover over one mile after the park’s completion.

The other four construction phases are not yet prioritized but are instead temporarily labeled as Phase North, Phase South and Phase West.

Phase North includes the baseball and Little League fields as well as the tennis courts; Phase South the game and tournament fields and amphitheater with stage; and Phase West the dog parks, disc golf course and additional walking trails.

During commission discussion, Mayor Gib Coerper voiced concern that approving the master plan might commit future Alachua City Commissions to an undesired course of action.

“We’re not talking about [park completion] tomorrow or next week – this is years,” he said. “Are we going to bind future commissions?”

Assistant City Manager Boukari assured Coerper that any commission could decide to change any portion of the plan whenever desired.

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Turkey Creek residents to buy golf course

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ALACHUA – Residents of Turkey Creek voted to purchase the community’s long-dormant golf course on October 14 for the appraised price of $1.35 million.

The property and amenities included in the purchase total 152 acres and will include the golf course land, clubhouse, pool, tennis courts and racquetball courts.

The course has not been operational since 2011, and current ownership has not maintained the lawns or facilities.

According to the Turkey Creek Master Owners Association (TCMOA), the purchase is intended to ensure continuing maintenance and basic care of the property.

The purchase plan required a minimum approval of 75 percent of homeowners.

“The turnout of residents voting was truly amazing,” said TCMOA President Tim Stanton.

“We had 82 percent of the community voting, and we received a ‘yes’ vote from over 75 percent of the available votes.”

Along with maintenance of the property, the purchase will allow owners to receive free use of the pool and tennis courts and use of the clubhouse as a community center.

The racquetball courts will be demolished.

According to the TCMOA Web Site, the association does not intend to operate the golf course or onsite restaurant, but it is open to the possibility of leasing each to potential tenants.

The plan to pay for the purchase is to acquire a loan not exceeding $2 million to finance both the acquisition and an estimated $650,000 in renovations.

The repayment of the loan is based on a proposed annual assessment of 1.2 mills on all property owners.

Stanton stated that much activity remained to be done now that the vote has finished.

“It will not happen overnight, but it is a very exciting time for Turkey Creek as we move forward with the purchase plan,” he said.

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Alachua County: In Contrast - Communities in Profile

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Civilization seems distant after a hike to Itchy Bottom Lake in the San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park, yet less than a mile away resides Progress Corporate Park, home to some of Alachua County’s fastest-growing businesses.

This dichotomy within the City of Alachua is a microcosm of the competing priorities that have existed within the county for at least the last 300 years.

The Alachua County Today begins a series profiling county communities with an overview of the county as a whole.

To understand the current context of the land and people and where both may be headed in the future, we begin with an overview of the past.

Alachua County has been populated for at least the last 8,000 years as the natural springs, rivers and bountiful savannahs have long attracted humans.

Yet the contemporary debates that often portray conservation and development as antagonists can be traced back to the first interactions between Europeans and the native peoples of Alachua.

The Spanish established a handful of missions to convert the natives to Christianity in the 17th and 18th Centuries which had the tragic side effect of decimating the population primarily due to disease.

The weakened state of the Spanish Empire in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries combined with the expansionistic tendencies of the young United States contributed to an influx of American pioneer settlers to northern Florida, including the Alachua territory.

Spain ceded Florida to the U.S. in 1819, which soon led to the first established inland settlement in the territory at Micanopy in southern Alachua County in 1821.

The first outright conflict over natural resources occurred in 1835 when growing tensions between American settlers and Seminoles – who were intruding outside the bounds of their reservation due to a scarcity of food – erupted into the Second Seminole War.

The war resulted in the further diminishment of Native American territory and power. Soon after, American settlements adjacent to transportation routes began to increase in prosperity: Newnansville (near the present-day city of Alachua) was the county seat and largest settlement in Alachua County for several decades as it sat on the first federal highway in Florida, the Bellamy Road.

Evolving technology, however, led to evolving settlement patterns and resource usage that left quite a few ghost towns in its wake.

Railroads entered the county in the 1850s, bypassing Newnansville, thus prompting leading residents to create a new town to house the county government located on the Florida Railroad line connecting Fernandina Beach to Cedar Key: Gainesville.

Yet the full boom resulting from railroads was not felt until after the Civil War when lines became more numerous. Cotton and citrus had been major industries, but a series of hard freezes in the 1890s decimated the citrus crop in northern Florida.

Other resources became profitable until exhausted or made obsolete: sawmills became quite common as the lumber industry started booming in the 1880s along with naval stores, turpentine and tobacco in the 1890s. All paled in comparison, though, to the impact the phosphate mining industry would have on the western portion of the county.

The economic boon that would endure above all, however, was Gainesville’s winning bid over Lake City to host the consolidated state schools for higher education as the University of Florida in 1906.

While other industries have waxed and waned, the jobs produced at the university and through university auspices, research, and affiliations continue to abound.

Competing visions of the future for Alachua County continue to focus on its natural resources and are embodied in the quite distinct identities of its communities.

Cities like Alachua tend to seek to attract businesses in order to enhance economic growth, while those like Micanopy and High Springs tend to cater to tourists who come to visit the rivers, springs, and historic sites that some perceive to be threatened by the growing population that could result in part from continued business growth.

Regardless of the causes, Alachua County population growth is in keeping with the rapid trend of Florida in general, having increased from approximately 151,000 people in 1980 to 253,000 in 2013.

A similar issue that faced residents of Alachua County in the past thus continues to be relevant today: at what point, if any, does the opportunity cost of continued growth become too much?

Different interpretations and proposed solutions vary not only from community to community but also from disparate voices within each.

Over the next several weeks we will take a more intimate look at the particular history and character of each of these communities.

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Little Red Riding Hood meets Madness and Mahem

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Madness and Mayhem President Chris Scott, center, developed the "Don't stray from the path" experience for this year's haunted house experience. It runs from Oct. 9 - Oct. 31 at the Video City building in High Springs.

HIGH SPRINGS – There are about a dozen of them that you’ll run into as you make your way through 3,000 square feet of horror. If you dare to venture through the Madness and Mayhem Haunted House experience starting on Oct. 9, you will meet Little Red Riding Hood over and over.

She’s hiding under there and jumping out at you around the next corner. Screaming and moaning and then there’s a grandma who is unlike any grandma you’ve ever met– let’s hope.

Welcome to “Don’t Stray From the Path,” a story that plays out as you meander through darkness surrounded by screams, saw blades running and lightning effects among other secret scary tactics we cannot reveal.

Madness and Mayhem President Chris Scott said he has the Grimms’ Fairy Tales book close by him, next to his bed as a matter of fact, and used it for inspiration when he came up with the plot for his second haunted house design experience.

“There are lots of Reds,” he says about the variations of the lead character that make appearances throughout the event. “But only one,” he adds. “They are really variations.”

More than 100 volunteer actors and behind-the-scenes support crew members have come to help this year’s production which will raise funds for community causes.

According to Scott, proceeds will be divided between Music and Arts Program for Youth in Alachua (MAP for Youth) of Alachua, Plenty of Pitbulls, Our Santa Fe River and High Springs Historical Society. MAP for Youth teaches art, manners and life skills to Alachua County youth, he said.

Sponsors of the haunted house include Sysco, Digitel Video LLC, Great Outdoors, Chris Doering Mortgage, Grady House Bed & Breakfast, North Central Florida Advertiser, Ray Carson Photography, Ladonna D Boyette, True Blue Café, David’s Real Pit BBQ & Catering, McDonald’s of Alachua, Campus Scooters, AAA Event Services LLC, Bret’s Bikes, The Diner, and Old Irishman’s Pawn Shop.

But it is the volunteers that make the show come together Scott and technical coordinator Andy Phelan both claim.

Phelan is the mind behind making the special effects happen. “It starts with Chris’s ideas,” Phelan said. “And I’m the guy who makes it work. My main job is the technical part of it, seeing that the stairs work, that we have light in the right places, seeing that it’s safe.”

The volunteers this year range from age 8 to 76.

A recent dress rehearsal gave those volunteers a chance to practice makeup skills and refine their roles so visitors seeking the adrenaline rush from fear won’t be disappointed.

“He needs an open wound, so I’m trying to decorate him.” actor Zach Malcki said. He was getting the guts all bloody and ready on actor Andrew Ensey from Lake City. Once you meet Andrew’s character, you’ll never forget him.

According to one of the Little Riding Hoods, “I’m supposed to shake around the cage and if somebody comes by I reach out my hand and say ‘Help Me’,” said Mallory Gaerhardt, 12, a student at Bronson Middle School.

Karl Biddle a senior from Fort White High School said his job is “a creepy gardener that comes out from behind a statue and scares people.”

Dakota Stitsinger and Kaitlin New are wearing red contact lenses and both play versions of Riding Hood.

“They’re a little weird to get used to because they move,” Stitsinger said. “Everything in my peripheral is tinted red. But other than that I can see fine. We’re the evil Little Red Riding Hood. Our job is to kill the wolf.”

And then there is the werewolf transformation.

Victoria Wedgwood, 16, of High Springs, attends Santa Fe High School. “That’s not me howling,” she says about the werewolf sound effects playing in the background. She will transform into a werewolf throughout the storyline.

“I attack granny,” says Sydney Cadrain of Fort White. Watch out for her, she is sitting in the corner looking like a werewolf only she’s wearing stockings and high heels.

Lisa Gonzalez is putting makeup on actors, but she is a also the butcher. This is her second year volunteering, she says.

Amelia MacCallum, 13, of Oakview Middle School is a “bench” Red, she said. She becomes mean after being attacked by a wolf. “I did it last year,” she said. “I like doing the makeup. It starts to itch after a while.”

Outside, Aidan Birmingham is a scary villager marching with his arms out in front of him covered in blood and scars.

The host at the door will tell you when you arrive, “Stay in your group. If you stray from the path, they will hunt you down. You must not touch the actors and the props, they will hunt you down.”

Our advice?

Watch out for the wolves, don’t go there alone, stick together and be prepared for all of the screaming and howling.

And look out as the sound of an organ playing crescendos. It means you are getting closer and closer to?

If you hear someone scream: “Get out, hurry!” and the sound of saw blades, and screams of pain, torture and blood, it will be okay. Just don’t freak out as you make your way through a pitch dark space holding onto whoever is closest. So many twists and turns.

Don’t stray from the path or they might just hunt you down.

And if you have little ones who might want to come by, this year, Madness and Mayhem will host a “lights on not so scary,” walkthrough Scott said. “People from the City (High Springs) will be handing out candy in some of the rooms on Halloween,” he said.

“It’s a good way for the community to come through without being terrified.”

The Madness and Mayhem’s 2015 Haunt will be held in the old Video City building at 19975 NW 244th St., in High Springs, each Friday and Saturday starting Oct. 9 – Oct. 31. For hours of operation and more information, please visit their website at madnessandmayhem.org or call president, Chris Scott at 352-226-5909.

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