Ocala Historic District
The Ocala Historic District is known as the largest and one of the most unique collections of historically important structures in Florida. Located in Ocala, Florida, and centered along Fort King Street, the Ocala Historic District is comprised of over 220 historic buildings and covers around 172 acres. Many of the homes were built before 1900, and the entire district was developed between 1880 and 1930. It was the most prominent residential area of its time, marking the economic prowess of Ocala at the turn of the century as well as the beginning of the railroad era in Western Florida. With extensive coverage of Live Oaks canopying many streets and homes, as well as Queen Anne Revival residences dominating the local architecture, the Ocala Historic District exhibits a quality of life, character, and ambience that is still present today. Furthermore, many of the homes reflect significant Ocala residents who greatly contributed to local as well as national history. Among the noted homes include the Dunn House, the Z.C. Chambliss Home, the Bullock Home, and the Burford Home, owned by local attorney Robert Burford, who introduced Lieutenant Teddy Roosevelt as “future President of the United States” during Roosevelt’s visit to Ocala. From the early 20th century to today, the area remains a popular tourist and residential area. Most of the historic homes are private and must be viewed from the street, though visitors are welcome into The Veranda, an 1888 structure that is now home to a collection of shops. Paranormal enthusiasts may be interested in the Rheinauer House, which is said to be one of the most haunted places in America. Due to its historic significance, the Ocala Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
Backstory and Context
History of the Ocala District
The modern city of Ocala was officially established in 1849, developed around the old Fort King site, which had been a prominent buffer between white settlers and the Seminoles, as well as serving in the Second Seminole War and standing as the first courthouse of Marion County in 1844. The Fort King Road was an essential connection between the fort, a supply port at Silver Springs, and the small village of Ocala. Up until 1850, Ocala remained quite small, and the village included a courthouse, a church, a jail, around 10 houses, and a few stores. Following the Civil War, the next few decades were marked by exuberant economic growth. For example, an 1870 illustrated account of a trip to Silver Springs launched a steady tourism industry.
The increased growth, economic prowess, and tourism all played some role in the initial development of the Ocala District. Nonetheless, it was the arrival of the railroad, the success of citrus groves, and the discovery of phosphate that truly marked the beginning of this grand development. Along with the re-construction of town center after the Fire of 1883,
The end of the 19th century was branded with remarkable commercial, agricultural, and industrial expansion in Ocala. This expansion included banks, an iron foundry, carriage manufacturers, planing mills, cigar factories, lime industries, mercantile houses, and hotels. Also, nearly one-third of oranges shipped to northern markets came from the Ocala area, and the Dunnellon Company and the Bradley Fertilizer Company owned more than 90,000 acres of prime phosphate land. Residential housing was covered by an abundance of trees and native flora, while residents planted orange trees throughout the city with great enthusiasm.
These trends prevailed into the 20th century, with continued residential growth as well as services for the city’s residents.1