This area was left an uninhabited wilderness after the original Indian tribes were all but wiped out in the brutal English led raids on the Florida missions and villages during the early 1700s. By the middle of that century, the first small groups of Creeks began to drift down from what is now Alabama and Georgia. They found the prairie rich in wildlife and the surrounding lands good for farming. Others followed and before the time of the American Revolution, what would become the Alachua band of the Seminole Nation had begun to form.
The Alachua gave their name to today's Alachua County, Florida, and the prairie was originally called the Alachua Savannah as well. For many decades it appeared much as it does today, although with much more natural wildlife. After the Civil War, however, this changed dramatically.
Between 1871 and 1873, Paynes Prairie became a huge lake. And even when the rainy years ended, the lake remained. Steamboats and other vessels navigated its waters, carrying passengers and cargo. It seemed that the landscape had been forever changed.
But then in 1891, the Alachua Sink in the bottom of the prairie reopened and almost instantly the lake was gone! Its waters flowed away into underground passages and once again Paynes Prairie returned to being what it is today, a vast and beautiful grassland.
To learn more about this historic state preserve, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/paynesprairie.