Friday, July 8, 2011

Paynes Prairie - The Lake that became a Prairie

Paynes Prairie
As drivers head south from Gainesville on I-75 or U.S. 441, they come down off a hill and pass over a wide and open expanse of grassland called Paynes Prairie. Because the prairie is so vast and flat, with a little imagine it is easy to conceive that this was once a heavily-traveled lake.

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.

Paynes Prairie
Central Florida experienced several abnormally rainy years and the result was that the groundwater table rose and the vast basin of Paynes Prairie (the name comes from King Payne, an early 19th century Seminole chief) filled with water.

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

1 comment:

  1. There was a small town near Paynes Prairie that ended up closing down in the early 1990s and its land was incorporated into the prairie. I'm trying to find out the name of that town, because my grandmother was born there. If you know of it or where I might look for that information, would you let me know? Thank you! And thanks for this blog...