You might think your town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.
That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL. Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old.
That’s older than America for those playing at home.
So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in Florida? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?
Because even if your Florida city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.
And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.
These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Sunshine State according to their ‘date of foundation’:
- St. Augustine (Photos)
- Tampa (Photos)
- Melbourne (Photos)
- Port Orange (Photos)
- Gainesville (Photos)
- Ocala (Photos)
- Sebastian (Photos)
- Maitland (Photos)
- Orlando (Photos)
- Lakeland (Photos)
For being 453 years old, St. Augustine doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in Florida? That would be Miami Beach — a brand spanking 3 years old.
How We Determined When A City Was Founded In Florida… Or Is It Settled?
Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.
So what did we do instead?
Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!
For the majority of cities in Florida, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):
And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.
If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.
All in all, we were able to collect data on 246 out of 451 in Florida with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 54.5% completion rate.
We then ranked them from oldest to newest with St. Augustine turning out to be the matriarch of Florida at the ripe old age of 453.
Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.
1. St. Augustine
Founded in 1565 by the Spanish conquistador, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the contiguous United States. In 1562, a group of Huguenots led by Jean Ribault arrived in Spanish Florida to establish a colony in the territory claimed by Spain. They explored the mouth of the St. Johns River, calling it la Rivière de Mai (the River May), then sailed northward and established a settlement called Charlesfort at Port Royal Sound in present-day South Carolina. Spain learned of this French expedition through its spies at ports on the Atlantic coast of France. The Huguenot nobleman René de Laudonnière, who had participated in the expedition, returned to Florida in 1564 with three ships and 300 Huguenot colonists. He arrived at the mouth of the River May on June 22, 1564, sailed up it a few miles, and founded Fort Caroline.
When the pioneer community living near the US Army outpost of Fort Brooke was incorporated in 1849, it was called ‘Tampa Town’, and the name was shortened to simply ‘Tampa’ in 1855. The etymology of the name is unclear. The word ‘Tampa’ may have meant ‘sticks of fire’ in the language of the Calusa, a Native American tribe that once lived south of today’s Tampa Bay. This might be a reference to the many lightning strikes that the area receives during the summer months. Other historians claim the name means ‘the place to gather sticks’. Toponymist George R. Stewart writes that the name was the result of a miscommunication between the Spanish and the Indians, the Indian word being ‘itimpi’, meaning simply ‘near it’.
The first iteration of the name ‘Tampa’ first appears in the memoirs of Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda (1575), who had spent 17 years as a Calusa captive and traveled through much of peninsular Florida. He spelled it ‘Tanpa’ and describes it as an important Calusa town on the west coast. While ‘Tanpa’ may be the basis for the modern name, archaeologist Jerald Milanich states that the Calusa village of Tanpa was on the shores of Charlotte Harbor, which is about 65 miles south of Tampa Bay. A later Spanish expedition did not notice the mouth of Charlotte Harbor while sailing north along the west coast of Florida and assumed that the current Tampa Bay was the bay they sought, thus accidentally transferring the name on Spanish navigational charts. Tampa Bay was labeled Bahía de Espíritu Santo (Bay of the Holy Spirit) in the earliest Spanish maps of Florida, but became known as Bahía Tampa (Tampa Bay) as early as 1695.
Evidence for the presence of Paleo-Indians in the Melbourne area during the late Pleistocene epoch was uncovered during the 1920s. C. P. Singleton, a Harvard University zoologist, discovered the bones of a mammoth (Mammuthus columbi) on his property along Crane Creek, 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from Melbourne, and brought in Amherst College paleontologist Frederick B. Loomis to excavate the skeleton. Loomis found a second elephant, with a ‘large rough flint instrument’ among fragments of the elephant’s ribs. Loomis found in the same stratum mammoth, mastodon, horse, ground sloth, tapir, peccary, camel, and saber-tooth cat bones, all extinct in Florida since the end of the Pleistocene 10,000 years ago. At a nearby site a human rib and charcoal were found in association with Mylodon, Megalonyx, and Chlamytherium (ground sloth) teeth. A finely worked spear point found with these items may have been displaced from a later stratum. In 1925 attention shifted to the Melbourne golf course. A crushed human skull with finger, arm, and leg bones was found in association with a horse tooth. A piece of ivory that appeared to have been modified by humans was found at the bottom of the stratum containing bones. Other finds included a spear point near a mastodon bone and a turtle-back scraper and blade found with bear, camel, mastodon, horse, and tapir bones. Similar human remains, Pleistocene animals and Paleo-Indian artifacts were found in Vero Beach, 30 miles (48 km) south of Melbourne, and similar Paleo-Indian artifacts were found at Lake Helen Blazes, 10 miles (16 km) southwest of Melbourne.
After the Civil War, pioneer families arrived, and Melbourne was founded in 1867 by former slaves.
4. Port Orange
Gainesville is located at 29°39’55’ North, 82°20’10’ West (29.665245, 82.336097), which is roughly the same latitude as Houston, Texas. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 62.4 square miles (161.6 km2), of which 61.3 square miles (158.8 km2) is land and 1.1 square miles (2.8 km2) is water. The total area is 1.74% water.
Gainesville’s tree canopy is both dense and species rich, including broadleaf evergreens, conifers, and deciduous species; the city has been recognized by the National Arbor Day Foundation every year since 1982 as a ‘Tree City, USA’.
Archeological investigation has revealed that the area was inhabited by varying cultures of indigenous peoples from as early as 6500 B.C., and there were two lengthy periods of occupation. The second lasted through 500 A.D. In early historic times, the Timucua inhabited the area.
In 1715, several Spanish ships loaded with treasure (known as the 1715 Treasure Fleet) encountered a storm off the shores of the Treasure Coast and were lost. It is estimated that only a portion of the sunken treasure has been found. The value placed on the treasure lost from the 1715 fleet has been estimated at over $500 million USD.
Maitland is one of the oldest incorporated suburban municipalities in central Florida. The area was previously inhabited by Timucuan Native Americans. The town was originally named for a nearby Lake, which honored Captain William Seton Maitland, who fought in the Second Seminole Indian War, and was slain in the battle of Wahoo Swamp. A small military outpost was built in 1838 on the western shore of Lake Fumecheliga (later Lake Maitland) during the Second Seminole War. After the Civil War, The area began to grow, and a post office opened at Lake Maitland in 1872. Around this post office, a small town grew. The area was put into extensive citrus production.
Before European settlers arrived in 1536, Orlando was sparsely populated by the Seminole tribe. There are very few archaeological sites in the area today, except for the former site of Fort Gatlin along the shores of modern-day Lake Gatlin south of downtown Orlando.
After Mosquito County was divided in 1845, Fort Gatlin became the county seat of the new Orange County in 1856. It remained a rural backwater during the Civil War and suffered greatly during the Union blockade. The Reconstruction Era brought on a population explosion, resulting in the incorporation of the Town of Orlando on July 31, 1875 with 85 residents (22 voters). For a short time in 1879 the city revoked its charter, and was subsequently re-incorporated. Orlando was established as a city in 1885.
The first Paleo-Indians reached the central Florida area near the end of the last ice age, as they followed big game south. As the ice melted and sea levels rose, these Native Americans ended up staying and thrived on the peninsula for thousands of years. By the time the first Spanish conquistadors arrived, more than 250,000 Native Americans were living on the peninsula. Some of these first early tribes were the Tocobago, Timucua, and Calusa. In 1527, a Spanish map showed a settlement near the Rio de la Paz. The arrival of the Spanish turned out to be disastrous to these Native American tribes. Within 150 years, the majority of the pre-Columbian Native American peoples of Florida had been wiped out. Those who had not succumbed to diseases such as smallpox or yellow fever were either killed or enslaved. Little is left of these first Native Americans cultures in Polk County except for scant archaeological records, including a few personal artifacts and shell mounds. Eventually, the remnants of these tribes merged with the Creek Indians who had arrived from the north and became the Seminole Indian tribe.
Florida became a state in 1845, and Polk County was established in 1861. After the American Civil War, the county seat was established southeast of Lakeland in Bartow. While most of the early history of Polk County centered on the two cities of Bartow and Fort Meade, eventually, people entered the areas in northern Polk County and began settling in the areas which became Lakeland.
Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In Florida
So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in Florida. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in Florida.
And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Sunshine State.
And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to Florida:
- Miami Beach (Founded in 2015)
- Florida City (Founded in 2015)
- Lynn Haven (Founded in 2015)
Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In Florida
|West Palm Beach||19||124|
|Fort Myers Beach||22||114|
|New Smyrna Beach||25||114|
|Green Cove Springs||27||114|
|Port St. John||44||113|
|World Golf Village||62||113|
|North Palm Beach||64||113|
|New Port Richey||67||113|
|Panama City Beach||69||113|