3 April 1999
Florida's "Capital City"
Tallahassee, Florida's Capital city has a unique history. Nestled among the hills, red clay, and oaks of Florida's panhandle, Tallahassee may not seem like the typical Florida city. Yet the history of Florida and Tallahassee are closely connected.
"Tallahassee" is an Apalachee Indian word meaning "old town" or "abandoned fields". The Apalachee Indians lived throughout the panhandle from 500 through the 1600s. In 1539, Hernando de Soto spent the first Christmas in the New World in the woods near the present State Capitol. As more Spanish colonists entered the panhandle, disease and fighting reduced their population. The Apalachee Indians left, and the area became an abandoned village, thus it was called, "Tallahassee".
When Florida became a territory of the United States in 1822, both St. Augustine and Pensacola, the major cities in Florida at the time, competed to be the Capital. Unable to come to an agreement, it was decided to locate the Capital at a point between the two cities. Tallahassee's tall hills attracted the search party, and in 1824 the City of Tallahassee was created, and a log cabin capital was quickly built.
Even as the state Capital, Tallahassee quickly acquired the reputation of an outlaw frontier town. Men on the street often carried guns and knives and duels were popular recreation. After passing through Tallahassee, Ralph Waldo Emerson called Tallahassee "a grotesque place...rapidly settled by public officers, land speculators, and deperadoes." To end this lawlessness, a small group of police officers were commissioned, and Tallahassee's Police Department has served the City ever since, celebrating over 150 years of service.
The rich land quickly turned Leon County into a thriving agricultural area. Tallahassee had several large planatations and crops included cotton, corn and sweet potatoes.
During the Civil War, Tallahassee was the only Confederate City east of the Mississippi that did not fall to Union troops. After the Civil War, many of Tallahassee's large plantations were turned into hunting lodges for wealthy winter residents from the North. Tallahassee slowly continued to grow. In 1950, Tallahassee's population reached 27,237, and farmers were no longer the majority of the rural population.
Almost since being named as the Capital, Tallahasseeans have fought back various attempts to move the Capital to another City. After the turn of the century, business men have promoted hotels and lodging houses to insure that legislators had places to stay. In an effort to beautify the town, hundreds of dogwoods and oaks were planted along streets and in front yards and have become a symbol of Tallahassee. In the 60s, the town organized "Springtime Tallahassee", an annual parade and celebration. With the dedication of the new Capital Complex in 1978, the threats of moving the Capitol were put to rest for the time.
Today's Tallahassee is a community where tradition and family are important. Government offices share the largest sector of the labor force, followed by services and retail trade. Our Capital has two universities, Florida State University and Florida A & M, and Tallahassee Community College. In recent years, Tallahassee has become home to super computers and the National High Magnetic Laboratory. With a population of over 133,000, Tallahassee is no longer the abandoned fields it once was.