Ocala Town Square
Horse statue in Ocala Town Square

Ocala was first surveyed and platted in 1846. Where the Town Square is now is where the first Marion County Courthouse was built in 1851. It was a two-story wooden frame structure that burned in a fire that destroyed much of Ocala on Thanksgiving Day, 1883. The courthouse was replaced with a brick building in 1884. The public didn't like the brick building so it was replaced in 1906 with a building offering significantly more interior space. It was built in a classic Roman design with veneered walls of Indiana sandstone and a domed clock tower. Then that buildling was torn down in 1965 and the site was exchanged by the county for the site of the present Marion County Courthouse and the Town Square was reborn as an actual downtown city park, as had been planned by the city's founders. In keeping with the theme of Ocala being the "Horse Capital of the World," there are several beautiful, multi-colored horse sculptures in the Town Square.

When Hernando DeSoto and his men came through (1539), in this area was the site of a Timucua village named "Ocale." After that fateful visit from the Spaniards, Ocale disappeared from the history books, probably because virtually the entire population was wiped out by the diseases the Spaniards brought with them.

Fort King was built nearby in 1827, to act as a buffer between the incoming white settlers and the already-present Seminoles. The fort saw considerable action during the Second Seminole War and then served as Marion County's first courthouse in 1844. The city was surveyed and platted by Matthew Edward Hall in 1846. The town grew as a supply center for the farms and ranches in the area. Then the railroad arrived in 1881. After the big fire in 1883, Ocala was rebuilt almost exclusively in brick, granite and steel, earning the city the sobriquet "The Brick City." Ocala was in the heart of the citrus industry until the big freezes in 1894-5 wiped out most of the citrus trees.

In 1943, Ocala graduated to becoming the center of Florida's horse country. Today, Marion County is one of the world's premier producers of thoroughbred horses. Ocala is one of only five cities in the world allowed (under the terms of the US and International Chambers of Commerce) to use the term "Horse Capital of the World" on their official literature, based on the annual revenue produced by the local equine industry.

For me, Ocala was interesting because so little of what I have seen in Florida includes a sizable historic downtown area that hasn't been redeveloped into something else.