No kicks left in Newnansville, and not a soul to talk to. Just the cicadas holding vigil as the sun sets through the live oaks. People call this place a ghost town, but there is no town left to haunt, and the ghosts have long since faded like the letters etched in their tombstones. Everyone is nameless in the end.
The real history of Newnansville is hazy at best. The town lived and died at a time when public records weren’t quite so public, when politicians and plantation owners were free to meet behind heavy lacquered doors and divvy up the land over glasses of Scotch. What records remain are maddeningly incomplete and sometimes downright contradictory. It’s difficult to establish the cause of the town’s demise. What’s left to work with is a watered-down oral history, charming to recount from a rocking chair but damn near impossible to validate.
The story goes something like this: In 1814, James and Simeon Dell settled on a patch of land about a mile north east of the present-day city of Alachua. The area developed slowly as settlers trickled in and put their plows to the soil. Then in 1824, after gaining dominion over Spanish Florida, Congress authorized the construction of the Bellamy Road. The new federal highway would run from Pensacola to St. Augustine, bringing travelers and trade through the area that would soon become Newnansville.
By 1828, the settlement had grown prosperous enough to gain the attention of The Territorial Council. They officially renamed it “Newnansville” after Gen. Daniel Newnan, and with a few pen strokes made it the seat of the newly formed Alachua County. As the plantations around it grew, Newnansville became a hub of antebellum society and enjoyed prosperity for nearly 30 years.
Newnansville reached its peak just before the Civil War, and then suddenly fell into a terminal decline. No one really knows why. There’s a story about Alachua County’s leading citizens meeting at Boulware Springs in 1853 and voting to move the county seat to a location along the new Florida Railroad. They settled on a swampy area just east of the settlement at Hogtown, on land that was part of the Bailey plantation, and named it Gainesville. Some say they went so far as to steal the Newnansville courthouse. Six years later, the first train finally rolled into the fledgling city.
The death blow, if you buy into legend, came in 1884, when the Savannah, Florida and Western Railroad missed Newnansville by barely a mile. F. E. Williams, whose land the railroad traversed, capitalized on the opportunity and founded what would later become the city of Alachua. Slowly but surely, the life drained out of Newnansville.
That’s the official line anyway: The ebb and flow of progress simply left the town behind. But it doesn’t tell us why—why the ambition of one man should take priority over an entire community, why no one seemed to fight him, why a distance of a mile should be allowed to kill a place.
One way or another, by the 1930s Newnansville was gone from most maps, and most of its residents were gone from it. Those who remained were laid to rest in the old Methodist cemetery. Over the years, the cemetery has expanded, and now it is all that’s left. Even the church is gone. The town site was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It sits just outside Alachua, on County Road 235, where the traffic drowns the echoes of its silent past—a legacy of lichen-covered graves, unanswered questions and armadillo holes.