History of Cascades
Come back to where it all began
The allure of Cascades was the tipping point in the selection of Tallahassee as Florida’s Capital City in 1824. Since then, Cascades has played a significant role in shaping who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re headed.
“A more beautiful country can scarcely be imagined. It is high, rolling and well-watered.”From the journal of Tallahassee founder, John Lee Williams, during his first voyage to the area in 1823
Florida becomes a U.S. territory
More than two centuries after their arrival, the Spanish cede La Florida to the U.S. The Spanish had initiated the European colonization of Florida, and the eventual expulsion of its many American Indian peoples. In Tallahassee, colonists both fought and coexisted with people of the Apalachee, Yamasee, Mikasuki and Creek tribes. The Creek likely gave Tallahassee its name, their word for “old fields.”
Captivated by Cascades
Territorial Governor William DuVal appoints two commissioners to find a more central location for Florida’s capital: John Lee Williams of Pensacola and Dr. John Simmons of St. Augustine. Creek Indian chiefs Neamathla and Chifixico lead Williams to a beautiful waterfall in the area now known as Cascades. The charm of the waterfall and Tallahassee’s rich, rolling hills spur Williams to recommend Tallahassee as the new capital.
Tallahassee selected as capital
The Florida Legislature formally proclaims Tallahassee as the new territorial capital.
Tallahassee Meridian established
Florida’s Territorial Secretary, George Walton II, selects a location within present-day Cascades as the initial point from which all land surveying in the state begins. The spot, known as the Tallahassee Meridian, is marked by an in-ground brass plate near the Imagination Fountain within Prime Meridian Plaza.
Lafayette land grant
General Marquis de Lafayette, known as the French hero of the American Revolution, receives more than 23 acres of land as a gift from the U.S. Congress for his service to the United States military. Florida’s principal meridian, located at the center of present-day Cascades, marks the southwest corner of Lafayette’s land grant.
Tallahassee’s first public water system
The American Pipe and Manufacturing Company establishes Tallahassee’s first public water system and builds a pumping station where the Old City Waterworks building now stands (E. Gaines and S. Gadsden Streets). Today, the historic building is being refurbished by Cascades developer North American Properties (NAP).
Smokey Hollow established
The African American enclave known as Smokey Hollow is established at the northern-most point of present-day Cascades Park. The tight-knit community flourished until the 1960’s, when plans for expanded government offices and parking forced residents from their homes, many of whom were not given federal or local assistance to relocate. In 2014, historians and Civil Rights activists built Smokey Hollow Village, a permanent exhibit commemorating the historic neighborhood.
New power plant constructed
The city calls for the construction of a new power and light plant at the site of its previous coal-burning electric plant, which burned down in 1919. The city closed the plant in 1952. In 2015, developers adapted the building for reuse as a restaurant, which is now known as The Edison (470 Suwanee Street).
City builds Centennial Field
The City Commission approves the construction of Centennial Field for the 100th anniversary of Tallahassee. The baseball stadium, which used to occupy a portion of present-day Cascades Park, hosted a range of local, regional and national sporting, collegiate and community events. The field was demolished in 1975.
New school built to accommodate growing population
The Caroline Brevard School (727 S. Calhoun Street) is built to accommodate Tallahassee’s growing number of school-aged children. Renamed by the state in 1966, the “Bloxham Building” today serves as offices for the Leon County School System.
County builds new and expanded jail
With public safety in mind, Leon County builds a new and expanded county jail at the southeast corner of East Gaines and South Gadsden Streets, featuring added security measures and common areas for inmates. After the jail closed in 1966, the State of Florida occupied the building and made a series of extensive renovations to the original structure. The building was vacated in 2007 and later fell into disrepair. It was torn down in 2018.
Fresh produce for sale
In the late 1930’s, local farmers began selling their produce at a curb market near the intersection of Bloxham and Gaines Streets. For nearly 30 years, Tallahassee residents gathered to shop and socialize at the market pavilion.
Leon County Health Unit gets new home
The City of Tallahassee and Leon County join with the U.S. Works Progress Administration (WPA) to build the first permanent home of the Leon County Health Unit (325 E. Gaines Street), which symbolized a new, progressive influence on public health. The building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in January 2018, had been vacated and left to decay for decades until commercial developer, North American Properties refurbished it in 2019.
Leon County Courthouse Annex constructed
Leon County and the U.S. Works Progress Administration (WPA) construct the Leon County Courthouse Annex at 319 E. Gaines Street. The building also housed the WPA’s administrative offices and other county offices. After being vacated and left to decay, it was torn down in 2018.
Tallahassee Bus Boycott sparks local Civil Rights Movement
In May 1956, two FAMU students sit in the “whites only” section of a city bus. When they refuse to move, they are arrested, sparking a bus boycott across the community. The boycotts continue for many months until January 1957, when the city repeals the segregated seating ordinance, marking an important victory in the fight for civil rights.
Local college students continue fight for civil rights
Patricia Stephens Due leads the first of several Tallahassee sit-ins, where courageous students from FAMU and FSU sit in at local whites-only establishments. Many of the non-violent protesters were detained at the former Leon County Jail, which was situated at the corner of South Gadsden Street and East Gaines Street, near Cascades Park. Many of the protesters chose “jail over bail,” garnering attention and support from people across the country, including that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A community-envisioned historical plaza highlighting these and other historical moments in Tallahassee’s history will soon occupy the site of the former jail.
Cascades Park receives historical designation
Cascades Park is added to the National Register of Historic places due in part to the role it played in the selection of Tallahassee as Florida’s capital city. The National Register application also notes the significance of the park’s original waterfall and the inclusion of Florida’s prime meridian marker.
Cascades Park closes
Cascades Park closes and falls into disrepair due to coal-tar contamination. Many of the surrounding buildings would later be vacated and left to decay.
Civic leaders launch plan to revitalize Cascades
Civic leaders begin plans to remediate Cascades Park after years of neglect. Local officials work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean up toxic waste, while engineers design a stormwater management system disguised as a pristine 24-acre park to address destructive flooding. Funding for the project comes from a citizen-supported penny sales tax in addition to other public and private sources.
Cascades Park reopens
The re-imagined and revitalized Cascades Park opens to the public. The revitalization project attracts $400 million in private sector investment around Gaines Street, and the economic impact continues to grow today.
City selects developer to transform Cascades into a live-work-play-stay destination
Commercial developer North American Properties (NAP) purchases the two city blocks bordering Cascades Park as part of the Tallahassee Community Redevelopment Agency’s (CRA) plan to revitalize the area and establish a vibrant, 18-hour live-work-play-stay destination.
Construction begins at Cascades
Construction begins on a 5-acre mixed-use development bordering Cascades Park, featuring apartments, townhomes, offices, retail, restaurants, event space, a boutique hotel and a community-envisioned historical plaza. Phase I of the project opened in Spring 2021.
Historical images sourced from the State Archives of Florida and floridamemory.com.