McIntosh, Florida

At first glance, the north-central Florida town of McIntosh doesn’t look like much.

The part of town bisected by U.S. 441 is lined by mostly nondescript concrete block buildings, trailers, and ranch houses. I have been driving through McIntosh for a decade on my way to and from Gainesville and until recently only associated with it as the place where the speed limit drops from 65 mph to 40. No one ever seems to be walking down the sidewalks, and a few scattered antique shops provide the only commercial activity.

U.S. 441 in McIntosh.

Yet a few buildings along the stretch hint at McIntosh’s prestigious past.

The Brow

The Brown House (1910) along 441 is the town’s finest residence, in my opinion. (Too bad it doesn’t have the original windows.)

This large residence, built in 1910, has been significantly altered.

In August, The Gainesville Sun ran a story about one of McIntosh’s larger homes, the J.K. Christian House. The house was built in 1909 reportedly from the proceeds of just one winter’s squash crop. Though it appears in decrepit condition, the house is undergoing a piecemeal renovation.

The J.K. Christian House (1909), known as the house that squash built. It’s undergoing a slow restoration.

My interest piqued, I looked deeper into McIntosh’s history. The town was first platted in 1885 along Orange Lake. (The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park is located on the other side of the water in Cross Creek.) The Florida Southern Railroad was built through town five years later, and dwellings, packing houses, stores, and other businesses sprang up to meet the needs of the orange industry.

The infamous 1894-1895 freezes effectively killed the region’s orange industry, but McIntosh’s growers successfully transitioned to other agriculture. Meanwhile, McIntosh’s proximity to the lake lured sportsmen in the winter. It counted 300 residents when it incorporated in 1913.

Like Micanopy just 6 miles up the road, McIntosh’s economic boom effectively ended before World War II. U.S. 441 was built through town in the 1940s, and some buildings were moved from the depot to the road. The last train rolled through town in 1974, and the tracks have subsequently been removed. The McIntosh Depot (1890) was restored by the Friends of McIntosh and serves as that community group’s headquarters for the town’s annual 1890s Day Fall Festival.

The restored McIntosh Depot.

I visited McIntosh on Halloween and was impressed by the quantity and condition of the Victorian-era and early 20th century architecture. The historic houses sit on large lots and are neither too perfectly restored nor rundown–just lived in. The abundance of well-maintained churches display fresh coats of white paint. Citrus trees and packing houses stand as reminders of McIntosh’s agricultural past. Many properties feature sprawling gardens, and humongous oak trees–which are protected by an ordinance–shade the sloping streets.

In McIntosh, streets make way for trees, not vice versa.

Just south of McIntosh, a hilltop provides a remarkable view of Orange Lake and the surrounding pasture. A former roadside citrus store/art gallery stands at the top of the hill. There has been a movement to conserve the land down the lake, and there is an easement on a small parcel.

The Windmill Galleries at the scenic Orange Lake Overlook was once an orange shop and a feed store.

The Orange Lake Overlook, a cultural landscape.

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7 Comments

Filed under Florida, Uncategorized

7 responses to “McIntosh, Florida

  1. Nice post. I hope y’all get some rain to fill Orange Lake up again.

  2. FLA

    Enjoyed your post. You showed our house. BTW, Orange Lake is on the rise with all the rain this summer.

  3. Lalla Gallagher

    Nice article, you should come and visit our Centennial on April 13, 2013. By the way, you missed the house my family and I have been working on to restore, the Gist-Norsworthy house, built in 1890. Too bad you didn’t post a picture of her, she is beautiful if I do say so myself!

  4. "Mickey" Gannett

    … and my grandparents Mae and Ray Axford operated The Orange Lake Citrus Shop (at-the-top-of-the-hill) from 1945 to 1953, when they finally retired to Maine. Buddy Huff owned the shop and the groves. He lived opposite M&R’s house at 5801 Ave H. I lived there myself for a few years. “The Shop” affords me treasured memories: the packing house, where Pop washed the citrus and packed gift baskets for Northerners; the Shop where Mom and Lillian Wright made pralines and squeezed juice; the groves where I also picked up fallen pecans and shot dragon flies through the eye with my BB gun. The groves succumbed to frost-bite, smug pots eventually failing to keep cold-snaps at bay. Those were halcyon days. I revisited recently and found Pop’s old packing boxes behind the Shop and ever-present grey Spanish moss hanging from the huge live oak in the middle of Avenue H. Thanks for the opportunity to rekindle those fondly-remembered times.

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