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