History of Sumter County
From what once was an area known for its simple beauty, where Seminole Indians roamed freely, to a strong community bringing settlers in search of land to farm and raise their families, a County grew.
From a portion of Marion County, Sumter County was established by legislation on January 8, 1853, and proves today to be the same small community with big dreams.
The Early Years
In its very early years when settlers came to Sumter County, battles arose with Seminole Indians in the Second Seminole Indian War. The most famous of these battles occurred on December 28, 1835. It became known as the infamous Dade Massacre. Dade Battlefield Park now marks the site of this historic battle. There is a museum located at the park which displays artifacts. There are monuments and descriptive plaques throughout the park. Each year on the anniversary date of this historic event, a reenactment of the battle attracts area spectators and history enthusiasts alike.
One of the first towns to be erected in Sumter County was Adamsville. There in the first school house children were taught with an education provided outside of the home. The school became a place for church gatherings and social events. According to history, Adamsville became known as the County "site" since it was the first town in the County.
Many of the early towns of Sumter County are still known today by their original name. For instance, Lake Panasoffkee was not referred to as Lake Panasoffkee according to old ledgers when an outbreak of Yellow Fever caused a town quarantine on October 11, 1883. It was only referred to as Panasoffkee.
Until 1881 all County business was conducted in Leesburg, which was a part of Sumter County at that time. October 15, 1881 was the first documented County Commission meeting in Leesburg, Sumter County. Leesburg and the surrounding area would remain as Sumter County until Florida Legislature, in 1887, took a portion of Sumter and Orange County to form Lake County. All County business remained in Leesburg until the decision was made to move to Sumterville. On October 10, 1881, an election was held to move the Sumter County Courthouse. Sumterville received the majority of votes. It was then decided that the Clerk's office would start receiving sealed bids for construction of the Sumterville Courthouse. Prior to construction of the new courthouse, it was decided by the County Commission to rent a site in Sumterville. A lease agreement for $85 per month with Mr. W.W. Mallard was drawn for lot #66 in the town of Sumterville.
The first meeting to be held in Sumterville, Sumter County, Florida was November 7, 1881. Then the old Courthouse in Leesburg was advertised to the public for sale. Later it was decided by the Mayor of Leesburg that Leesburg would purchase the old courthouse, and did so on August 6, 1883. County records remained in Leesburg until the completion of the Sumterville Courthouse. Ledgers show many road petitions were filed and completed during the 1800s and early 1900s. Traveling proved hard work over the terrain from Sumterville and Leesburg, as well as throughout the rest of the County. Long distance travelers and shippers utilized the newly constructed rail lines for transportation.
The Sumterville Courthouse was completed, and the County continued to help implement the many changes needed for its future growth. The courthouse remained in Sumterville until a fire destroyed the building and nearly all contents on January 30, 1909. Commission meeting minutes prior to October 18, 1881 were lost in the fire. This set the Commission back for a short time until another location could be secured and a new Courthouse could be constructed. Mr. Rutland was approached by the Board, and the County rented a site for $150 per year until the new courthouse was completed.
Soon the temporary location proved inadequate for County business, and it was determined a more suitable location was needed.
After bitter political fighting, another election was held in 1912 to determine the courthouse location. Votes were cast between the town of Wildwood and Bushnell. By a margin of only nine, Bushnell was selected the new County Seat for Sumter County - Bushnell 657, Wildwood 648 votes.
The process of constructing a building to house County Government began once more. William A. Edwards, an Atlanta architect who designed campus buildings for Florida State University and the University of Florida, was employed to design the plans for the Bushnell courthouse. Acreage was purchased in Bushnell for an unknown amount, and the construction contract was awarded to J.F. Jenkins for $49,759.
The completion of the Sumter County Courthouse was a much awaited event. Local town people watched with anticipation as each brick was laid. Construction began in 1912 and was completed in 1914 and the County Seat remains unchanged. In recent years, annex offices have been established in Wildwood and The Villages to better serve the public.
January, 2009 - A resolution of the Board of County Commissioners of Sumter County, Florida passed expanding the functional boundaries of the designated area of the county seat to include all territory within the established boundaries of Sumter County, including incorporated and unincorporated lands.
The Courthouse Building stands strong and solid for what the people of Sumter County believe in - hard work, family, friends, good fellowship, and strong values.