History of Sumter County, FL

The Old Sumterville Courthouse
The Old Sumterville Courthouse

Sumter County was established by the Florida Legislature on January 8, 1853. Named for Revolutionary War hero Gen. Thomas Sumter, the county was originally part of Marion County. The area had been settled for several decades by the time the Legislature chartered it as the states 29th county.

Much of what is now eastern Sumter County was part of the original Seminole Indian reservation established under the Treaty of Moultrie in 1824. As a result, the area played an extremely important role in the Second Seminole War.

The Second Seminole War, in fact, began when two companies of US Army infantry under the command of Maj. Francis Dade was attacked by a party of Seminoles on Dec. 28, 1835. The US troops were en route from Ft. Brooke (near Tampa) to Ft. King (today’s Ocala) when they were ambushed near present-day Bushnell. Only two of the 108 Army troops escaped the battle, although one of them later died of his wounds.

Dade Battlefield Park now marks the site of this historic battle. There is a museum located at the park, and monuments and plaques mark the course of the battle. Each year on the battles anniversary a reenactment of the battle attracts both local spectators and history enthusiasts.

One of the earliest towns established in Sumter County was Adamsville. Official county business was conducted in Leesburg (then a part of the county), but Adamsville played an important role in the area’s commerce because of its proximity to the railroad, stage lines, and the telegraph road through the area.

In 1860, the county’s first census showed a population of 1,429. Early inhabitants were farmers and citrus growers. In the Secession Convention of 1861, Sumter County Representative David G. Leigh voted to leave the union.

After the state Legislature took a portion of Sumter and Orange counties to form Lake County, an election in 1881 established Sumterville as the new county seat.

The city of Bushnell was established in 1884, named after railway surveyor John W. Bushnell.

By 1886 there were more than 100 orange growers in the county. The freeze of 1894-95 practically destroyed the citrus industry. Many of the farmers converted to cattle ranching. The success of that new industry brought more people to the county, and its population nearly doubled within ten years. The cattle industry became the most important industry rivaled only by the vegetable industry.

The county courthouse in Sumterville was destroyed by fire in 1909. The loss of the courthouse along with nearly two decades of county records set off a round of political infighting that eventually led to a 1912 county-wide vote to establish a new county seat. Votes were cast between the towns 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.