Marion County ranks among the 20 most populous counties in Florida. It is home to approximately 330,000 people, the majority of whom live in unincorporated Marion County. As Florida’s fifth-largest geographical county, Marion spans 1,652 square miles, yields a density of roughly 199 people per square mile and includes five municipalities: Ocala, Belleview, Dunnellon, McIntosh and Reddick. Composed of five elected officials, the Marion County Board of County Commissioners oversees Marion County’s 24 departments and offices and $593 million budget. These tax dollars pay for various public services, including fire rescue, EMS, roads, growth management, libraries, parks and recreation and many other services. This money also pays for indigent health care and the local judicial system as well as Marion County’s five constitutional officers: the Sheriff’s Office, Clerk of the Court, Property Appraiser, Supervisor of Elections and Tax Collector. Marion County provides professional and resourceful public services for our citizens through strategic planning and cost-effective implementation of county initiatives, generating positive results that set the standard for quality local government. This philosophy is built on:
- Providing responsive and effective customer service that addresses the diverse needs of all citizens.
- Facilitating open and honest communication that encourages citizen participation.
- Ensuring excellent stewardship and accountability of public funds, while upholding the highest legal and ethical standards.
- Accepting responsibility for our actions and working toward continuous improvement.
- Encouraging sustainable growth and revitalization, while preserving Marion County’s historic charm, natural resources and quality of life.
Providing a high level of service without overburdening taxpayers is one of the greatest challenges county leaders face. However, careful and continuous evaluation of the need for services and the public’s willingness to pay for them will ensure that Marion County remains fiscally sound and operates efficiently.
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Marion County History
When the U.S. Government acquired Florida in 1821, scouts were sent to survey the peninsula. They found a vast population of Seminole and Timucuan Indians. The government wanted to populate the Florida peninsula with white settlements, but the Seminole Indians were an obstacle. In 1825, the government created an agency to oversee the Seminoles in what would become Marion County. Fort King Due to the animosity caused by relocating the Seminoles out of north Florida, conflicts increased between the whites and the Seminoles. The U.S. Army established a military outpost to protect the northern boundary of the Indian reservation. Two companies of the U.S. Fourth Infantry under Capt. James M. Glassell explored the area and camped on a site near present-day Fort King Street and Northeast 36th Avenue. The site was called Cantonment King, or Camp King, in honor of the detachment’s former commander, Col. William King. Fort King was a central location during the Second Seminole War.
Marion County Is Formed
Pioneers in Marion County came to the area for free land offered under the Armed Occupation Act during the 1840s. Six military roads converged on Fort King, making it an obvious meeting place. Soon a store, post office, courthouse and church sprang up near the fort. However, no homes existed due to a provision of the Armed Occupation Act that outlawed personal dwellings within two miles of the fort. As a result, log cabins were scattered throughout the dense woodlands. Between 1842 and 1844, the county was still a part of Alachua, Mosquito (Orange) and Hillsborough Counties. The closest county seat was in Alachua, a difficult 50 miles from Fort King. As a result, early settlers began to get restless for a new county. Gabriel Priest, the first state senator from Marion, represented Alachua County when he introduced a bill to create the new county. The territorial legislative council authorized the formation of Marion County. Richard Keith Call, the territorial governor, signed the law on March 25, 1844. The following are brief histories of the five incorporated cities of Marion County. The Timucuan Indians were found in the area of Marion County and practiced worship of the sun thusly, Marion County is known as “Kingdom of the Sun”
Families wanting the protection of Fort King had settled around a nearby spring as early as 1837. Today the spring flows through culverts under the Ocala Lincoln-Mercury parking lot just south of the downtown square. After Marion County was formed, efforts began to choose a new, permanent county seat to replace the temporary quarters in Fort King. The County Commission passed a resolution on Feb. 19, 1846, declaring that the “county seat of this county shall be known as Ocala.”
John P. Pelot named the city of Belleview after his daughter Belle. Pelot was an early settler who owned most of the land in the area. Located in the southern end of Marion County, it was incorporated as a city in 1885. Although Belleview is less than two square miles, it is located in the hub of growth with the city of Ocala to the north and The Villages to the south. Belleview is the county’s second largest city with approximately 3,500 residents.
What began as seven small farming communities boomed in 1889 with the discovery of phosphate in the area. A period of prosperity followed, and the town developed a railroad, school, post office, electric lights, connected water and wooden bridge over the Withlacoochee River. With its native vegetation and wildlife, scenic nature trails and tranquil gardens, Dunnellon has plenty of the natural beauty typical of the region. Surrounded by two beautiful rivers (the Withlacoochee and the Rainbow) and steeped in a proudly preserved history, Dunnellon embodies Old Florida character and charm. Called the “Treasure of Florida’s Nature Coast,” Dunnellon is home to Florida’s second largest artesian spring, Rainbow Springs. This spring feeds approximately 500 million gallons of crystal clear water each day into the scenic Rainbow River. McIntosh Twenty miles north of Ocala on U.S. Highway 441 near the Alachua County border is the Town of McIntosh. This small town (approximately 400 residents) is a quaint, turn-of-the century village. It is located on the shores of Orange Lake, which is named after the grove of wild oranges that sprang from seeds discarded by Spanish explorers 400 years ago.
Several towns, including Reddick, were developed along the Florida Southern railroad route in 1880. Reddick was named after John M. Reddick, a planter who attracted the railroad with an offer of land. North of Ocala on State Route 25A, the town of Reddick is in the northwest corner of the county and known for its natural beauty and surrounding horse farms.