A week after Florida became the nation’s 27th state, Levy County was created by the state Legislature on March 10, 1845, becoming Florida’s 27th county.
It is named for former U.S. Senator David Levy Yulee, who at the time was a territorial delegate to Congress. Eventually becoming president of the Florida Railroad Company, it was he who helped build the state’s first railroad, which went from Cedar Key east to Fernandina.
Yulee also developed a network of other railways, earning him the nickname “father of Florida railroads,” according to the Bibliographical Directory of the United States Congress.
Levy County is comprised of eight incorporated cities and towns: Bronson, Cedar key, Chiefland, Fanning Springs, Inglis, Otter Creek, Williston and Yankeetown. The communities are as diverse and rich in history as the people who live and work here.
Go to the map below and click on each icon to learn more about our communities.
Bronson is between Chiefland to the west and Williston to the east, with US Alternate 27 connecting all three. Small shops and restaurants line the main road, with the Bronson Speedway north of town. Nearby cities include Gainesville (about 24.5 miles) and Ocala (38 miles).
The Seminole Indians lived here, and numerous pirates were said to have frequented the area. Aside from being the site of the state’s first railroad, Cedar Key boasts the title of No. 1 producer of farm raised clams; shellfish is the biggest industry here.
A popular tourist spot, shops and restaurants line Dock Street, where a kayak and paddleboard rentals or a fishing charter can provide exploration to the surrounding islands in the Gulf of Mexico. The George T. Lewis general aviation airport is also east of town.
The airport was used for air and sea rescue operations on World War II; it is miles from the Gainesville Regional Airport and 43 miles from the Ocala International Airport.
Nearby attractions are Manatee Springs State Park and Fanning Springs State Park, with combined annual attendance of close to 500,000. The 32-mile Nature Coast Trail also provides recreational opportunities for bicyclists, roller bladers and joggers as it runs from the city to nearby Cross City and Trenton. An equestrian trail also parallels a portion of the NCT.
It has grown into a picturesque community with the popular Fanning Springs State Park and the nearby Fort Fanning Historical Park across the road. The spring produces between 40 to 60 million gallons of water a day; the fort was occupied by soldiers during the Second Seminole War.
The location is a popular one for sportsmen – whether for fresh or saltwater fishing – or hunting. The nearby Ross Hammock Ranch has hosted hundreds of celebrities, corporate executives and others looking for an unforgettable outdoor experience.
Small bed and breakfasts, lodges and shops line Follow That Dream Parkway (County Road 40), where filming was done for the Elvis Presley movie the roadway is named after. Crystal River is 10 minutes to the south, while Dunnellon is about 15 minutes east; Ocala is another 20 minutes after that.
With the departure of a prominent lumber mill and the abandonment of two railroads, the town declined in population in the mid-20th century. Several existing homes date back to the 19th and 20th centuries.
The city’s story begins in the mid-19th century with its founding by Jesse Mercer Willis. Willis was born in 1822 in Effingham, Ga. to Joseph and Prudence Willis. Ancestral records say he was orphaned at a young age, coming to Nassau County, Fla. when he was 10-years-old before eventually finding Levy County in 1853. At the age of 21, he “homesteaded, purchased land and settled his family” according to a headstone in the cemetery he is buried in at the site of his former home east of present day downtown.
Willis married Dorothy Craig Crozier and had 12 children, according to records, with the cemetery marker noting his service as a farmer, merchant, teacher and church deacon. He was also the county’s tax collector and postmaster for the town, which was first incorporated in 1875, six years before Willis’ death in 1881. His headstone states Willis was “widely known and loved for his compassion and good deeds.”‘
These days, numerous attractions offer a variety of activities, from the Two Tails Ranch that is home to a number of rescued elephants, to Devils Den and Blue Grotto dive sites. Kirby Family Farm has restored a steam locomotive to run on its own private railroad.
The former Montbrook Army Airfield housed a few bomber squadrons during World War II before being decommissioned and deeded to the City. It now serves as a municipal airport with two large hard-surface runways, as well as houses an industrial park with numerous companies including A&N and Monterey.
Williston also is home to the Regional General Hospital and the popular Ivy house Restaurant, and annually holds the Peanut Festival in honor of one of its largest produced crops.
The Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve is a popular spot for its boardwalk and trails, educational center and observation tower overlooking saltmarshes and the Gulf in the distance.