Levy County has one of the richest and fullest histories in this area of the state. Initially, several Native American tribes, including the Timucuan Indians, settled in the area to farm the land. One minor chief ruled each individual tribe; these minor chiefs then answered to the head chief. The head chief, as it turned out, possessed all the land where the city of Chiefland stands today.
In 1539, it is believed that Hernando de Soto, the great Spanish conquistador, and his men, passed through the area, killing many of the Timucuan people. As Europeans settled into the area, the Timucuan people dwindled from disease, migration, or being sold into slavery. By the late 19th century, the area was predominantly composed of white farmers and plantation owners and their Negro slaves.
The year 1913 brought Chiefland’s incorporation and by the 1930s, the population had risen to 421. Today, more than 2,000 people reside within Chiefland. Farming was an integral factor in the area’s success. Today, agriculture still remains one of the most prevalent driving forces in the modern Chiefland economy. Both family farms and conglomerate agri-businesses coexist in the area, along with cattle and horse ranches. Chiefland farms produce a variety of crops, including timber, cotton, hay, silage, corn, soybeans, peanuts, and watermelon. Watermelon is so popular, in fact, Chiefland hosts county-wide festival in its honor! The Watermelon Festival is held annually and coordinated by the Chiefland Women’s Club.
Chiefland is also rich in natural history. Ancient trees tower in the numerous wildlife preserves and state parks in the area. Beautifully clear springs bubble in nearly every part of Levy County, from Manatee Springs in Chiefland, to Fanning Springs just a few minutes’ drive away. The Suwannee River, made famous by composer, Stephen Foster, meanders its way through the Chiefland area, eventually emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. Cedar Key, on the western side of the county, offers visitors excellent fishing and wildlife watching opportunities. Levy County is ideal for nature lovers and historians-some of the same environments and wildlife that existed thousands of years ago still remain today.
Cedar Keys Lighthouse was built in 1854 on a small island named Seahorse Key. The lighthouse is only 30 feet tall, but it is located on a sandy peak that is 42 feet high, bringing the total height of the light to a respectable 72 feet. Like others in the South, the light was extinguished at the start of the Civil War. Union ships attacked the island in 1862, capturing two unmounted cannon. After the war, a new keeper was hired and soon after, a new kitchen building was built. In 1891, the dwelling was overhauled and a new brick oil house was built. Large additions were built to both the east and west sides of the building around 1905, tripling the floor space of the dwelling. Trees growing up on the island and the presence of smaller post lights in the surrounding area made the lighthouse less effective. In 1915, the lighthouse was discontinued and turned over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The entire island was made part of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge in 1936, making it one of the largest bird nesting areas in Florida.