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Live Oak, Florida

Live Oak is a city in Suwannee County, Florida, United States. The city is the county seat of Suwannee County[5] and is located east of Tallahassee. As of 2010, the population recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau was 6,850.

Live Oak, Florida
Suwannee County Courthouse, Old Post Office, Old Live Oak City Hall, Downtown Live Oak, ACL Freight Station
The city of nature
"A Caring Community "
Location in Suwannee County and the state of Florida
Location in Suwannee County and the state of Florida
Coordinates: 30°17′40″N 82°59′9″W / 30.29444°N 82.98583°W / 30.29444; -82.98583Coordinates: 30°17′40″N 82°59′9″W / 30.29444°N 82.98583°W / 30.29444; -82.98583
Country United States
State Florida
County Suwannee
 • Total7.57 sq mi (19.61 km2)
 • Land7.57 sq mi (19.61 km2)
 • Water0.00 sq mi (0.01 km2)
105 ft (32 m)
 • Total6,850
 • Estimate 
 • Density919.96/sq mi (355.18/km2)
Time zoneUTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP codes
32060, 32064
Area code(s)386
FIPS code12-40875[3]
GNIS feature ID0285862[4]

U.S. Highway 90, U.S. Highway 129 and Interstate 10 are major highways running through Live Oak.

Freight service is provided by the Florida Gulf & Atlantic Railroad, which acquired most of the former CSX main line from Pensacola to Jacksonville on June 1, 2019.

It is served by the Suwannee County Airport as well as many private airparks scattered throughout the county.

There is also a community named Live Oak in Washington County, Florida.


Built along the Pensacola & Georgia Railroad in or prior to 1861, Live Oak was named for a tree under which railroad workers rested and ate lunch.  When a railroad depot was built nearby, the small community that sprung up around it was called “Live Oak Station” (first mentioned in records in 1861). The tree was located where the now-present Pepe's Mexican Grocery on U.S. 90 is located.[6]

During the Civil War, the Pensacola & Georgia Railroad served as a vital route for parts of North Florida, and earthworks were built where it crossed the Suwannee River west of Live Oak to deter Union attacks; these earthworks still exist as part of the Suwannee River State Park, one of Florida's first State parks.  In order to ease the supply problem into other parts of the Confederacy, the Confederate government decided to create a north-south railroad link into Georgia through Live Oak. The railroad junction was completed in early 1865, too late to help the Confederacy, but it opened up the interior of to settlement after the Civil War. 

Live Oak to become the county seat of Suwannee County in 1868. An election held the following year confirmed Live Oak as the county seat, and it has remained such ever since.

Florida Railway engine #3 at the Seaboard yards in Live Oak circa 1915

Live Oak was incorporated as a town in 1878.  In 1903, it became a city and was the largest community in Suwannee County, serving as a minor railroad hub for the region. 

In the 1905 State census, Live Oak was the largest inland, and fifth-largest overall, city in Florida (behind Jacksonville, Pensacola, Tampa, and Key West, in that order).  Nearby resorts at Suwannee Springs and Dowling Park (formerly Hudson-upon-the-Suwannee) drew thousands of visitors from around the world to the sulphur springs and related nearby sports, boating, and hunting activities.  The health benefits of the springs were touted in magazines and newspapers worldwide, supposedly.curing everything from arthritis to “female problems”.

During the first decade of the Twentieth Century, Live Oak saw a construction boom.  Notable buildings such as the Suwannee County Courthouse, Live Oak City Hall, and Suwannee Hotel were completed, and dozens of fine two- and three-story homes were erected along the major streets.  By 1913, the main streets were bricked and a sewage system had been built.

Live Oak soon after lost status relative to explosive south Florida growth and the realization that the sulphur waters did nothing to combat various illnesses.[citation needed] Devastation of the cotton crop by the boll weevil near the end of the First World War nearly finished off the city and county as an economic powerhouse, and business stagnated with the coming of the Great Depression.  Politically, Live Oak and Suwannee County remained powerful for another four decades until redistricting took into account the massive growth of southern Florida.

Ruby Strickland, former postmistress of the community of Dowling Park, became mayor of Live Oak in 1924.  She was the first female elected as mayor south of the Mason-Dixon Line after universal suffrage was enacted in 1919.  Mrs. Strickland served two non-consecutive terms and represented the area at the Democratic National Convention of 1936.

In 1940, the men of the local National Guard unit, Company E of the 124th Infantry (historically called the Suwannee Rifles), were mustered into service for one year of training at Camp Blanding, Florida.  A week after the December 7, 1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the unit was assigned to the 31st Division at Fort Benning, Georgia, to serve as a model infantry training unit.  The unit was briefly deactivated in 1944, but reactivated the following month after many of the original men had been dispersed to other units; members served in both the European and Pacific theatres during World War II.  Florida National Guard historian Robert Hawk noted that, “In the course of the Second World War, no unit of the Florida National Guard had more men killed, wounded in action, or dead from other causes than Company E, 124th Infantry.”  The Live Oak unit was reorganized several times over the years as infantry, tank, and engineering companies, and now (2019) serves as the 868th Engineer Company.  The unit has purportedly been called up to serve more than any other unit in Florida.

In 1948, Live Oak and Suwannee County received their first real public hospital, completed under the Hill-Burton Act that provided Federal funding for health care facilities to rural areas.  The Suwannee County Hospital served the citizens of the region until being replaced in the early 1990s.

In 1952, national attention was drawn to Live Oak and Suwannee County when wealthy African-American Ruby McCollum shot and killed Dr. Clifford Leroy Adams, Jr., a prominent, recently elected State legislator in his office across from the Suwannee County Courthouse.  Originally thought to be a murder based upon an unpaid doctor's bill, it was soon revealed that the married Dr. Adams had fathered a child with Ruby (whose husband Sam oversaw the illegal “bolita” gaming).  Ruby's murder conviction was overturned on a technicality in 1954 and she spent the next twenty years in the Florida State Mental Hospital in Chattahoochee after having been deemed mentally unfit to stand trial a second time.  The murder and events surrounding it have become the source of many books and documentaries.

In the 1950s, the rest of Suwannee County received electricity and telephone service, something the City of Live Oak had since the late 1800s.  In 1957, the Florida Sheriffs’ Association received property north of Live Oak for use as a Boys’ Ranch.  Opening in 1958, this facility has continued to be used to help troubled boys from all of Florida; later, a Girls’ Ranch and Youth Villa were constructed in other parts of the State for girls and sibling groups.

In September 1964, Hurricane Dora dumped massive amounts of water on Live Oak, flooding major intersections and leaving the downtown area partially submerged.  The damage led to the abandonment or tearing down of several historic buildings and the relocation of other businesses to higher ground.

In 1983, the Suwannee County Development Authority opened a park north of Live Oak along the banks of the Suwannee River.  This park was little developed until being sold to private individuals in the 1990s.  Renamed the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, it hosts music festivals for all types of music, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors to Live Oak and Suwannee County annually.[citation needed]

In June 2012, Tropical Storm Debby surpassed the amount of rain brought by Hurricane Dora, and despite vastly improved drainage, much of Live Oak once again flooded.  Interstates were shut down as portions were underwater, and much of the surrounding area was cut off from the outside world.  In addition, dozens of sinkholes, some quite large, opened up all over the City and County, causing further damage.  Several downtown buildings that were more than 100 years old were impacted and later torn down, replaced by public parks for community events.

Live Oak remains the largest community and only full-fledged city in Suwannee County.  Eco-tourism in and around Live Oak brings thousands of people from all over the country to places such as the nearby Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, the Suwannee River State Park, and numerous springs along the famed Suwannee River.  In addition, agriculture-related business (including timber, pine straw, and watermelons) is still the dominant industry in Suwannee County, with international companies like Klausner Lumber making their home in and around Live Oak.

Historic SitesEdit

There are several historical sites in Live Oak, including the following listed on the National Register of Historic Places:

Suwannee County Courthouse – built in 1904 and still in use as a courthouse

Old Live Oak City Hall (Chamber of Commerce) – completed in 1909

Atlantic Coastline Freight Station – built in 1903 and now housing the Suwannee County Historical Museum

Union Passenger Depot – completed in 1909 and moved to current location in 1983

Live Oak Post Office – completed in 1916

Bishop Bascom Blackwell House – completed circa 1887 by banker and State legislator B. B. Blackwell; supposedly the oldest exiting brick house in North Florida; moved to its present location in 1910 to make way for the Live Oak Post Office next door

There are also several historic sites near Live Oak, including:

Advent Christian Village – Located in Dowling Park west of Live Oak; established in 1914 as the first retirement community in Florida

Charles Springs – owned and named for some of the first American settlers in Suwannee County, Reuben (Ruben) and Rebecca Charles; graves of these early settlers and some of their family are located nearby on a Native American burial ground

Florida Railway Bridge – Located downriver from Luraville in the vanished community of Wilmarth, the bridge connected the Florida Railway running between Suwannee and Lafayette Counties in the early 1900s; bridge was apparently constructed circa 1870 and moved to Suwannee County in 1901; possibly the oldest surviving railroad (or any other type) swing bridge in the United States

Houston – Located east of Live Oak; former county seat and possible location of the Battle of Napituca (also known as the Battle of the Ponds or Battle of the Lakes) fought between Hernando de Soto and local Timucuan Native Americans in 1539

Ivey Park – Located in Branford in southern Suwannee County; park and springs named for steamboat builder and Branford pioneer Robert A. Ivey

McLeran House – Located in Wellborn, a small community in eastern Suwannee County; built in 1909 by a well-known community leader and owner of the Wellborn Bank

Perry McIntosh House – Located in Luraville, a small community in southwestern Suwannee County; built by Dr. Perry A. McIntosh, long-time Luraville physician, in the late 1800s

Suwannee River – A Federally-designated wild river and State-designated Outstanding Florida Water; second-largest river system in Florida; made famous by Stephen Foster

Suwannee River State Park – one of Florida's first State parks, established west of Live Oak; the remains of the territorial town of Columbus are located within its boundaries, as are remnants from steamboats, Civil War earthworks, and a cemetery

Suwannee Springs – Location of multiple resorts since the Territorial period; visited by travelers from around the world to heal in the sulphur waters; current location of a County park and near the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park

In addition, the remains of several Spanish missions are located in and around Suwannee County, their locations kept secret due to possible theft or destruction.


The headquarters of the Suwannee River Regional Library System is located in Live Oak; this was the first regional library system established in the State of Florida.  This three-county system currently consists of libraries from Suwannee, Hamilton, and Madison Counties.  There are branches located in Live Oak, Branford, and Dowling Park (Suwannee County); Jasper, White Springs, and Jennings (Hamilton County); and Madison, Lee, and Greenville (Madison County).


The children of Live Oak are served by a primary school, an elementary school, an intermediate school, a middle school, and a high school. These schools have all been constructed or heavily renovated in the last twenty-five years.  The Suwannee High Bulldogs football team were 3A State champions for four consecutive years (1987-1991), and the Suwannee High School Brain Bowl team has won more State academic tournaments than any other team in Florida.

Vocational education is provided by RIVEROAK Technical College, formerly Suwannee-Hamilton Vocational Technical School.  Students of all ages may partake of various career programs, including:  automotive services; masonry; cosmetology; dietetic management; digital design; early childhood education; electricity; medical administration; patient care; pharmacy technician; nursing; culinary arts and hospitality; surgical technology; and welding.  In addition, RIVEROAK provides community education in the form of phlebotomy, computing, Spanish, floral design, gun safety, wood working, typing, and other classes as needed.

In 2019, North Florida Community College (renamed North Florida College in July of that year) contracted with the Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners to house college classes and staff in the renovated Union Passenger Depot in downtown Live Oak.  Slated to open in the fall of 2019, this will provide a local college presence for those wishing to attend four-year universities.

Historically, Live Oak was the founding location of two African-American colleges:  Florida Memorial College and Brown's Theological Seminary.

Florida Memorial College was originally established as the Florida Bethlehem Baptist Theological Institute in 1873.  The school opened to African-American students in 1880.  It was commonly called the Florida Baptist Institute or Florida Institute until 1918, when it added a two-year college program and became Florida Memorial College.  Among its students were James Weldon Johnson, a poet and author of the “Negro National Anthem”; Harry T. Moore, prominent Civil Rights activist and martyr; and John L. Hopps, founder of the Independent Order of Archery. Florida Memorial College merged with the St. Augustine-based Florida Normal and Industrial Institute in 1941, becoming the Florida Normal and Industrial Memorial College.  It later reverted to Florida Memorial College and is now Florida Memorial University, based in Miami Gardens.

Brown Theological Seminary, also called Brown's Theological and Classical Institute, was originally discussed just after the Civil War by the African Methodist Episcopal Church Conference.  The school was established in 1866, but little was done until 1872, when the AME Conference realized that a Baptist institution was being established in Live Oak.  Construction on the Brown Theological Seminary campus began with much fanfare on July 4, 1872 in Live Oak.  The following year, the school was renamed Brown's University of the State of Florida. However, a series of scandals, fires, national financial panics, and a hurricane all but destroyed the will to continue the almost-completed school structure.  Ultimately, the school's carpenters sued the trustees for back pay and won, ending construction of Brown's University in Live Oak for good. In 1883, the school reopened in Jacksonville and was soon renamed Edward Waters College, continuing today as the oldest independent institution for higher learning and first historically black college in the State of Florida.

Notable PeopleEdit

The following individuals were born or lived in Live Oak or Suwannee County:

Ray Corbin, MLB player for the Minnesota Twins

Andra Davis, NFL player for Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, and Buffalo Bills

Jennifer Day (Morrison), Country music singer-songwriter

Lawrence Murray Dixon, architect who designed many well-known Art Deco hotels and residences in Miami's South Beach, including the Temple House, Ritz Hotel, Arjay Court Apartments, Fillard Apartments, Tudor Hotel, The Fairview, The Kent, The Tides, Beach Plaza, Palmer House, The Marlin, Tiffany, The Victor, The Atlantis, The Senator, Harriet Court Condo, McAlpin, and Henderson Apartments

Robert Andrew (R. A.) Gray, politician; longest serving Secretary of State in Florida's history (1930–1961); worked for the Suwannee Democrat for several years in the early 1900s

Cary A. Hardee, twenty-third Governor of Florida; ended the convict labor system, implemented better roads and the State parks system; Hardee County, Florida named for him

Noble A. Hull, first sheriff of Suwannee County; served at the Secession Convention, sixth Lieutenant Governor under Governor George F. Drew, United States Representative

Kelly Jennings, NFL player for Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals; uncle of Bruce Johnson

Bruce Johnson, NFL and CFL player for the New York Giants and Winnipeg Bombers; nephew of Kelly Jennings

John B. Johnson, twenty-third Florida Attorney General; President of the Florida Senate in 1917

Joe Lang Kershaw, first African-American legislator in Florida after Reconstruction

Harry T. Moore, civil rights activist and martyr; established several NAACP chapters in Florida; helped increase African-American voter registration; he and wife assassinated in their home in 1952

Edmund Nelson, NFL player for the Pittsburgh Steeler and New England Patriots

Chan Perry, MLB player for the Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, and Pittsburgh Pirates; brother of Herbert Perry

Herbert Perry, MLB player for the Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Chicago White Sox, and Texas Rangers; brother of Chan Perry

Fain Skinner, participant in multiple racing associations; winner of the 1999 World Karting Association National Championship

Dan White, television and movie star of nearly 300 films and 150 television cameos (mostly Westerns); honored with a star on the Newhall Walk of Western Stars in 2019

Del Williams, NFL player for the New Orleans Saints


"On December 15, 1891, two black men were lynched in Suwannee County after being accused of murder. Seven years later, on November 6, 1898, Arthur Williams was killed in Wellborne, just east of Live Oak, after being accused of murder. Another black man, Jack Thomas, was lynched on June 27, 1900, having been charged with attempted rape."[7]:140–141

Lynching of Willie James HowardEdit

The city and surrounding area was the setting for the lynching of Willie James Howard. Howard, a 15-year-old African-American youth living in Live Oak, was lynched for having written a "fresh" letter to a white girl (Cynthia Goff, his co-worker in a dime store), on January 1, 1944. The girl's father, A.P. "Phil" Goff, a former state legislator, along with S.B. McCullers and Reg H. Scott, allegedly went to Willie's house and forcibly took the youth from his mother. They picked up Willie's father, James Howard, at the Bond-Howell Lumber Company where he worked, then drove to the Suwannee River east of Suwannee Springs, where they bound Willie by the hands and feet, and forced the youth to choose between getting shot and jumping into the Suwannee River. After his father said he could do nothing to save him, Willie jumped into the river and drowned. Goff, McCullers, and Scott signed an affidavit which stated that they had only wanted James Howard to whip his son and, rather than be whipped by his father, Willie had committed suicide by jumping into the river. James Howard also signed the affidavit, but after selling his home and moving to Orlando, he recanted. Harry T. Moore, of the NAACP, interviewed the parents. After a county grand jury failed to indict, Moore was able to get a federal investigation started, but no convictions followed. Goff, McCullers, and Scott died without having to face murder charges.

Ruby McCollumEdit

In 1952, the city attracted national attention with the trial and conviction of Ruby McCollum, a wealthy, married black woman, charged with the shooting and murder of Dr. C. Leroy Adams, a prominent married white physician and state senator. Her husband Sam McCollum had made a fortune in gambling, and there were rumors Dr. Adams was in business with him. Ruby McCollum testified that Adams had repeatedly forced her to have sex and to bear his child. The case has been described as demonstrating white men's assumption of "paramour rights" in the segregated society. Her trial was covered by journalist and novelist Zora Neale Hurston for the Pittsburgh Courier, among others. McCollum's conviction and death sentence were overturned on appeal to the state supreme court in 1954. She was judged "mentally incompetent to proceed" and committed to the state mental hospital, Florida State Hospital. Her case has been the subject of extensive media coverage including by Zora Neale Hurston and books by journalist William Bradford Huie, who covered the appeal and second trial, C. Arthur Ellis, and Tammy Evans. It has also been the subject of documentary films.[which?]


Geographically, Suwannee County is situated on a limestone bed riddled with underground freshwater streams, which surface in dozens of beautiful springs. This phenomenon of "Karst topography" gives the area a local supply of renewable fresh water and abundant sources of fishing. The county is known as a world-class cave diving site for SCUBA enthusiasts, and underwater cave explorer Sheck Exley chose to live here in order to have close access to many of the springs.

The Twin Rivers State Forest is a 14,882-acre (60 km2) Florida State forest located in North Central Florida, near Live Oak.[8]


Census Pop.
Est. 20186,974[2]1.8%
U.S. Decennial Census[9]

As of the census[3] of 2011, there were 6,918 people, 2,361 households, and 1,562 families residing in the city. The population density was 931.7 per square mile (359.5/km²). There were 2,951 housing units at an average density of 904.6 per square mile (152.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 54.4% White, 35.0% African American, Hispanic or Latino of any race were 16.2% of the population. 0.25% Native American, 1.0% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 2.4% from other races, and 2.4% from two or more races.[1]

There were 2,623 households out of which 30.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 39.5% were married couples living together, 22.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.8% were non-families. 28.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.60 and the average family size was 3.13.

In the city, the population was spread out with 26.6% under the age of 18, 11.0% from 18 to 24, 24.1% from 25 to 44, 20.1% from 45 to 64, and 18.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 93.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.6 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $24,380, and the median income for a family was $29,099. Males had a median income of $22,403 versus $20,154 for females. The per capita income for the city was $12,374. About 19.6% of families and 23.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 27.9% of those under age 18 and 20.9% of those age 65 or over.



Live Oak receives rain, on average, 84 days per year. This makes it the city that receives the fewest days of rain per year over 0.1 inches in Florida.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "2016 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved Jul 7, 2017.
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ a b "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  4. ^ "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  5. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  6. ^ "Live Oak, Florida", See North Florida website
  7. ^ Hobbs, Tameka Bradley (2004). "Hitler is Here": Lynching in Florida during the Era of World War II. Ph.D. dissertation, Florida State University.
  8. ^ "Twin Rivers State Forest". Florida Forest Service. Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  9. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2015.

External linksEdit

Suwannee Valley Times is a free newspaper