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Ocala ( oh-KAL-ə) is a city located in Marion County, Florida, which is part of the northern region of the state. As of the 2013 census, its population, estimated by the United States Census Bureau, was 57,468, making it the 45th most populated city in Florida.
It is the seat of Marion County and the principal city of the Ocala, Florida Metropolitan Statistical Area, which had an estimated 2013 population of 337,362.
Archeological investigation has revealed that the area was inhabited by varying cultures of indigenous peoples from as early as 6500 B.C., and there were two lengthy periods of occupation. The second lasted through 500 A.D. In early historic times, the Timucua inhabited the area.
Ocala is located near what is thought to have been the site of Ocale or Ocali, a major Timucua village and chiefdom recorded in the 16th century. The modern city takes its name from the historical village, the name of which is believed to mean "Big Hammock" in the Timucua language. The Spaniard Hernando de Soto's expedition recorded Ocale in 1539 during his exploration through what is today the southeastern United States. Ocale is not mentioned in later Spanish accounts; it appears to have been abandoned in the wake of de Soto's attack.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Creek people and other Native Americans, and free and fugitive African Americans sought refuge in Florida. The Seminole people formed. After foreign colonial rule shifted between Spain and Great Britain and back again, in 1821 the United States acquired the territory of Florida. After warfare to the north, in 1827 the U.S. Army built Fort King near the present site of Ocala as a buffer between the Seminole, who had long occupied the area, and white settlers moving into the region. The fort was an important base during the Second Seminole War and later served in 1844 as the first courthouse for Marion County.
The modern city of Ocala, which was established in 1849, developed around the fort site. Greater Ocala is known as the "Kingdom of the Sun". Plantations and other agricultural development dependent on slave labor were prevalent in the region. Ocala was an important center of citrus production until the Great Freeze of 1894–1895.
Rail service reached Ocala in June 1881, encouraging economic development with greater access to markets for produce. Two years later, much of the Ocala downtown area was destroyed by fire on Thanksgiving Day, 1883. The city encouraged rebuilding with brick, granite and steel rather than lumber. By 1888, Ocala was known statewide as "The Brick City".
In December 1890, the Farmers' Alliance and Industrial Union, a forerunner of the Populist Party, held its national convention in Ocala. At the convention, the Alliance adopted a platform that would become known as the "Ocala Demands". This platform included abolition of national banks, promoting low-interest government loans, free and unlimited coinage of silver, reclamation of excess railroad lands by the government, a graduated income tax, and direct election of United States senators. Most of the "Ocala Demands" were to become part of the Populist Party platform.
The first thoroughbred horse farm in Florida was developed in Marion County in 1943 by Carl G. Rose. Other farms were developed, making Ocala the center of a horse-breeding area. Local horses have won individual races of the Triple Crown series; in 1978 Affirmed, bred and trained in Marion County, won all three races, boosting interest in the industry here.
Ocala is one of only five cities (four in the US and one in France) permitted under Chamber of Commerce guidelines to use the title, "Horse Capital of the World", based on annual revenue produced by the horse industry. 44,000 jobs are sustained by breeding, training, and related support of the equine industry, which generates over $2.2 billion in annual revenue. Postime Farms and Ocala serve as host to one of the largest horse shows in the country: H.I.T.S or "Horses in the Sun", a Dressage/Jumper event lasting about two months. It generates some 6 to 7 million dollars for the local Marion County economy each year. The show features classes for over 100 different breeds, including Tennessee Walker, Paso Fino, Morgan horse, SaddleBred, Draft horse and the American Quarter Horse. Other equine events in the area include cowboy mounted shooting by the Florida Outlaws, as well as endurance rides, barrel races, "extreme" cowboy events, jumper shows, trick shows, parades, draft pulls, rodeo events and more.
In the last decades of the twentieth century, the greater Ocala area had one of the highest growth rates in the country for a city its size. The population of Marion County in 2000 was more than 250,000, up from under 100,000 in 1975.
Many historic homes are preserved in Ocala's large residential Historic District, designated in 1984. East Fort King Street features many excellent examples of Victorian architecture. Ocala structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places include the Coca Cola Building, the E. C. Smith House, East Hall, the Marion Hotel, Mount Zion A.M.E. Church, the Ritz Historic Inn, and Union Train Station.
The original Fort King site was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2004.
Ocala is governed by a five-member board of councillors and a mayor, all of which are elected on a nonpartisan basis. It has a council-manager form of government, relying on a manager hired by the city. The mayor sets policy but has few powers other than vetoing legislation passed by the council and tending to some duties involving the police department. The city manager handles most administrative and financial matters.
Although a small majority of the city's registered voters are Democrats, Ocala voters have elected many Republicans to office. Many conservative whites have shifted to the Republican Party since the late 20th century. In the 2008 presidential election, John McCain carried both the city and the county, the latter by a landslide, although Florida as a whole voted for Democrat Barack Obama by a narrow margin.
Ocala is located at 29°11′16″N 82°07′50″W.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 38.63 square miles (100.1 km2), all land. The surrounding farms are famous for their thoroughbred horses, in terrain similar to Kentucky bluegrass. Ocala is also known for nearby Silver Springs, Florida, site of one of the largest artesian spring formations in the world and Silver Springs Nature Theme Park, one of the earliest tourist attractions in Florida.
The 110-mile (180 km) long Ocklawaha River flows north from Central Florida until it joins the St. Johns River near Palatka, Florida.
Marion County is also home to the Ocala National Forest which was established in 1908 and is now the second largest national forest in the state. The Florida Trail, also known as the Florida National Scenic Trail, cuts through Ocala National Forest. Silver Springs State Park was formed as Silver River State Park in 1987, out of land the state purchased around the Silver Springs attraction to spare it from development. The state took over Silver Springs itself in 1993 and incorporated it into the park in 2013.
Ocala has two distinct seasons: the dry season (October–May) and the wet season (June–September). During the dry season, there is almost uninterrupted sunshine with very little rainfall. In January, the morning low temperatures are often in the 30s and 40s, but the cloudless sunny weather typically warms the dry air up to near 70 by the afternoon. During the wet season, afternoon thunderstorms are a daily occurrence. These storms are often severe (unofficially, Ocala is known to have more cloud-to-ground lightning per square mile than any other city in the world). The typical morning low temperatures during the wet season are in the 70s and typical daytime high temperatures are in the 90s. Due to the city being relatively far away from the moderating influence of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, Ocala's summertime high temperatures are often the highest in the state while winter night temperatures are often the lowest compared to other cities on the peninsula.
As of the 2010 through 2014 census, Ocala was 63.3% non Hispanic white, 20.4% African American, 11.7% Hispanic or Latino, 2.6% Asian, 2% all other. As of the census of 2000, there were 45,943 people, 18,646 households, and 11,280 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,189.2 per square mile (459.2/km2). There were 20,501 housing units at an average density of 530.7 per square mile (204.9/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 72.86% White, 22.14% African American, 0.36% Native American, 1.22% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 1.81% from other races, and 1.59% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.74% of the population.
There were 18,646 households. 40.9% were married couples living together, 15.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.5% were non-families. 33.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.29 and the average family size was 2.91.
In the city the population was spread out with 23.2% under the age of 18, 9.3% from 18 to 24, 26.2% from 25 to 44, 20.9% from 45 to 64, and 20.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females, there were 89.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $30,888, and the median income for a family was $38,190. Males had a median income of $29,739 versus $24,367 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,021. About 13.2% of families and 18.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 28.6% of those under age 18 and 9.8% of those age 65 or over.
Ocala is the headquarters of Emergency One, a worldwide designer and manufacturer of fire rescue vehicles.
According to Ocala's 2016 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the top employers in the city are:
The public schools in Ocala are run by the Marion County School Board. There are 30 elementary, ten middle and ten public high schools in Marion County, which include the following schools in Ocala:
Ocala is home to the College of Central Florida, a member of the Florida College System, accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. CF offers bachelor's degrees in Business and Organizational Management, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, as well as associate degrees and certificates. The college offers specialty programs in equine studies, agribusiness, and logistics and supply chain management. It also has one of 21 campuses of Rasmussen College, a Higher Learning Commission regionally accredited post secondary institution. Webster University offers on-site, regionally accredited graduate degree programs in business and counseling at their Ocala Metropolitan Campus.
Three of the eight libraries in the Marion County Public Library System are located in Ocala. Those three libraries are:
In 1995, Ocala was named an All-America City Award winner.
Ocala has two sister cities:
Several major highways pass through Ocala, including Interstate 75, U.S. Highway 27, U.S. Route 301, and U.S. Highway 441. Ocala was on the western leg of the historic Dixie Highway.
Ocala International Airport provides general aviation services to the community. Ocala Suntran provides bus service throughout select parts of the city. One of the major hubs for Suntran is the former Ocala Union Station, which served Amtrak trains until November 2004. Amtrak serves Ocala by bus connection to Jacksonville and Lakeland. Ocala is also served by Greyhound Bus Lines.
West Port High School offers an arts-affiliated magnet program known as MCCA (Marion County Center for the Arts), and it focuses on instructing students in the arts. It is one of the better known arts magnet programs in Florida.
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