Union County History

The first settlers in the area that is now Union County were Native Americans, of course, or to be more precise, the Timucuan tribe.  Eventually, the Spanish, French, and British start making their way into Florida accompanied by slaves, and then escaped slaves seeking their freedom.  As the United States develops, the Seminole tribe emerges, and cross-border raids between settlers and Native Americans results in the Seminole Wars.  Spain cedes Florida to the United States via the 1819 Adams-Onis Treaty handing over East Florida to Army Officer Robert Butler, who will serve as Acting Governor of East Florida… for two days.  Florida, now a territory of the United States in 1821, starts being divided into more counties as land is readied for sale to setters (see maps for quick overview).  Settlers and farmers lured by the mild climate and rich soil soon followed, providing the requisite population for Florida to become a state on March 3, 1845.

On December 21, 1858, New River County was created with Lake Butler as its County Seat.  The new town of Lake Butler was laid out in 1859 with the original survey being for one square mile.  On February 8, 1861, a portion of this county split off to become another new county, Baker County.  Following the death of the first Florida officer killed in the Civil War, the county was renamed Bradford County to honor Captain Richard Bradford on December 6, 1861.  He was killed in the Battle of Santa Rosa Island, an unsuccessful attempt to take Fort Pickens from the federal forces.  The first Courthouse in Lake Butler was destroyed by fire in May 1865 with nearly all records being lost.

St. Petersburg Times article about the naming of Lake Butler (9/5/1938)

Following the Civil War, apparently, the good people of Bradford County could not agree on where their Courthouse should be located.  In February 1875, a second fire again destroyed most of the county records (some suggest to destroy evidence in a murder trial) .  Subsequently, a countywide referendum in 1875 moved it to Starke.  The residents of Lake Butler did not take that well, and mounting a successful legal challenge, prevailed in having the County Seat restored.  Yet another election in May 1885 saw Lake Butler hold the County Seat by 19 votes.  A subsequent election in 1887 saw Starke the winner and the Courthouse moved again.  Unable to swing the referendums to return the Courthouse to Lake Butler, residents began an initiative to create a new county of their own.  Although initially unsuccessful in 1911, their efforts finally bore fruit in 1921 when it was believed splitting the county would be preferable to continuing the rivalry between the two towns and further contentious elections.

On May 20, 1921, legislation creating Union County was signed into law by Governor Hardee.  The name “Union” was chosen to signify unity among the citizens following the divisiveness of the past years.  The boundary line was established beginning at the Baker County line and following “… the meanderings of the bed of said New River in a Southwesterly direction to the bed of the Sante Fe River.”

Union County was the 59th county established in Florida and with 244 square miles also has the distinction of being the smallest county by area in the state.

L-R: Secretary to the Governor M.L. Dawson, Hon. E.M. Johns from Bradford County, Hon. C.H. Register from Union County, Hon. S.D. Edge from Lake County, Hon. T.G. Futch from Lake County, Governor Cary A. Hardee, Hon. D.E. Knight from Bradford County.Union County is Florida's 61st county. Photographed on May 20, 1921.

Record 17: Found in: Florida Photographic Collection Title: [Governor Hardee signing the bill creating Union County : Tallahassee, Florida] [graphic] Author: Imprint: 1921. Related URL: http://fpc.dos.state.fl.us/reference/gv001586.jpg

On October 1, 1921, Union County was officially a new county… and in need of someplace to house the county officers and records.  Offices were initially rented and a corrugated iron and wooden building was completed in 1924.  In 1936, the main building (as seen here) was erected at a cost of $39,000 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the older building it replaced was moved close to the Lake serving now as the Lake Butler Women's Club facility.  The Courthouse was renovated with two wings added in 1969. Another major expansion of the courthouse was completed in 2002.

First real home for the Union County Courthouse was this building completed in 1924.  It now serves as home to the Lake Butler Women’s Club, which added a front porch to the original structure.


Associated Press (September 5, 1938), Town is Named for Old Soldier. St. Petersburg Times, Page 2.

Census Bureau. "QuickFacts." U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts Selected: Union County, Florida. United States Department of Commerce, n.d. Web. 17 July 2017.

Driggers, Marjorie M. 1921-1971 History Union County, Florida. Lake Butler, Fl: The Union County Times, 1971.

Driggers, Marjorie M., and Seeber T. Fowler. Union County, A Collection of Historical Photographs. Lake Butler, Fl: The Union County Times, 1976.

Driggers, Marjorie M., and William A. McGill. Stepping Back in Time. Lake Butler, Fl: Rotary Club of Lake Butler, 1993.

Exploring Florida: A Social Studies Resource for Students and Teachers . 2004. College of Education, University of South Florida. 8 Jan. 2004 <http://fcit.usf.edu/florida/maps/county/Union/Union.htm#63poat21>.

Fowler, Seeber T. Back to Union County. Salt Springs, Fl: Seeber T. Fowler, 2003.

Governor Hardee signing the bill creating Union County - Tallahassee, Florida. 1921. Black & white photoprint, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. 

Johnson, M. (1937, February 10). History of Union County. State Library of Florida, WPA - Historical Records Survey, County Histories.  Retrieved July 17, 2017, from https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/321161

Kaylor, Anne. Florida's Historic Courthouses. 18 Feb. 2004. 10th Judicial Circuit,  State of Florida. 8 Jan. 2005 <http://www.jud10.org/Courthouses/Union/union.htm>.

Kicklighter, Miriam (ca. 1939). History of Bradford County. State Library of Florida, WPA - Historical Records Survey, County Histories.  Retrieved July 17, 2017, from https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/321081?id=1

Livingston, Gail D. "Dedication ceremony for courthouse held Sunday." The Union County  Times. 5 Apr. 2001, sec. A.

Thomas, III, Tyre S. Union County History. 30 Sept. 2004. Piney Bay Systems. 14 Jan. 2005 <http://www.lake-butler.com/pbunhistor.htm>.

Utley, G. P. (1908, October). Origin of the County Names in Florida. The Florida Historical Society Quarterly, 1(3), 29-29.

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