Most of the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail follows an abandoned rail bed. The Gainesville, Ocala and Charlotte Harbor Railroad Company first laid narrow gauge tracks from Palatka toward Gainesville in 1881. To accommodate the shipping enterprises operating on the recently formed Alachua Lake, the rail line was directed to skirt past Alachua Sink at Paynes Prairie. The company’s name then changed to the Florida Southern Railway.
In 1895, the line became part of Henry Plant’s extensive railway-steamboat system that only 10 years earlier had breathed life into a sleepy little gulf coast village called Tampa. The company was reorganized when acquired by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company in 1902.
Along the trail today, reminders of the historic railroad activity include concrete mileage and whistle markers. At the La Chua Trail spur (mile 1), a concrete railway trestle remains that decades ago allowed Camp Ranch to move their cattle off Paynes Prairie. The Old Gainesville Depot has been restored and is now an outstanding city park near downtown.