Sunday, 14 December 2014

Gainesville Florida Historic Districts Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 4.7 km (2.9 miles), terrain: flat

Photos courtesy of Google Maps. Thanks!

For more running routes, see Route List.

Gainesville FL, although it is now a sprawling city that covers a wide swath of land, still has a heart that could be found in a thousand southern small towns. There are quiet streets lined with old wooden homes with wrap-around verandas, yards full of dogwood, azaleas and giant live-oak trees, dripping with Spanish moss. There are three historic districts in the center of town, all with beautiful old streets.

There is also a (partly) old-fashioned downtown with a lively restaurant scene. In short, it's a nice spot for a run! I should know, I lived there for 10 years, and it's the place where I began running. And my last years in this dynamic town were spent in this neighborhood.
Live-oaks in the Northeast Section
The downtown itself was partly redeveloped some years ago and is livelier today, with new apartment buildings full of students and young professionals, with restaurants and bars on their ground floors. Before that, the old stores had been dying off, one by one, and were only partially re-purposed with lawyers' offices and bail-bondsmen, a process common in towns all over America during the last 50 years.

The three historic districts surrounding the downtown are the Northeast Section (Duck Pond), the Pleasant Street district, and the Southeast Section, each with its own character. This route will loop through all three, but you might want to later zig-zag through more of the neighboring streets in further runs. They're worth discovering!
The start at the clock tower. Head up that street on the left!
So let's get ourselves ready for this little run by going to the corner of University Avenue and NE 1st Street, right in the heart of Downtown. There is a little clock tower there. The tower houses the clock from the old courthouse which was torn down there earlier. This is now a little square in front of the new City Hall. There is a another square across University Avenue, the Community Plaza, but we'll come through that later, when we finish the run.
The author with his Gainesville clock tower T-shirt
Now turn north and run up NE 1st Street, with its green divider strip. In just four blocks, turn left onto NE 4th Avenue, and run westwards into the Pleasant Street Historic District. This is traditionally the black part of town, as every Southern town once had. Blacks were forced to live here then, and they were often glad to get out. But in recent years, local pride has grown, and the neighborhood has undergone a renaissance. Some of the old wooden houses have been nicely restored, and the city has improved sidewalks and street-lighting, and the section earns its "Pleasant Street" name. All the streets have the newer, numbered names, plus the original, more poetic names.
Entering Pleasant Street Historic District
First, though, you have to run through two blocks of boring offices and parking lots, but when you cross 1st Street NW (Garden Street), the homey little houses with their big porches and gingerbread-woodwork begin. The house with the wheel-shaped porch-beams is my favorite, just before 3rd Street NW. Many of the houses are small and simple, but each one has a character its own.

At NW 4th Street (Grove Street), turn right and run north for two blocks until you pass the red-brick church, where you turn right (east) onto NW 5th Avenue. This street has a few shops and new sidewalks, forming the heart of the neighborhood.
Along Grove Street
Turn right onto NW 3rd Street and then turn left immediately at the first side-street, NW 4th Place, to continue running eastwards until it also ends in a block.

Now turn right onto NW 2nd Street (Pleasant Street) and run south until you get to NW 3rd Avenue, where you turn left and soon leave the Pleasant Street District.

NOTE: The Pleasant Street Park, a pleasant playground (what else would you expect on Pleasant Street?) surrounded by white picket-fences, is just a block north of here, if you want to take a quick little detour!

You'll cross NW 1st Street, where we started, but continue eastwards into the Northeast Section. This is already the next historic district. The Northeast Section is known for its jungley yards, wide verandas and its huge live-oak trees.
Houses in NE section
Run straight to NE 4th Street, past houses with wrap-around porches. Now turn left to run north through this pleasant neighborhood, home to a mix of students, professors and townspeople.

NOTE: I used to live just a block from here, and it always does me good to be back in this beautiful neighborhood.
Homes along NE 4th Street
Run until the street ends at the Thomas Center, a hundred-year-old former hotel and college. Now it's used as an event venue. This is the side entrance, so turn left to run to the next driveway, so you can now turn right and run past the beautiful front side of the building, looking like an Italian villa, and through its park-like grounds.

At the north end of the building, at NE 7th Avenue, turn right and run downhill the two blocks to the little stream that defines the neighborhood: Sweetwater Branch Creek. Sweetwater runs through a park-like median strip between the two halves of NE Boulevard.

Turn right here and run south along the creek. In just a block, the creek widens to become the Duck Pond, with a little island full of cypress trees in the middle.
Along the Duck Pond
At the far end of the Duck Pond, take a look to the right, up along NE 5th Avenue, to see a couple of the most spectacular live-oak trees in town, covered in Spanish moss.

But now turn the other way, heading east along NE 5th Avenue two more blocks to NE 7th Street, where you turn right and head south, exiting the Northeast section, and coming back to University Avenue in a few blocks.

Now continue south into the third, and smallest, of the historic districts, the Southeast Section. Unfortunately, some of the old homes have been torn down near University Avenue, and downtown buildings have encroached from the west.

Continue to the first cross-street, SE 1st Avenue, and turn right. Many of the houses are a bit funkier here, and smaller, than in the Northeast Section, more like cottages.
In the Southeast Section
In a block, the street turns to the left, but continue running straight along the public footpath that goes into a small park ahead. This is another bit of parkland along Sweetwater Branch. The path bridges the creek and continues westwards into the downtown.

You'll now pass the typical, bunker-like buildings you find in most American downtowns, like the federal building and the county building. When you pass the parked sheriff's department patrol cars at the Alachua County Courthouse, you'll run past a square, the Bo Diddley Community Plaza. It's named after the creative founder of rock and roll (who lived his last years outside Gainesville).

You'll see a little brick building with a roofed-over entrance, next to the street. This is the Bethel filling station, the town's oldest gas station, now used by a snack bar. We'll be back at the plaza in a few minutes, but first comes one, last little detour.
Downtown Gainesville
Turn left at the old filling station, onto SE 1st Street. There are newer apartment buildings along the left side, and original downtown buildings on the right, now full of bars and restaurants. The new residents, mainly students, have revitalized the area. This neighborhood has become a fun spot for hanging out in the evenings.

You're heading for what looks like a Greek temple straight ahead: the Hippodrome Theater. The former post office houses a theater troupe which began as a group of theater-loving hippies in the 1970s, who quickly built a reputation for creative experiments. And they're still going strong.
The Hippodrome Theater
Turn right at the theater, onto SE 2nd Place, and run the one block to Main Street, at still another modern county courthouse. Now turn right and run two blocks past more traditional downtown buildings to SW 1st Avenue again, where you turn right and run the one block back to the Community Plaza and the Bethel filling station. The plaza is home to a lot of live music in its bandstand.

Now run through the plaza, towards the left and you'll come back to the bell tower where you started. Nice little town, huh?

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