The City of Bushnell is one of Florida's hidden treasures. Its history is rich with fascinating events, some of which played a major role in Florida's history. And Bushnell today seems to have achieved that rare and priceless commodity - balance. Bushnell is a treasure chest laden with interesting people, a concerned local government and a professionally run electric utility. Incorporated in 1911, its history dates back to 1885, when the changes occurring in Florida were reminiscent of those in the Old West. The Civil War was over, and pioneer towns were springing up across the state. Most of the conflicts with Florida's native Indian tribes had been settled, and people from northern climates were moving south in increasing numbers. Perhaps most importantly, the railroad was laying new tracks in Florida, making the state's central and southern regions much more accessible.
The Railroad and Bushnell
Bushnell is a city shaped by the railroad. Just as train tracks run through the middle of Bushnell today, so its very existence emerged from a railroad station built in the late 19th century. The city is even named in honor of the young chief engineer, John W. Bushnell, who worked for the Florida Railway and Navigation Company survey crew that laid the right-of-way for the railroad from Lake Panasoffkee to Bushnell.
The community of Bushnell officially came into existence with the establishment of the post office on Oct. 28, 1885. Early records show that five or six families resided in the area at that time, with some families having lived there since the area was first settled in 1870. The railroad's extension into the area served as a catalyst for Bushnell's growth. Regular train service began in early 1885, with a depot and passenger shelter built the same year.
Early residents of Bushnell had no way to receive storm warnings. After regular train service was established, six long blasts of the engine whistle told the people stormy weather was coming.
Early Bushnell was a town of sandy, unpaved roads, outdoor privies, no electricity or running water. The railroad was the means for people to travel to other towns. A morning and afternoon train enabled one to travel as far north as Ocala to shop and return the same day.
The city of Bushnell was incorporated on Dec. 14, 1911. The construction of the Sumter County Courthouse in 1913-14 spurred the second expansion and continued growth of Bushnell. It was during this time that the city's first water and electric systems were constructed.
1914, the city of Bushnell had quite a few established businesses - including a grocery store and bank, several churches of different denominations, its own doctor, and a privately owned water system that served the business section and a few residents.
Bushnell powers up as Electric Utility in 1919
The first electric system was constructed sometime around 1914, according to local records. It was constructed by Holt E. Wey, who later sold the system to the City of Bushnell. On July 18, 1918, Bushnell records show that a $10,000 bond was used for establishing and equipping the lighting system in the city of Bushnell, and connecting the same with the electric grid. On April 28, 1919, the city of Bushnell purchased the "Bushnell Electric Company" from Holt E. Wey for the sum of $3,000.
At first the only time electric lights were available was between sundown and 11:00 o’clock at night. The plant was located on the site now occupied by the former Bushnell City Hall on Market Street and contained a diesel-powered generator. Sometime about 1919, the City of Bushnell connected to the electric grid lines near Camp Grove.