Anthropologists believe Native Americans have been living, or at least visiting, what is now Citrus County for at least 12,000 years. The Indian burial mounds at Crystal River date back to approximately the time of Christ. The Crystal River site was the central political, religious and economic hub for the ancient coastal dwellers residing in the region. It was these people that the Spanish came in contact with in the early 1500s.
Hernando DeSoto led his army through what is now Citrus County in 1539 during his search for gold. Panfilo de Narvaez came through our area prior to DeSoto in 1528. Except for Cuban fishermen and smugglers, few if any white men visited here for more than 300 years. During the late 1700's and early 1800's the Seminole Indians hunted in dense forests of pine, oak and cedar. Citrus County was an undeveloped land waiting to be settled.
When the United States took Florida from Spain in 1819 no settlement was attempted south of today's Ocala. Indians had free rein here until the 1820's when the western half of the county was declared off limits to keep the Indians from trading with escaped slaves who roamed the bays and inlets of Florida's gulf coast, including today's Crystal and Homosassa Rivers.
When the American government tried to force the Seminoles to leave Florida and move to Oklahoma, fighting broke out in 1835 in what came to be known as the Second Seminole War. The Withlacoochee Cove was headquarters for Osceola, the most famous of the Seminole War leaders. Several of that war's principal battles took place here.
When Florida became a state in 1845, what is now Citrus County was just beginning to see settlement by a few hardy pioneers. It was part of Hernando County in those days. The principal landowner was David Yulee, a U.S. Senator who developed a large sugar plantation on the Homosassa River. He lived there all during the 1850's, but lost everything when Yankee soldiers raided and burned his home, called Margarita on Tiger Tail Island, during the Civil War. His sugar mill is still standing and has been made a state park.
After the war this already quiet place went into virtual hibernation. It stayed that way until the early 1880's when Florida's first citrus boom brought farmers and developers here. Among them was Austin Mann who, in addition to citrus, was active in the raising of cattle and sheep and formed a company to dig and operate canals on the east side of the county. He was also active in politics and as the area's State Senator Mann guided through Legislature the bill that created Citrus as a county in 1887. He selected Mannfield as the first county seat, and also platted the town of Inverness.
The great freeze of 1894-95 virtually ended the citrus business in Citrus County. Fortunately the county was already in the midst of a new boom, centered on phosphate mining. When the phosphate business died at the beginning of World War I, Citrus County settled into 50 years of rural solitude. People farmed, raised cattle, cut timber and fished. The population in 1950 (5,677) was actually smaller than in 1910.
There was great hope during the 1960's that the construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal would lead to industrial development, but construction was stopped in 1970 for environmental reasons.
During the 1970's Florida Power Corporation began construction on its massive electrical power-generating complex which is still the largest industry in the county.
Real estate became the next "big thing" in Citrus County during the 1970's. Communities such as Beverly Hills, Sugar Mill Woods and Citrus Springs brought thousands of Northern retirees to this area and created a population boom that is still going on. The county has grown from 17,000 in 1960 to 142,000 in 2010.
During the early 1980's Citrus was designated Florida's Manatee Capital. The county's most significant tourist draw is that it is the only place in the United States where one can legally interact and swim with the West Indian manatee. This threatened species makes the county's spring-fed rivers its wintering home. According to the US Fish & Wildlife Services, as many as 400 of these playful creatures can be found in the County at one time. Long a tourist destination, Citrus County is now known as the "gem of Florida's Nature Coast."
Citrus County, located on "Florida's Nature Coast", is located 70 miles north of Tampa and 60 miles northwest of Orlando, along Florida's west-central coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
The surrounding counties include Levy to the north and northwest, Marion to the northeast, Sumter to the east and southeast, and Hernando to the south. There are two incorporated cities within the county: Inverness and Crystal River. The City of Crystal River located on the West Side of the County occupies approximately 3,636 acres. Inverness, the County Seat, located on the East Side of the County occupies approximately 4,578 acres.
Citrus County consists of three general physiographic regions: Coastal, Central Ridge, and the Lakes and River. The Coastal Area covers approximately 112,671 acres and parallels the Gulf of Mexico. It may be described as: 1000 feet west of Highway US 19, north from the Hernando County line to the Withlacoochee River. Located between Highways US 19 and US 41, the Central Ridge occupies approximately 217,797 acres and is considered the largest of the three regions. The Lakes and Rivers Area occupies approximately 82,370 acres in the north and eastern portions of the County.
There are no natural sand beaches along the coastline of the County. However, there is one man-made saltwater beach located on Fort Island Trail west of Crystal River. The communities of Hernando and Inverness host several freshwater beaches on the Tsala Apopka Chain of Lakes.
The Tsala Apopka chain of lakes is 22 miles long covering 23,000 acres. The Withlacoochee River totals 45 miles of riverfront.