Tallahassee is the capital of the State of Florida. It is the county seat and only incorporated municipality in Leon County, and is the 125th largest city in the United States. Tallahassee became the capital of Florida, then the Florida Territory, in 1824. In 2010, the population recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau was 181,376, and the Tallahassee metropolitan area is 375,371 as of 2012.
Tallahassee is home to Florida State University, ranked the nation's forty-third best public university by U.S. News & World Report. It is also home to the Florida A&M University, the country's largest historically black university by total enrollment. Tallahassee Community College is a large community college which serves mainly as a feeder school to both Florida State University and Florida A&M University. Overall, Tallahassee is a large college town with a population of over 70,000 students.
Tallahassee is a center for trade and agriculture in the Florida Panhandle and is served by Tallahassee Regional Airport. As the state capital, the city is home to a number of law firms, lobbying organizations, trade associations and professional associations, including the Florida Bar and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. It is also a recognized regional center for scientific research, and home to the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.
During the 17th century several Spanish missions were established in the territory of the Apalachee to procure food and labor for the colony at St. Augustine. The largest, Mission San Luis de Apalachee, has been partially reconstructed by the state of Florida. The name "Tallahassee" is a Muskogean Indian word often translated as "old fields" or "old town", and it likely stems from the Creek (later called Seminole) Indians who migrated from Georgia and Alabama to this region in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They found large areas of cleared land previously occupied by the Apalachee tribe. Earlier, the Mississippian Indians built mounds near Lake Jackson around AD 1200, which survive today in the Lake Jackson Archaeological State Park.
The expedition of Panfilo de Narvaez encountered the Apalachees, although it did not reach the site of Tallahassee. Hernando de Soto and his expedition occupied the Apalachee town of Anhaica in what is now Tallahassee in the winter of 1538–1539. Based on archaeological excavations this site is now known to be located about east of the present Florida State Capitol. The DeSoto encampment is believed to be the first place Christmas was celebrated in the continental United States.
During the First Seminole War, General Andrew Jackson fought two separate skirmishes in and around Tallahassee. The first battle took place on November 12, 1817. Chief Neamathla, of the village of Fowltown, just west of present day Tallahassee had refused Jackson's orders to relocate. Jackson responded by entering the village, burning it to the ground, and driving off its occupants. The Indians later retaliated, by killing 50 soldiers and civilians. Jackson reentered Florida in March 1818. According to Jackson's adjutant, Colonel Robert Butler, they "advanced on the Indian village called Tallahasse (sic) [where] two of the enemy were made prisoner."
Tallahassee became the capital of Florida during the second legislative session. It was chosen as it was roughly equidistant from St. Augustine and Pensacola, which had been the capitals of the Spanish colonies of East Florida and West Florida. The first session of Florida's Legislative Council—as a territory of the United States—met on July 22, 1822 at Pensacola and members from St. Augustine traveled fifty-nine days by water to attend. The second session was in St. Augustine and required western delegates to travel perilously around the peninsula on a twenty-eight day trek. During this session, it was decided that future meetings should be held at a half-way point. Two appointed commissioners selected Tallahassee, at that point an abandoned Apalachee settlement, as a halfway point. In 1824 the third legislative session met there in a crude log capitol building.
From 1821 through 1845 the rough-hewn frontier capital gradually grew into a town during Florida's territorial period. The Marquis de Lafayette, French hero of the American Revolution, returned for a tour of the United States in 1824. The US Congress voted to give him $200,000 (the same amount he had given the colonies in 1778), US citizenship, and the Lafayette Land Grant, of land that today includes large portions of Tallahassee. In 1845 a Greek revival masonry structure was erected as the Capitol building in time for statehood. Now known as the "old Capitol," it stands in front of the high-rise Capitol building that was built in the 1970s.
Tallahassee was in the heart of the Cotton Belt and was the center of the slave trade in Florida. During the American Civil War, Tallahassee was the only Confederate state capital east of the Mississippi not captured by Union forces. A small engagement, the Battle of Natural Bridge, was fought south of the city on March 6, 1865.
During the 19th century the institutions that would eventually be combined into what is now known as Florida State University were established in Tallahassee, firmly cementing it as a university town. These including the Tallahassee Female Academy (founded 1843) and the Florida Institute (founded 1854). In 1851 the Florida legislature decreed two seminaries to be built on either side of the Suwanee River, East Florida Seminary and West Florida Seminary. In 1855 West Florida Seminary was transferred to the Florida Institute building (which had been established as an inducement for the state to place the seminary in Tallahassee). In 1858 the seminary absorbed the Tallahassee Female Academy and became coeducational.
After the Civil War much of Florida's industry moved to the south and east, a trend that continues today. The end of slavery hindered the cotton and tobacco trade, and the state's major industries shifted to citrus, lumber, naval stores, cattle ranching and tourism. The post-Civil War period was also when many former plantations in the Tallahassee area were purchased by wealthy northerners for use as winter hunting preserves. This included the hunting preserve of Henry L. Beadel, who bequeathed his land for the study of the effects of fire on wildlife habitat. Today the preserve is known as the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, nationally recognized for its research into fire ecology and the use of prescribed burning.
Until World War II Tallahassee remained a small southern town with virtually the entire population living within 1 mile (2 km) of the Capitol. The main economic drivers were the universities and state government, where politicians met to discuss spending money on grand public improvement projects to accommodate growth in places such as Miami and Tampa Bay, hundreds of miles away from the capital. By the 1960s there was a movement to transfer the capital to Orlando, closer to the growing population centers of the state. That motion was defeated and the 1970s saw a long-term commitment by the state to the capital city with construction of the new capitol complex and preservation of the old Florida State Capitol building.
In 1970, the Census Bureau reported city's population as 74.0% white and 25.4% black.
In 1977 a 22-story high-rise Capitol building designed by architect Edward Durell Stone was completed, which is now the third-tallest state capitol building in the United States. In 1978 the old capitol, directly in front of the new capitol, was scheduled for demolition, but state officials decided to keep the Old Capitol as a museum.