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History of Orlando, Florida

Orlando’s history dates back to 1838 and the height of the Seminole Wars. The U.S. Army built Fort Gatlin south of the present day Orlando City limits to protect settlers from attacks by Indians.

By 1840, a small community had grown up around the Fort. It was known as Jernigan, named after the Jernigan family, who had established the first permanent settlement in the area. Jernigan had a post office, established May 30th, 1850.

Six years later with the settlement expanding northward, the community officially changed its name to Orlando. In 1857, the U.S. Post Office adopted the name change. The Town of Orlando was incorporated in 1875 with 85 inhabitants, 22 of whom were qualified voters.

History is not as clear on where the name Orlando originated. There are four stories that are told. One involves Judge James Speer, who worked hard in getting Orlando as the county seat, naming Orlando after a man who once worked for him. Another is that Speer named it after a character from Shakespeare’s, "As You Like It".

A third version has Mr. Orlando on his way to Tampa with a caravan of ox. It is said that he got ill, died and was buried, and that folks would come by and say, "There lies Orlando"

The most common story is about a company of soldiers on duty during the height of the Seminole Wars. After battling Indians back into the swamps on the east side of Lake Minnie (now Cherokee), the military troop settled there for the night. Sentinel Orlando Reeves was guarding the camp when he spotted a log floating toward him.  Recognizing the Indian disguise and wanting to warn his fellow soldiers, he fired his gun. Arrows felled the poor fellow as the Indians came out to ambush the camp. The Indians were chased back again, and the south side of Lake Eola was chosen to bury Orlando Reeves.

History of Orlando
Some historians date Orlando's name to around 1836 when a soldier named Orlando Reeves allegedly died in the area, during the war against the Seminole Indian tribe. It seems, however, that Orlando Reeves (sometimes Rees) operated a sugar mill and plantation about 30 miles (50 km) to the north at Spring Garden in Volusia County, and pioneer settlers simply found his name carved into a tree and assumed it was a marker for a grave site. They thus referred to the area as "Orlando's grave" and later simply "Orlando."

During the Second Seminole War, the U.S. Army established an outpost at Fort Gatlin, a few miles south of the modern downtown, in 1838. But it was quickly abandoned when the war came to an end.

The first permanent settler was cattleman Aaron Jernigan, who acquired land along Lake Holden by the terms of the Armed Occupation Act of 1842. But most pioneers did not arrive until after the Third Seminole War in the 1850s. Most of the early residents made their living by cattle ranching.

Orlando remained a rural backwater during the American Civil War, and suffered greatly during the Federal Blockade. The Reconstruction Era brought a population explosion, which led to the city's incorporation in 1875.

The period from 1875 to 1895 is remembered as Orlando's "Gilded Era," when it became the hub of Florida's citrus industry. But a great freeze in 1894-1895 forced many owners to give up their independent groves, thus consolidating holdings in the hands of a few "citrus barons" which shifted operations south, primarily around Lake Wales in Polk County.

Orlando, as Florida's largest inland city, became a popular resort during the years between the Spanish-American War and World War I.

During World War II, a number of Army personnel were stationed at the Pine Castle AAF. Some of these servicemen stayed in Orlando to settle and raise families. In 1956 the aerospace/defense company Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) established a plant in Orlando. In 1958, Pine Castle AAF was renamed McCoy Air Force Base after Colonel Michael N.W. McCoy.

Orlando is close enough to Patrick Air Force Base, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and Kennedy Space Center for residents to commute to work from the city's suburbs. It also allows easy access to Port Canaveral, an important cruise ship terminal. Because of its proximity to the "Space Coast" near the Kennedy Space Center, many high-tech companies have shifted to the Orlando area.

Perhaps the most critical event for Orlando's economy occurred in 1965 when Walt Disney announced plans to build Walt Disney World. Although Disney had considered the cities of Miami and Tampa for his park, one of the major reasons behind his decision not to locate in those cities was the threat of hurricanes. The famous vacation resort opened in October 1971, ushering in an explosive population and economic growth for the Orlando metropolitan area, which now encompasses Orange, Seminole, Osceola, and Lake counties. As a result, tourism became the centerpiece of the area's economy and Orlando is consistently ranked as one of the top vacation destinations in the world.

Another major factor in Orlando's growth occurred in 1970, when the new Orlando International Airport was built from a portion of the McCoy Air Force Base. Four airlines began providing scheduled flights in 1970. The military base officially closed in 1974, and most of it is now part of the airport. The airport still retains the former Air Force Base airport code (MCO). It is considered a world-class facility, and it is one of the most heavily travelled airports in the world.

In addition to McCoy Air Force Base, Orlando also had a naval presence with the establishment of the Orlando Naval Training Center in 1968. Providing training to recruits as well as being a base for selected post basic training programs, the base had a prominent presence in the area. In 1993, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission ordered that the base be closed. The base continued in a diminished capacity until the base closed for good with the last graduates of the base's Naval Nuclear Power School leaving in December of 1998. The former base has been developed into tracts for upscale housing called Baldwin Park.

In the hurricane season of 2004, Hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Jeanne battered the Orlando area, causing widespread damage and flooding and impeding tourism to the area.


Orange County Regional History Center
Orlando, Florida

The Orange County Regional History Center is located in the "Heart of the Community" in downtown Orlando. This state-of-the-art venue brings history to life though audio and visual presentations, hands-on exhibits, education programs and special events.

Enter into the historic, 1927 former Orange County Courthouse for your journey through time. Set as a Florida back porch, you can relax in a rocker while being surrounded by the sights and sounds of Central Florida. Discover the beautiful flora, fauna and rock formations - Natural Environment. And probe the famous Winter Park sinkhole - a natural disaster. Step back 12,000 years into the lives of the First Peoples, Paleo-Indians. Wander through a Timucuan village where natives are boarding a canoe. Witness a First Contact while a young woman inspects the contents of a Spaniard's lifeboat that has washed ashore. Jump into the 1800s and explore an early Florida Pioneer Cracker home. Sample household items and the comfort of a mattress filled with Spanish moss, and spy a teenage ritual "Taffy Pull" in progress. Share a campfire with early Florida cattlemen as they spin tales about Florida's early Cattle industry days. Be sure to try one of their saddles on for size. Get the juice on Florida's best-known industry. Spend time with some Citrus pickers - right in the grove while they work. Close out the century with a railroad car making a stop in the Port of Sanford. Inspect different modes of Transportation of the day. Roar into the 1950s in Destination Florida: Tourism Before Disney. Be dwarfed under the wing of a WWII Bomber, and learn how some of the best flyers in Aviation, from WWII pilots to NASA astronauts, were trained in Central Florida. Be there for The Day We Changed, the arrival of Walt Disney World, and witness how the area was impacted. Test your knowledge of famous Central Florida people, places and activities inside the orange Dome. Expanding over two floors, the Dome features over 150 unique icons - everything from the slow moving manatee to the high-powered space shuttle.

Enjoy everything this unique setting has to offer - history, concerts, festivals, lunching under the shade of a tall cypress tree or splashing in the pop-jet fountains in Heritage Square, a beautiful park and plazas. The History Center is wheelchair accessible.

LOCATION: 65 East Central Blvd, Orlando 32801. Phone 407-836-8500 or toll-free 800-965-2030.

HOURS: 10 AM to 5 PM Monday through Saturday, 12 PM to 5 PM Sunday. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

ADMISSION: Adults $9.00, seniors (60+) and students $7.00, children (5-12) $6.00, Children ages 4 and under and Historical Society members are free. *Special admission prices may apply for limited-run exhibitions. 

DIRECTIONS: From I-4, take Exit 82C/Anderson St. Turn left on Magnolia Ave and right on Central Blvd. Proceed to the Orlando Public Library Parking Garage.

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