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Orlando City

Orlando City Hall is located at 400 South Orange Avenue, Orlando, FL 32801; phone: 407-246-2121.

Home on North Shore Terrace, ca. 1920s, North Lake Ivanhoe Historic District, Orlando, FL
Photo: Home on North Shore Terrace, ca. 1920s, North Lake Ivanhoe Historic District, Orlando, FL; photographed by Robert Taylor, 2006; Historic American Buildings Survey [HABS FL-532], memory.loc.gov, accessed October, 2012.

Orlando as Described in 1939 [1]

Orlando, in east central Florida, is the seat of Orange County and the State's largest inland city. It is in the ridge section on a watershed from which the St. Johns River flows north and the Kissimmee flows south. Orange County's thousand lakes, many of them spring fed, temper the climate throughout the year. Lake shores in the city are extensively developed to the water's edge. Along their encircling boulevards, landscaped parkways are shaded by live oaks, camphor trees, and a profusion of native and imported palms. Gardens are gay with subtropical shrubs, citrus trees, and winter-blooming flowers. In contrast are the dull red of brick-paved streets and the sparkling blue of lakes against this background of evergreen foliage. In less than half a century Orlando has grown from a trading post on a cow range to a city resembling a great cultivated park.

The business and shopping districts converge on Orange Avenue, the principal north and south thoroughfare. It resembles that of a substantial northern city in its architecture and its atmosphere of enterprise and activity. Sidewalks are narrow; traffic signal lights bear the admonition "Quiet." Fruit-juice stands and used-car lots, some in landscaped settings, appear between tall, year-round hotels, theaters, and department stores.

Architecturally, the city varies from well-preserved two- and three-story brick business buildings and residences of the late 19th century with dormers, cupolas and stamped metal cornices, to ornate structures of glazed tile embellishment with chromium bands.

Frequently dwellings reflect that part of the country from which the owners came. Side by side are the plantation house with wide verandas and roof-high columns, the red brick English manor, the chaste New England cottage, and the flat-roof, gay-colored tropical house. Their variety of style is unified by landscaping. Coral and golden flame vines and exotic flowering shrubs grow in nearly every yard.

The settling of Orlando, like that of other towns in central Florida, was an aftermath of the Seminole Wars. Many volunteers follow the withdrawal of the regular army, remained to form a community. The site was selected for its proximity to Fort Gatlin, established about 1837 because of the excellence of the water and the habitable highlands of the area. Under protection of the garrison, settlers drifted into the Orlando area, unnamed until 1850. Among the first was Aaron Jernigan, of Georgia, who reached here with his family, slaves, and herds in 1842. Jernigan and most of the other pioneers that followed him were cattlemen.

In 1846 and once again in 1849, this territory was menaced by Indian cattle rustlers. On both occasions Jernigan, then serving as Orange County's first representative in the State Legislature, was called from Tallahassee to protect his herds. Cessation of the hostilities by the Seminole led the army to abandon Fort Gatlin in 1848, but the settlers continued to carry arms, and Jernigan built a stockade on the west shore of Lake Holden. The stockade and the small settlement that grew around it was a convenient stopping place for travelers.

During the War between the States, when a Federal blockade stopped all shipments of cattle from Florida to Cuba, Orlando stockmen sold their beef to the Confederates, delivering it on the hoof to Charleston, South Carolina.

Francis Eppes, grandson of Thomas Jefferson, and mayor of Tallahassee at the time the Army of Occupation took control, moved his impoverished family to Orlando in 1867. As lay reader he held the first Episcopal services in the district at his log cabin. For 14 years, until his death, Eppes was an intellectual and spiritual force in the community. In 1869, Will Wallace Harney, poet and journalist, editor of the Louisville Kentucky Democrat, and a member of the National Academy of Science, described in magazine articles the fertile farming land and ideal climate of Orlando, and the city had its first boom.

The first commercial citrus grove near Orlando was 100 acres planted during 1865-1866 by W. H. Holden, from seeds of fruit trees found growing on his property. His crop was hauled to Mellonville, now Sanford, on the St. Johns River and carried by boat to Charleston. The long overland route brought a demand for better transportation facilities, and the South Florida Railroad was extended from Mellonville to Orlando in 1880. General U. S. Grant turned the first spadeful of earth.

During the early 1890s the State and railroad interests sold land in and about Orlando at approximately $1 an acre to English buyers, and large numbers migrated to the Lake Conway district and set out citrus groves. Nearly every home had its tennis court; a yacht club held periodic regattas; a polo team was organized in 1884, and the English Club was formed two years later. The widespread planting of citrus gave agriculture in central Florida an importance that drove the cattle to ranges farther south, and marked the passing of frontier life in the community. However, stockmen and cowhands from Kissimmee Valley ranches are still seen at local sports events, and in the bars and mercantile establishments along West Church Street on Saturdays.

The freeze of 1895 ruined the citrus trees, but true to their traditions, the Englishmen played cricket during those harrowing hours. Later faced with disaster, more than half the growers abandoned their groves. Those who remained have been influential in the business and cultural life of the city.

In April 1929, grapefruit on a tree in the Orlando grounds of the Bureau of Entomology, U.S. Department of Agriculture, was found infested with a destructive insect pest. Specimens sent to Washington were identified as the Mediterranean fruit-fly by J.M. Aldrich, Associate Curator of the National Museum; G.B. Merrill of the Florida State plant board made the same discovery a few days later. Plant board inspectors, after a quick survey, found 264 infested properties in the Orlando area. Federal emergency funds of $500,000 were provided and this sum was later increased by a Congressional appropriation of $4,250,000. The National Guard, employed in spraying and road patrol, remained on duty until July, 1930, but the quarantine was not officially lifted until November.

During the past 30 years Orlando has been a favorite resort for a type of visitor, usually middle-aged and retired, appropriately called a perennial tourist. This man swears by Florida literature and believes his health and longevity depend upon orange juice and the local brand of sunshine. Although returning North or West from time to time he claims the city as his permanent residence and is usually an enthusiastic member of the Chamber of Commerce, his native State society, and the country club.

  1. Federal Works Agency, Works Progress Administration, Federal Writers' Program, Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State, American Guide Series, Florida Department of Public Instruction, 1939.
**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
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