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Orlando History

No one knows for sure how Orlando got its name. Some say it was named after Orlando Reeves, a US soldier killed in 1835 by an Indian arrow while on sentry duty. Or was it a local judge who named the town after his favorite Shakespearean character, "Orlando," in "As You Like It?"

What historians do know is that farmer Aaron Jernigan came here from Georgia in 1843. He

helped revitalize an old US Army post called Fort Gatlin. Prior to the Civil War, Orlando was known for its cattle, which primarily was imported to Cuba. Cattle rustling in the late 1800s led to street gunfights similar to the old west.

Orange Fever
Orlando branched out to develop a cotton industry. But cotton met its doom when the Civil War stole away the industry's workforce. And a devastating hurricane in 1871 brought a hasty end to the area's cotton crops. But that was replaced by what has been called "orange fever." Former cotton land was re-seeded with grapefruit, tangerines and oranges. In Orlando's mild climate, the citrus industry flourished. Helping to promote it: the growth of the railroad industry. In 1875, by a vote of 2 men from its 85 residents, the two-square-mile city of Orlando was officially incorporated. In the late 1800s, a series of hard freezes hit Central Florida. The so-called "Great Freeze" destroyed virtually the entire citrus crop. It took more than a decade for the industry to recover. Citrus was what Orlando and Central Florida was known for during the early part of this century. At its peak, more than 80,000 areas of citrus trees thrived in Central Florida (in the 1950s).

Orlando Airport
Orlando remained a sleepy place into the early 20th century. It was a time when homes here began getting electricity and cars took to the roads with speed limits of five miles an hour. The area's now famous airport had a modest start in 1928, when it opened as a facility to haul cargo. Orlando became one of the first places to train bomber pilots in anticipation of the Second World War. And Pine Castle Airbase here served as the site for the top secret X-1 tests. In the 1960s, Orlando was perhaps best known worldwide as the site of a significant Strategic Air Command unit. The area had a major cosmetic change when the Glenn L. Martin Company bought 10 acres of land to build a missile factory. Martin Marietta became the area's largest employers (setting the groundwork for the area's technological industry base).

Walt Disney
Walt Disney looked far and wide for an area to expand his California theme park. He considered Miami and Ocala, Orlando's horse-farm-famous northern neighbor. The most popular story has it that he was in an airplane, saw the convergence of roadways around Orlando and became convinced this was the place for his park. The Magic Kingdom opened its gates in 1971, transforming the entire area. SeaWorld soon followed. Over the years, Disney expanded and expanded again. The theme park added new parks. And others followed such as Universal Studios Florida.

Orange County Convention Center
Orlando's tourism industry became famous, but the area also got on the fast track for meetings and conventions. Its Orange County Convention Center opened in 1983 with just over 147,000 square feet, Compared to 2.1 million square feet today, making it the nation's second largest convention facility. More than five million convention and meeting visitors came here in a recent year.

Today, Orlando has more than 95 major attractions, 112,000 hotel rooms and 5,100 restaurants. More than 44 million visitors annually come here. And the citrus industry is being plowed under by subdivisions housing record-high numbers of new residents.


Orlando Travel Guides
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