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13 things you should know about Orlando history

Dr. Phillips wasn’t really a doctor, theme parks that didn’t make it and more

Photo: Photos courtesy Jim Clark, License: N/A

Photos courtesy Jim Clark

Orange Avenue in Downtown Orlando in the 1930s



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1. Orlando’s naming story is bullshit: The story goes that Orlando derives its name from a soldier named Orlando Reeves, a man who heroically gave his life in 1835 in a battle with Indians on the banks of Lake Eola. Afterward, his comrades buried him under a pine tree and carved his name in it. Over the next century, Reeves’ legend grew with the retelling. Two problems: There was no soldier named Orlando Reeves or a battle on Lake Eola. A more likely story is that the owner of a sugar plantation some 30 miles away, Orlando Rees, carved his name in a pine tree while traveling through downtown. A few years later, in 1835, he abandoned Florida after Indians burned down his house. In time this all converged into the Orlando Reeves myth.

2. Orlando’s first permanent settler was probably a murderer: His name was Andrew Jernigan, and he arrived with his family, slaves and cattle in what is now Orlando in 1842, after most of the Indians had been driven out following the Second Seminole War. He later became a state representative. But in 1859, he became a murder suspect following a deadly brawl. He escaped from jail twice and fled to Texas, returning 25 years later “in ill health and forgotten.”

3. Orlando used to be in Mosquito County: In 1824, soon after Florida became a U.S. territory, most of Central Florida belonged to the aptly named Mosquito County, whose seat was the long-forgotten port town of Enterprise. In 1845, when Florida became a state, Mosquito was broken up into several counties, including Orange. Half a century later, promoters sold land here with the promise of “No Insects.”

4. Orlando cheated to become the Orange County seat: In 1856, there was an election to choose Orange County’s seat. Apopka was the favorite, due to its proximity to navigable waters. Judge James Speer, an early resident of Orlando, had other plans. Because militia members could vote wherever they were on Election Day, he held a free picnic for a slew of militiamen from Sumter County and asked them to vote for nearby Fort Gatlin. Because an Alabama businessman – who happened to own much of what is now downtown – offered to donate land for a courthouse, the seat was moved from Fort Gatlin to Orlando.

5. How Boggy Creek got its name: In 1870 – a time when Orange County was beset by general lawlessness, not unlike the Wild West – Sheriff David Mizell was ambushed and murdered. A posse hunted down the suspect, Mose Barber, and his sons. The Barbers fled; according to local lore, his horse became bogged down while crossing a creek – hence the name Boggy Creek. Mose Barber escaped, but his sons were killed. The Barber-Mizell feud continued into the 20th century, until Barber’s great-great grandson married a Mizell.
6. Orlando was “The Phenomenal City” before “The City Beautiful”: Orlando’s original motto was “The Phenomenal City.” Around 1900, the city held a contest to change it, and “The City Beautiful” beat out “The Magic City,” “The Queen City” and “The Picturesque City.” In the 1960s, during the space race, Orlando tried to again change its motto to the “Action Center of Florida,” but that never caught on.

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