Central Florida heritage and history begins with the early native Americans who dwelled in the area 12,000 years ago.
Central Florida felt the impact of three separate wars between the United States and the Seminole Indians. These wars were:
First Seminole War: 1816-1819
Second Seminole War: 1835-1842
Third Seminole War: 1855-1858
The forts built during the Seminole wars gave their names to many of the settlements in Central Florida. Fort King is now Ocala, Fort Gatlin is now Orlando, Fort Pierce is still Fort Pierce. Fort Drum, Fort Christmas, Fort Ogden, Fort Meade and other old forts are now either small villages or just place names in Florida history. They are still a large part of Central Florida heritage.
Many of the early settlers in Central Florida were pioneers who came down from Georgia and the Carolinas after the Civil War. The next big wave of people came after World War Two. The first settlers began arriving in Central Florida in the years just after the final Seminole War in 1858 through the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction in 1877.
These early Florida residents were the ancestors of the Florida Cracker.
Many of the pioneers began to homestead and start ranches in the prairie lands around Kissimmee, St. Cloud, Orlando and Ocala. In later years, they and other settlers planted citrus. Central Florida was the citrus and cattle capital of the world during the "Golden Era" of 1875 to 1895. The area led the world in citrus production until several freezes and epidemics of citrus canker devastated the groves and pushed the operations further south.
At one time Kissimmee was connected to the Gulf of Mexico near Fort Myers by a navigable waterway.
Ships traveled along the Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee and west through the Caloosahatchee River. Kissimmee was a large port with many passenger and freight ships stopping by on a regular basis. Cattle and citrus were shipped out to ports around the world.
The Central Florida heritage of the cowboy is still very evident today in St. Cloud and Kissimmee. The annual Silver Spurs rodeo event is still a huge happening in these Central Florida Cracker towns.
The rural nature of Central Florida began to change when Martin Marietta built a huge defense plant in Orlando in the 1950's. The next big change was the development of Canaveral Air Station and Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County. These two projects had major impacts on Orlando's population. These huge endeavors are now part of Central Florida heritage.
The biggest changes of all came when Walt Disney World opened in October 1971.
The population boomed and so did the traffic problems. The success of Disney encouraged other competitors to join in the fun and profit. Central Florida is now the location of the largest theme parks in Florida. Florida travel for most tourists includes visits to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Florida and SeaWorld.
Central Florida heritage and history takes place in 9 counties that sprawl along the high sand ridge that is Florida's spine. This ridge was the beach in ancient times, and its surface is made of old rolling sand dunes. This large region starts between Ocala and Gainesville in the north, and extends south to the citrus country around Lake Placid and Sebring.
Ocala's rolling hills and pastures are known for producing some of the finest thoroughbred horses in the world. A wonderful Central Florida travel experience is to drive among the horse farms that surround Ocala.
The center part of this region, around Orlando and Clermont, was the citrus capital of the state until a big freeze changed things forever. Devastating freezes in Central Florida in the early 1980's destroyed many thousands of acres of groves. These old grove lands have been replaced in many cases by modern subdivisions.
Florida history has abundant examples of towns that thrived until their underlying resources were gone. Citrus and cypress boom towns are two examples. Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld and the other attractions transformed the area around Orlando into the sun and fun capital of the world.
Although Central Florida thrives on tourism, it is also the agricultural center of Florida. Oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, watermelon, peppers, tomatoes, celery and watercress are all grown in this area along the ridge and in the adjacent flatlands and valleys. Not so far south of Orlando you can still see cowboys at work in the vast pastures that range all the way down to Holopaw, Yeehaw Junction and beyond. These cowboys are a living reminder of Central Florida heritage.
Even with the population explosion around Orlando, the rural regions south of Kissimmee and St. Cloud still enjoy some of the quietest places in Florida. Orlando straddles I-4 and is the central anchor to the fast growing I-4 corridor. It is the major city in Central Florida. Since it is near the center of the State, many Floridians think it should be the state capital instead of Tallahassee.
US-27 is a major north-south four lane highway that meanders along the ridge part of the region. This is where some of the major citrus groves are located. The major tourist attractions in Orlando put a tremendous traffic load on I-4 and US-27. There are plenty of back roads in Orange County and surrounding counties that will help you avoid the traffic. Don't be afraid to explore and learn more about Central Florida heritage.