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The seat of Orange County, Orlando covers an area of approximately 101 square miles and has a population of about 213,230; the Orlando-Kissimmee Metropolitan Area has a population of over 1.8 million, making it Florida's third-largest metropolitan area, behind Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater.
The first white settlers arrived in the Orlando area in 1837, when the U.S. Army established an outpost at Fort Gatlin, a few miles south of the present-day downtown. The post was abandoned almost immediately after the Second Seminole 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. More settlers began arriving after the Third Seminole War in the 1850's. These settlers named the community Orlando in honor of Orlando Reeves, a soldier who was killed during the Second Seminole War.
Orlando was still a rural backwater town during the Civil War, but the Reconstruction Era brought a major influx of new settlers. The City of Orlando was incorporated in 1875. The railroad reached Orlando in 1881, bringing even more settlers to the area.
Orlando was the hub of Florida's citrus industry until the Great Freeze of 1894-1895 forced many grove owners to move their operations further south.
As Florida's largest inland city, Orlando became a popular resort during the years between the Spanish-American War and World War I. During World War II, Orlando was home to the Pine Castle Army Air Force Base, and many of the servicemen stationed there remained after the war. Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) arrived in 1956, and Pine Castle was renamed McCoy Air Force Base in 1958; the base closed in 1974, but Lockheed Martin remains a major employer for the region.
In 1965, Walt Disney announced plans to build his planned Walt Disney World complex in the Orlando area. Although he had also considered the cities of Miami and Tampa for his park, he chose Orlando because it was relatively safe from hurricanes. The famous resort opened in October 1971.
With the Disney World Resort complex, Sea World and Universal Orlando all located in the area, Orlando sees an estimated 52 million tourists a year and is the second-largest city in the country for number of hotel rooms.
Major Orlando manufactures include electronic and aerospace equipment, computer software, and defense equipment.
Orlando also serves as the home of many persons who commute to Patrick Air Force Base, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Kennedy Space Center, and Port Canaveral, all of which lie "just down the highway" from Orlando and its suburbs.
Orlando is served by Orlando International Airport, one of the most heavily traveled airports in the world.
Public education is managed by Orange County Public Schools.
Institutions of higher learning in Orlando are: the University of Central Florida, the second-largest university in the state; Asbury Theological Seminary; the Law School of Barry University; DeVry University; a campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; the Law School of Florida A&M University; a campus of the Florida Institute of Technology; the Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences; Hindu University of America; the International Academy of Design and Technology; a campus of Nova Southeastern University; a campus of Keiser College; a campus of Polytechnic University; a campus of the Reformed Theological Seminary; Rollins College, in Winter Park; Stetson University, in Deland; Troy University, in Winter Park; a campus of the University of Phoenix; and Valencia Community College.
Sites and Attractions
The Orlando area is world famous for being the home of the Disney World/Epcot Center complex, Universal Studios themepark, Sea World, and other "amusement parks," but it has much more to offer.
Blue Spring State Park is the winter home of large numbers of Florida manatees. Central Florida Zoological Park, located in nearby Sanford, is home to a butterfly garden, herpetarium, and numerous tropical animals. Gatorland houses thousands of alligators and crocodiles, some of which have appeared in movies, television shows and commercial spots.
Flower lovers can enjoy the Arboretum of the University of Southern Florida and/or the Harry P. Leu Gardens. World of Orchids is a working greenhouse that ships orchids and other tropical plants nationwide. Visitors can see thousands of blooms in an enclosed tropical rainforest complete with streams, waterfalls and squawking parrots.
Jack Kerouac lived in Orlando from July 1957 to the spring of 1958, during which time he wrote The Beat Generation, Orlando Blues, and The Dharma Bums. The house he shared with his mother during that period is now a haven for aspiring writers who can live in the house as they create their own work. The Morse Museum of American Art, located on the campus of Rollins College, houses the world's most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
The International Trolley and Train Museum features more than a dozen model railroad trains with sound and lighting traveling through an indoor garden, as well as toy trains from the 1920's to the present.
The Orlando Science Center has hundreds of interactive exhibits for visitors of all ages, as well as the largest refracting telescope in Florida.
The Ripley's Believe It or Not! Orlando Odditorium is located in a building constructed to appear as if it were collapsing on one side. Bizarre artifacts, strange collections, weird art/hobbies and interactive exhibits are on display in sixteen galleries.
Other major attractions include: the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, the Orange County Regional History Center, and the Orlando Museum of Art.
The Orlando Film Festival is one of the largest in the country.
The Orlando Magic, an NBA franchise, plays at the TD Waterhouse Centre in downtown Orlando. The Centre is also home to the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League. The Citrus Bowl is the home field for the University of Central Florida, as well as the home of the Capital One Bowl (formerly the Florida Citrus Bowl) and the Champs Sports Bowl (formerly the Tangerine Bowl).
Comedian Wayne Brady and actor Wesley Snipes are both from Orlando.
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This page was last updated on June 23, 2017.