Although it can sometimes be forgotten, there was a history to Orlando before Walt Disney arrived in 1971; in fact Orlando was Florida’s largest inland city for the better part of the previous 100 years. The town owes its existence to its 111-foot elevation on a ridge from which the St. Johns River flows north and the Kissimmee River heads south. Fort Gatlin was established here in the 1830s where the drinking water was excellent and the garrison attracted a small group of intrepid settlers looking to run cattle on the wide plains of Central Florida.

One of the earliest was Aaron Jernigan, a Georgia man, who arrived with his herds in 1842. After the Army abandoned Fort Gatlin in 1848 with the cessation of hostilities with the Seminole Indians Jernigan built a small stockade and trading post. He was serving in the Florida legislature at the time as the first representative from Orange County and when the stockade received a post office in 1850 it was called Jernigan. The tiny outpost became the seat of Orange County in 1856. it would not however be Jernigan for long. Officials back in Washington heard tales of Aaron Jerdigan’s militia that led them to conclude his stockade was more problematic than the local Indians and he was relieved of is military command. The discussion to strip his name for the settlement led to “Orlando.” It may have been an honorific to Orlando Reeves (or Rees), a Fort Gatlin sentinel slain by Indians in 1845, or a nod to William Shakespeare’s romantic male lead in As You Like It. The true source of the town’s name is lost in the fog of history.

W.H. Holden established the first commercial citrus grove near Orlando in 1866 with seeds from fruit trees he found growing on his 100 acres. By the 1870s Orlando emerged as the center of Florida’s citrus industry.The Great Freeze of 1895 ruined the citrus trees and half of the area’s groves were abandoned. As the remaining citrus growers reorganized, the city became a popular resort destination for a newly mobile America. Many of those tourists would come back to retire as the population tripled from 3,894 in 1910 to 9,282 in 1920 and tripled again to 27,330 by 1930.

Orlando would be forever changed in 1965 when Walt Disney announced plans for Walt Disney World to be constructed in Orlando. Almost as soon as Disneyland opened in California in 1958 and became an immediate success, Disney set his sights on a second park in Florida. Disney rejected the population centers of Miami and Tampa because of potential hurricane damage along the coast and began gobbling up acres of cheaper Central Florida land. Disney World opened in 1971 and soon spawned satellite parks and entertainment complexes. Today, Orlando is the most visited city in America.

Our walking tour of Orlando will begin where traces of many of the town’s historical influences can be found: there is an amphitheater named for Walt Disney, there is a monument to the location where the unfortunate Orlando Reeves supposedly met his end, and there is a Shakespeare Festival each April staged by the University of Central Florida where dashing Orlando occasionally appears on stage to find happiness in the Forest of Arden... 

Lake Eola Park
North Rosalind Avenue

This small lake is actually an 80-foot deep sinkhole. In 1883 Jacob Summerlin donated land around the lake to the city on the condition it be developed as park with trees planted and a “driveway” installed around the lake, which his sons named after a woman they knew. Summerlin’s gift came attached with a nebulous string - should the city ever fail to keep the park beautiful in the opinion of Summerlin or his heirs the land would revert back to the family. Jacob Summerlin was born in Alachua County on February 20, 1820 and often claimed to be the first white child born in Florida under American rule. His early fortune came running cattle across the vast stretches of central Florida where he was known as the King of the Crackers, after the long whips used to drive the cows. He lived until 1893, long enough to see the park officially dedicated in 1892. The swans that ruled the lake were descendants of a pair imported from the private preserves of King Edward VII of England in 1910, named Mr. and Mrs. Bill. Legend maintains that Mister drowned the missus after a setting of eggs failed to hatch. When Mr. Bill finally died at the age of 78 he was mounted and put on display in the Chamber of Commerce building. The lake’s landmark fountain was installed in 1912 at the cost of $10,000. It was replaced in 1957 with a $350,000 model and after lightning struck the fountain in 2009 the tab for new water jets was $2.3 million.


First Church of Christ Scientist
24 North Rosalind Avenue

George Foote Dunham was born in Iowa in 1876 and schooled in Chicago architecture before moving to Portland, Oregon in 1907. He worked throughout the midwest for more than twenty years, best known for his residential work, but with important public buildings on his resume as well. A Christian Scientist, Dunham relocated to Orlando in 1928 to build the congregation’s first meetinghouse; it had organized a decade before. Dunham designed a Neoclassical Greek temple in a crucifix form. The Christian Scientists left the building in 1975 and it was purchased by the St. George Orthodox Church.


Old Orange County Courthouse
65 East Central Boulevard at Magnolia Avenue

Pennsylvanian-born Murry S. King migrated to Orlando at the age of 34 in 1904. He became Florida’s first registered architect and a leader in crafting a Central Florida style of architecture suited to the region. The elegant Neoclassical courthouse, the sixth to serve Orange County, was his final and best known project. Constructed of variegated Indiana limestone on a rusticated base with Tuscan colonnades, the building was completed by King’s son, James, after he passed away in 1925. The building is now the home of the Orange County Regional History Center.


Orlando Public Library
101 East Central Boulevard at Magnolia Avenue

Books were lent in Orlando via private libraries until May 11, 1920 when a referendum for a public library passed with a vote of 417 to 19. The foundation for the new collection came from the personal library of Charles L. Albertson, a retired police inspector from New York City. The Albertson Public Library opened in 1923. In 1964 the town’s first public library was demolished and construction begun on the current building designed as “a composition in monolithic concrete” by New Canaan, Connecticut architect John M. Johansen. The monolith would grow even larger with an expansion to 290,000 square feet filling the entire block in the 1980s. Today the Orlando Public Library is the largest public library building in the State of Florida.

Rogers Building
37-39 South Magnolia Avenue

Gordon Rogers sailed from England for Florida in 1883 but he wasn’t quite ready to put the Mother Country behind him. He searched the state for a spot where he could erect a fashionable English gentleman’s club and alighted here in 1886. Architect William H. Mullins created a picturesque Queen Anne building with a corner tower using pine and cypress boards covered with stucco. Over the years Rogers imported pressed zinc panels from England to cover the stucco and give his clubhouse the appearance of carved stone. In 1926 Arthur M. Higgins purchased the building for $80,000 and did a complete interior and exterior remodeling. He kept the zinc panels, however, and even purchased the building next door and covered it with the same panels.

First United Methodist Church of Orlando
142 East Jackson Street at Magnolia Avenue

Circuit-riding preachers added Orlando to their routes in the 1840s but it was not until 1882 that the town’s Methodists constructed a church on this location. The current classically inspired, gleaming white sanctuary, raised in 1962, is the third sanctuary for the congregation that now numbers over 3,000 members. 


Orlando City Hall
400 South Orange Avenue at South Street

The winner of Orlando’s design competition for a new city hall backed out of the project in a dispute over fees so a consortium of companies was cobbled together to execute the design by Heller & Leake, a San Francisco firm. The exterior of the nine-story government center is clad in precast concrete instead of costly stone, except for a few granite accents. The copper dome is decorative and does not reflect a great domed hall below. Revenue from the adjacent office towers was expected to defray the $32 million tab for City Hall that was finished in 1992.

City Hall Tower of Light
South Street at Orange Avenue  

The 60-foot tower of laminated plate glass and stainless steel was sculpted in 1992 by Ed Carpenter of Portland, Oregon, an artist specializing in large-scale public installations. The tower is illuminated at three different levels by computerized lights. 


First National Bank and Trust Company
190 South Orange Avenue at Church Street

Howard M. Reynolds was an Orlando architect at ease with the fashionable styles of the 1920s and 1930s, including Mediterranean Revival, Colonial Revival, Spanish Colonial, Egyptian Revival, Art Deco and Art Moderne. Here he blended a dash of Egyptian flavor into his Art Deco design on the gracefully symmetrical bank vault for the First National Bank. The building opened in 1930 but the bank failed shortly thereafter at the height of the Depression. It reorganized again on Valentine’s Day 1934.


Kress Store
15 West Church Street

Samuel H. Kress opened his first “stationery and notions” store in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania in 1887 and established his chain of S. H. Kress & Co. 5-10-25 Cent Stores in 1896. Kress pictured his stores as works of public art that would enhance a town streetscape and a century later his buildings are indeed cherished long after his merchandising has disappeared. In the 1930s the company embraced the emerging Art Deco style and head architect Edward Sibbert would go on to design more than 50 stores in the decorative style, making liberal use of colorful terra cotta, and employing strong verticals that would rise to the letters “Kress,” often in gold letters, at the roofline. This is one of Sibbert’s designs, opened in 1936.

Old Orlando Railroad Depot
76 West Church Street

The Lake Monroe and Orlando Railroad was organized in 1875 with a charter to build from the St. Johns River port of Sanford south to Orlando. The South Florida Railroad was incorporated on October 16, 1878 and rolled into town on November 11, 1880. The first passengers disembarked at a temporary wooden station run from the Bumby Warehouse across the tracks. Orlando was just a stopping point for the railroad, however. The line was in a race to the Gulf of Mexico at Tampa, which it eventually won. In 1890 the South Florida constructed a proper Victorian passenger station and it remained a busy platform until 1926 when it became a freight station and ticket outlet. Its life of railroad service ended in 1972. On the tracks beside the platform is “Old Duke,” a 1912 Baldwin steam engine.

Bumby Block
102-110 West Church Street

Joseph Bumby arrived in town from Colchester, England in 1873 and began peddling hay and grain and fertilizer from a warehouse on this site. Bumby had a bit of railroading experience in his background and when the South Florida Railroad arrived in Orlando in 1880 he became the line’s first freight and ticket agent and ran the first depot out of his store. In 1886 Bumby went into the hardware business and constructed this building. The slogan “If you can’t find it - go to Bumby’s” resonated throughout Orlando until 1966. It now anchors the Church Street Station entertainment complex. 

Orlando Hotel
129 West Church Street

This building began life as William Slemon’s dry goods store. In 1924 the frame building was replaced with the current brick structure that retains such architectural details as pressed metal ceilings and a green tile awning on the second floor.


Carey Hand Building
36 West Pine Street

Carey Hand, a trained embalmer, joined his father’s undertaking business located down the street in 1907. He bought his father out in 1914 and in 1918 he had this building constructed to house his mortuary. Local architect F.H. Trimble designed the funeral home with a Tuscan flavor behind an entryway of arches and paired columns. Hand would construct the first crematorium in the South and his funeral home was the first in the state to have a chapel. Hand operated the business until 1947 serving a five-county area as the largest funeral home in Central Florida.

Tinker Building
18 West Pine Street

Three years after leaving the sandlots of Kansas as a 19-year old, Joseph Bert Tinker was playing shortstop for the Chicago Cubs in 1902. Before the decade was out Tinker would play on four pennant-winning and two World Championship Cub teams - the last the franchise has had in over 100 years. Joe Tinker was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1946, as much for a famous bit of doggerel called “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” that celebrated the exploits of Cub infielders “Tinker to Evers to Chance” written in 1910 by New York sports writer Franklin P. Adams as for his play on the field. After his playing days were over Tinker came to Orlando in 1921 to manage the Florida State League Orlando Tigers and got caught up in the Florida land boom. He ran his real estate business from this building he constructed in 1925. Tinker helped make Orlando a spring training destination and for 75 years minor league baseball was played in Joe Tinker Field, a stadium the city built to honor the former Cub shortstop.

Elijah Hand Building
15-17 West Hand Street 

Elijah Hand arrived in Orlando from Indiana in 1885; he was the second undertaker in town and the first embalmer. Hand briefly forged a partnership with that first undertaker, E.A. Richards, but was on his own by 1890 making coffins and furniture and running a livery. Hand had this building with decorative brickwork that can still be seen on the second floor constructed in 1905.

Orlando Federal Savings & Loan Association Building
100 South Orange Avenue at Pine Street

This was the third of Orlando’s original trio of 1920s skyscrapers, constructed in 1924. It follows the traditional form to raise early skyscrapers in the style of a classic Greek column with a defined base (the two-story classically framed openings), a shaft (the unadorned brick central floors) and a capital (the braided arched windows and decorative cornice). After the bank failed Henry Metcalf, a real-estate investor, bought the building in 1930 for $125,000.


Ellis Building
35 East Pine Street

James L. Giles had this modest brick building constructed as speculative property in the 1880s, early in his banking career. Giles would become mayor of Orlando in 1916 and become the first chief city executive to serve more than one term when he was re-elected in 1924 and again in 1928. William Ellis gave the building a complete makeover when he purchased it in 1925; the upper stories have remained unaltered since.

Orange County Building and Loan Society
38 East Pine Street at Court Street

The association organized in 1921 and set up shop across the street. In 1928 it moved into this Mediterranean Revival structure on the corner.


Yowell-Duckworth Building
1 South Orange Avenue at Central Avenue

Newton Yowell came with his family to Orlando from Luray, Virginia in 1884 at the age of 13, hoping the warm air would cure his father’s tuberculosis. It didn’t and Yowell was soon clerking in a local dry goods store. In October of 1894 he borrowed $2,000 to open his small dry goods store. That winter’s freeze crippled the Orlando economy and Yowell was one of the few merchants to stick it out and he soon prospered. In 1913 he partnered with shoe salesman Eugene Duckworth and set out to build a 20th century department store in Orlando and they hired architect Murry S. King to design the four-story emporium. By 1920, he added stores in Apopka, Sanford, Daytona Beach and West Palm Beach. Times were good enough to add a fifth floor and a department store operated here until the 1960s. 

Dickson-Ives Building
2 South Orange Avenue at Central Avenue

H.H. Dickson and Sidney Ives each came to Orlando in the 1880s and set up mercantile businesses. Dickson sold seed and fertilizer and Ives peddled groceries. In the economic wake of the Great Freeze of 194-95, seven of Orange County’s banks shuttered and most of its other businesses shut down as well. Two that soldiered on were Dickson and Ives. The two formed a partnership in 1897 and began selling groceries. In 1914 after remodeling their building on this site their business re-emerged as a full service department store. That building was demolished in 1920 and replaced with this structure that blended classical elements with tropical themes. The Dickson-Ives business would operate until 1965.

State Bank of Orlando and Trust Company
1 North Orange Street

Philadelphia-born Louis Conrad Massey came to Orlando with a University of Pennsylvania law degree in tow in 1885. When the State Bank of Orlando was formed in 1893 Massey was its president and guided the enterprise until his death. In 1919 the bank purchased the prime northeast corner of Orange Avenue and Central Boulevard and planned the town’s second skyscraper. William L. Stoddart, a New York architect who specialized in big downtown hotels, delivered a Neoclassical design for the ten-story high-rise. Look up to see decorative terra cotta panels. The bank closed in 1929 and the Florida Bank at Orlando moved into the quarters in 1933 and stayed until 1972 when the building became the property of Orange County.  


Angebilt Hotel
37 North Orange Avenue

Joseph Fenner Ange was a general contractor from North Carolina who came to Orlando in 1913. He scored a major commission to build the Yowell-Duckworth store and by 1921 he was able to sink a million dollars into this hotel, designed by Murry S. King. Ange would sell his interest in the hotel two months after it opened in 1923. In its day the 250-room Angebilt was the town’s leading hotel. It also hosted two radio stations. 

Rose Building
49 North Orange Avenue

Georgia-born Walter Washington Rose began his working life as a Western Union operator. Telegraph business brought him to Orlando in 1909 and he soon quit and entered the real estate business in 1913 with $25. He began by developing land on East Central Avenue. In 1924 he constructed this building, designed by Murry S. King, as headquarters for his Central Florida Development Company. The Mediterranean Revival structure was supposed to be the base for a ten-story office building but those plans never materialized. Look up to see a medallion with a stylized rendering of the name “Rose.” Walter Rose would go on to serve in the Florida state senate from 1932 until 1949.

63 North Orange Avenue

This sleek Art Moderne structure was designed by F. Earl Deloe in 1938. Joseph Rutland purchased it in 1940 for his clothing store which operated here until the late 1960s. in 1952 Rutland added three non-conforming stories which later remodelings have attempted to incorporate into the original design. 


Bank of America Center
390 North Orange Avenue

This building is all there is to show for the largest development scheme ever to hit Orlando. It was the vision of William duPont III in 1984 to populate six blocks of Orange Avenue with three beefy office towers, a 650-room luxury hotel, scads of retail space and restaurants and parking for 4,000 cars. This 28-story tower for First Federal Association Savings and Loan was ready by 1988 but that is as far as DuPont Center ever got after its backer suffered financial reversals.


U.S. Post Office and Courthouse
northwest corner of Jefferson Street and Magnolia Avenue

Orlando did not have a dedicated post office building until 1917 and this grander model came along in 1941. Louis A. Simon, a government architect gave the building a restrained Italian Renaissance design.


Cathedral of St. Luke
130 North Magnolia Avenue

In October 1892, General Convention set apart the Missionary Jurisdiction of South Florida, and William Crane Gray was elected and consecrated first Bishop. Bishop Gray made Orlando his home and St. Luke’s was designated as the Cathedral Church for South Florida on March 31,1902. In 1922 the existing frame cathedral was moved across the church property to make room for this Gothic Revival sanctuary. Unfortunately the design by Boston architects Frohman, Robb and Little, creators of the National Cathedral in Washington, was not fully realized due to the crash of the Florida land boom. The church was dedicated on Easter 1926.