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Orlando’s history dates back to 1838 and the height of the Seminole Wars. The U.S. Army built Fort Gatlin south of the present day Orlando City limits to protect settlers from attacks by Indians.
By 1840, a small community had grown up around the Fort. It was known as Jernigan, named after the Jernigan family, who had established the first permanent settlement in the area. Jernigan had a post office, established May 30, 1850.
Six years later with the settlement expanding northward, the community officially changed its name to Orlando. In 1857, the U.S. Post Office adopted the name change. The Town of Orlando was incorporated in 1875 with 85 inhabitants, 22 of whom were qualified voters.
History is not as clear on where the name Orlando originated. There are four stories that are told. One involves Judge James Speer, who worked hard in getting Orlando as the county seat, naming Orlando after a man who once worked for him. Another is that Speer named it after a character from Shakespeare’s, “As You Like It”.
A third version has Mr. Orlando on his way to Tampa with a caravan of ox. It is said that he got ill, died and was buried, and that folks would come by and say, “There lies Orlando”
The final theory is about a company of soldiers on duty during the height of the Seminole Wars. After battling Indians back into the swamps on the east side of Lake Minnie (now Cherokee), the military troop settled there for the night. Sentinel Orlando Reeves was guarding the camp when he spotted a log floating toward him. Recognizing the Indian disguise and wanting to warn his fellow soldiers, he fired his gun.Arrows felled the poor fellow as the Indians came out to ambush the camp. The Indians were chased back again, and the south side of Lake Eola was chosen to bury Orlando Reeves.
Jacob Summerlin the “Cattle King of Florida” arrived in 1873 to purchase 200 acres of land in what is now Downtown Orlando. Shortly after the purchase, on the edge of his property there was a sink hole forming. Along with the help of a natural aquifer 200 feet below ground and the flooding of storm water, this area became a beautiful lake. Known to the public as Sandy Beach, this lake was perfect for the settlers to enjoy on hot Florida days. In 1883 the Summerlin family donated a strip of their land around the lake for public use. Sandy Beach was renamed Lake Eola in memory of Robert Summerlin’s dearly departed sweetheart.
In 1888, Lake Eola was recognized as a City of Orlando public park.
The Swans of Eola
In 1922 the first swans arrived at Lake Eola. An Englishman was raising multiple breeds on Lake Lucerne at the time. There was a territorial conflict between two breeds of swans so they were separated and transferred to Lake Eola.
The Lake is now home to various species of swans including: Trumpeter Swans, Black Neck Swans, Whooper Swans, Royal Mute Swans and Australian Black Swans.
Supplemental food is accessible to all swans in feeders in the lake as well as on the shore. The swans can be fed lettuce, spinach, and duck pellet food found in the parks. Any other foods could be detrimental to their health, ultimately making the swans ill.
During Lake Eola’s annual Swan Round-up, the swans are collected, checked by a swan veterinarian and receive a vaccination for botulism. Swans have their own health record on file, which is updated annually at this event.
Historical Monuments in the Park
- The Eola House – Built in 1924 by George Marsh, this Mediterranean Revival Style historical home is the newest staple to Lake Eola Park. It houses the park offices as well as event spaces. Being a historic home without renovations, the second floor of the Eola House is not ADA accessible. Take a tour of the house to fully experience the Orlando history and culture through the Eola House. The house is open to the public daily from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
- The Confederate Monument –Gifted to the City of Orlando in 1911 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Its first location was in the center of the intersection at Central Blvd. and Magnolia, and was moved to Lake Eola in 1917 where it currently resides.
- The Chinese Ting – The Ting was donated to The City of Orlando by an influential man named Nelson Ying. Given as a token of friendship, the Ting was originally built in Shanghai. When donated, the Ting had to be disassembled, shipped to Orlando and reassembled in the park.
- The Battle of the Bulge – This monument was dedicated on the 55th anniversary of the battle of the bulge, December 16, 1999, to honor World War II Veterans. This monument is modeled after a similar statue in Clervaux, Luxembourg.
- The Amphitheater – Also referred to as the Band Shell, has been a staple of Lake Eola Park since 1886. Originally built on the south side of the lake, it has since been torn down and reconstructed at the west side of Lake Eola. The Amphitheater became the Walt Disney Amphitheater in 1989.
- Japanese Rock Garden – In the rock garden there is a large piece of black marble that was gifted to the City of Orlando by Tainan, Taiwan. Su Nan-Cheng, the Mayor of Tainan, offered this gift as a token of sister city affiliation and eternal friendship. The marble is 12.5 tons and 19.5 feet long. It is said that it was sculpted by the winds over 10,000 years, discovered high in the mountains in Hua-Lien at an altitude of 1,600 meters.
- The Sperry Fountain –Lake Eola Park was gifted the Sperry Fountain as well as the land in which it resides by Mayor E. Frank Sperry in 1914. In the center of the octagonal fountain is a figure, a large acanthus leaf with a duck base, made of wrought iron.
- The Linton E. Allen Memorial Fountain – This tiered fountain at the center of Lake Eola was built in 1957 and refurbished in 2011. First named the Centennial Fountain, it was renamed the Linton E. Allen Memorial Fountain in 1966 to honor the originator. The fountain was designed to replicate similar styles found in England, Spain and Italy; hoping to boost the prominence of Orlando. When construction began in November 1956, 320 tons of concrete were barged in to the lake build the foundation. The fountain was made to blast 6,400 gallons of water into the air each minute with various incandescent and fluorescent underwater lights for nighttime viewing. In 2009, however, the iconic fountain was struck by lightning. This brought forth the 2011 renovation of Orlando’s beloved icon. The original green glass from the fountain can be found in the Eola House at the park. At night, the fountain comes to life with a choreographed light show set to music. Shows run nightly at approximately 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. lasting 6 minutes in length. *Times change as the days get longer so be prepared for later times in the summer months.
Orlando has evolved from the hub of Florida’s citrus industry in the 19th century to a mecca for tourism in the 20th century. Orlando’s regional leaders have worked diligently in recent years to diversify Orlando’s economy to create a new breed of high-tech, high-wage careers for residents in cutting edge industries such as digitalmedia and technology, life sciences and modeling, simulation and training. Today, Orlando is a global leader in the 21st century innovation economy.
Exploring Orlando’s History – The Eppes Family
City of Orlando Sexton, Don Price goes in depth about who Francis Eppes was and what he and his family did for the City of Orlando:
Click here to learn more about Orlando’s history.
The Orange County Regional History Center
The Wells Built Museum
Look up a Florida Museum
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