The Orange County Regional History Center is located in a historic courthouse in downtown Orlando and offers exhibits, programming and events to showcase 12,000 years of Florida’s regional history. Permanent exhibits at the history center span a wide range of subjects, all related to the history of the region.
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The First People exhibit tells the story of Florida’s indigenous people and how they lived up until the 1500’s when Europeans first came to Florida’s shores. First Contact shows how the Spanish, the first Europeans to explore Florida, influenced the lives of the native people who lived there. An African American History exhibit explores the lives and history of Florida’s African Americans and exhibits paintings from the Florida Highwaymen, a group of 26 self-taught landscape artists who lived and worked in Florida between 1950 and the 1980’s and made a living selling their paintings door to door. The Pioneer Cabin is a recreated log cabin from the 1800’s, complete with butter churn and moss-stuffed mattress. The Cattle and Citrus exhibit explores Florida’s key economic engines and their history. An Aviation exhibit offers a replica World War II B-17 bomber and tells the story about Florida’s role in aviation history, including its involvement with NASA and the Kennedy Space Center. Destination Florida showcases 100 years of tourism in the state, and the many ways in which people traveled to Florida over the years, via trains, horses and boats. The Theme Park Era exhibit explores Florida’s transition from an agricultural state to one whose main economic driver is tourism. The Natural Environment exhibit teaches about Florida’s flora and fauna and unique landscape of land, sea and wetlands. Each exhibit offers a combination of artifacts, replicas, dioramas and interpretive storyboards to teach about Florida’s history.
History: The courthouse that houses today’s history center was built in 1927 in the neoclassical revival style. In 1942, while the current history center was still in use as a courthouse, a small history exhibit began next door in an old brownstone building from 1892. The popular exhibit traced Florida’s history from pioneer times back 100 years. The exhibit grew over the years as citizens donated to the collection. In 1957, when the brownstone was demolished, the exhibit was transferred to Loch Haven Park’s Orange County Historical Museum. The collection remained there for 20 years, managed by the Historical Society of Central Florida. In 1995, when the courthouse moved to a new high rise building, community leaders unanimously voted to move the history center to the 1927 building where it remains today. The new exhibits at the Orange County Regional History Center opened in 2000 and have since received several national awards and critical acclaim.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Educational programming at the history center is available for scouts, school groups, and educators. Skill building programs for scouts give them opportunities to earn badges. School group tours are offered in the form of field trips, home school days, or the “History on the Go” program, which brings items from the collection to the classroom. Day camps are offered during summer and spring break when school is not in session. Camp topics explore everything from the history of dinosaurs to presidents to art. The heirloom art series offers hands-on workshops for adults in crafts such as calligraphy, weaving and crochet. Special events include Social Media Sunday where followers on social media are invited for free admissions and activities and are encouraged to share photos with the hashtag “history social.’ Happy Hours such as History in a Glass offer food and drink and keep the exhibits open after hours. A Speaker Series invites authors, local historians and others to speak on a variety of topics related to Florida history.
Past and Future Exhibits: The 67,000 square foot history center hosts a number of traveling exhibits from other prestigious institutions such as the Smithsonian Museum. Exhibits feature both local and national history and span a variety of topics from the Civil War to the Muppets. Current exhibits include “Threads of our Lives: Celebrating 75 Years of Weaving in Central Florida.” This exhibit explores the history of the 27,000-year old tradition of weaving, and more locally, the 75-year old Weaver’s Guild of Florida. “Leaving Vietnam: Building a New Life in Central Florida” uses oral histories, photographs and documents to tell the story of Florida’s “Little Saigon” neighborhood. “Kehillah: A History of Jewish Life in Orlando” uses artifacts and photographs to tell the story of the Jewish community in Orlando, and how they have kept their traditions alive.
65 E. Central Blvd., Orlando, Florida 32801, Phone: 407-836-8500