Now for the part of the history of Orlando that is still cloudy: where did the name come from?
There are at least five versions that I know about how the town became known as Orlando.
- An early politician, Judge Speer,named the town after a man named Orlando who worked for him.
- The same Judge Speer was a Shakespeare fan, and named the town after Orlando, a character in the play “As You Like It”.
- A man named Mr. Orlando was passing by on his way to Tampa with a herd of ox. He got sick and died. The locals buried him and folks would refer to the place as “there lies Orlando”.
- Orlando Reeves was a U.S. soldier on sentry duty one night during the Seminole Wars. He spotted a disguised Indian sneaking up on the troops, and fired his gun to warn his fellow soldiers. He was killed by Indian arrows, but his warning saved the troops. They buried him on the south side of Lake Eola in what is now downtown Orlando.
- A man named Orlando Reeves owned a sugar mill and plantation north of Orlando in what is now Volusia County. He carved his name in a tree near what is now Lake Eola. Later settlers assumed the tree was a grave marker. Their speculations as to the carving’s origin led to the various accounts of Seminole War battles, and the area around the tree became known as “Orlando’s Grave” or simply “Orlando.”
Orlando citizens have their own favorite version. Having lived in Orlando for many years, I like the one about the planter Orlando Reeves who carved his name on a tree.
The history of Orlando since the end of the Seminole Wars has been one of pretty steady growth.
Shortly before the Civil War, Orlando became the seat of newly created Orange County. It was a quiet country town during the war, but had a population explosion in the years from 1875 to 1895.