Orange County Regional History Center-Orlando
Every great city has a museum, and Orlando is no exception. Located in the heart of downtown Orlando, the Orange County Regional History Center is housed in a beautifully restored historic courthouse.
Historically, the Orange County Regional History Center traces its beginnings to the county’s series of courthouses that once stood near Heritage Square Park, which is now the center of the community. From Heritage Square, Orlando’s city limits were platted in 1857. Florida was a wild frontier where razorback hogs rubbed their backs against wooden courthouse steps. However, as the city and county expanded, a grand brownstone courthouse was built in 1892. In 1927, a neoclassical revival building, now the History Center’s home was added and became the main courthouse.
It was by 1942 that the community looked back and remembered a century of history with a pioneer-times display in the old brownstone courthouse. Through donations, the exhibit grew, which formed the basis of the History Center’s present collection by the Historical Society of Central Florida. After the brownstone courthouse was demolished in 1957, the Board of County Commissioners established a historical commission to carry on the work started in 1942. The commission eventually led to the opening of the Orange County Historical Museum in Loch Haven Park, a precursor to the History Center, in 1976.
In 1995, ten years after Orange County’s current courthouse opened, a task force of community leaders unanimously recommended turning the 1927 courthouse into a regional history museum. This led to the opening of the Orange County Regional History Center in September 2000 to critical acclaim and national awards. Smithsonian Institution accepted the museum as a member in 2006. They are working together to preserve the heritage, expand knowledge, and inspire learning.
The History Center is also accredited by the American Alliance of Museums formerly known as the American Association of Museums, the highest honor a museum can receive. Through advocacy and excellence, the Alliance strengthens the museum community. A portion of the budget for the Orange County Regional History Center comes from the county’s Family Services Department under the leadership of Mayor Jerry L. Demings, and the Board of County Commissioners.
At this museum, you can learn about Florida’s history in a fun way. In the lobby, Florida wildlife, artifacts, and other memorabilia representing 12,000 years of Florida history hang from the ceiling like an Alexander Calder mobile. There are four levels to the History Center, covering First Peoples, European First Contact, Florida Seminoles, and Florida during the Civil War. Florida’s Pioneer heritage, with exhibits of cattle raising and citrus growing is in marked contrast to Destination Florida: Tourism Before Disney.
An additional great attraction at Orange County Regional History Center is the Mennello Museum of American Art. On Sundays, visitors can visit the museum for free and learn about Florida’s folk culture and modern culture. There is an extensive gift shop at the Mennello Museum, and the grounds of the museum merge with the Orlando Urban Trail. Sculpture lovers can also explore the Mennello Museum of American Art’s outdoor sculpture garden. The Sculpture Garden is filled with statues and sculptures, and the museum has a Spanish moss-covered oak tree. You can also enjoy a day at the Crayola Experience. The museum’s 26 interactive stations include melted crayon paintings, an ultimate coloring station, and augmented reality displays.
While you’re in the area, don’t forget to check out the center’s permanent art collections. Opened in 1924 to foster a love of art, this center is now one of the main cultural institutions in the area. The center’s architecture reflects mid-century aesthetics. You will also find a replica chapel that was built in 1893. In addition to exhibits on art and architecture, it also houses the Ernest Hemingway Home, which many fans still visit today. The home of the famous author is now a cultural landmark, and a self-guided tour is available. The center’s Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, which opened on the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking, features 400 artifacts recovered from the wreck. You can even touch a piece of the ship’s hull and meet the crew of the sinking ship.
The SEA LIFE aquarium is another attraction worth checking out at the center. Visitors can watch live dive shows, learn about the sanctity of animals and birds, and touch animals in the touch tanks. The museum also has a famous sea turtle named Ted. Ted is a conservation champion who works to free sea turtles from nets. You can also take a ride on the 400-foot-high observation wheel. It’s an amazing experience.
Furthermore, the center offers several programs tailored to the needs of patrons. Children can pursue their interest in history through the Passport History Summer Camp, History Holiday Camp, and Spring Break Camp. Frequently, the museum hosts exhibit on current events and lectures by university professors, as well as programs for schools and organizations. The fun can also be enjoyed by adults during dinners featuring respected speakers and game nights. It is also noteworthy to know that the center received national honors, including recognition for their work to collect, conserve, and catalog artifacts and honor the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando on June 12, 2016, that left 49 people dead and 68 wounded.
Visiting hours at the Orange County Regional History Center are Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm and Sunday from 12 pm to 5 pm. However, they are closed for certain events and major holidays, including Memorial Day, Labor Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. As for the admission fee, it varies depending on age and if you are a member.
The History Center is located on the corner of Magnolia Ave. and Central Blvd. in the heart of downtown Orlando. Parking is available in the garage located across from the public library at 112 E Central Blvd. All visitors with paid admission receive validation for two hours of free parking. It is also handicapped accessible with elevators on every floor and two handicapped parking spaces are available on the north side of the building on E. Washington Street.