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Artful Dodges - Orange County Regional History Center

Orange County Regional History Center
65 East Central Boulevard, Orlando 32801
(800) 965-2030; (407) 836-8500

Admission: Adults $7, seniors (60+) $6.50, children (3 to 12) $3.50
Hours: Monday to Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Sunday noon to 5:00 p.m.
Location: In downtown Orlando; from the north take I-4 Exit 84, from the south Exit 83A

Unlike most county historical museums, which are dusty hodgepodges of miscellaneous objects displayed in a donated and threadbare house of “historical” interest, Orange County’s museum is housed in a magnificent 1927 courthouse, its collection attractively and professionally displayed. This is one of the best looking local history museums I have visited and well worth a look if you venture downtown.

The impressive ground floor entrance features a marble inlay map of the world with Orlando at the center; above is a wonderfully zany multimedia sculptural dome dotted with references to Central Florida’s natural, cultural, and social history. Your best bet is to head for the fourth floor, enjoy the short orientation film, and then work your way down through a chronologically arranged series of exhibit rooms.

After an introduction to Florida’s natural environment and its first Paleo-Indian inhabitants, the focus shifts to the settler period in which both the Europeans and the Seminoles, the latter forced from their homelands in Georgia and the Carolinas, were newcomers. A fascinating display on tourism takes us back to the 1920s and the first RVs, converted Model Ts that brought penny-pinching “tin can tourists.” The then governor of Florida said of these pioneers, “They came with one pair of underwear and one twenty dollar bill and changed neither.” How times change!

Other highlights are a perfectly preserved courtroom, a reminder of the building’s previous life, and a display on the pre-World War II training of military pilots, when Central Florida was so little-known that it was the perfect place for a top-secret government base.

The History Center is one of the high points of Orlando’s revitalized downtown. In front is a small but lovely park. The Public Library, with free Internet access, is on one side and Wall Street Plaza, a charming pedestrian street with cafes and restaurants, on the other.

Nearby: Lake Eola Swan Boats, Leu Gardens, Orlando City Hall Galleries.

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