Museums Showcase History of Kissimmee-St. Cloud Area

Reed Travel Features

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The history of Kissimmee-St. Cloud can be traced at two local museums: the Historical Museum of St. Cloud & Osceola County and the Osceola County Historical Society & Pioneer Enrichment Center.

Before the late 1800s, the Kissimmee-St. Cloud area was wilderness, with a bountiful variety of native birds, fish and game. Vast cypress swamps and thick vegetation in what would later become Osceola County provided protection for powerful Seminole chieftains as they resisted President Andrew Jackson's campaign to relocate them and their people to land west of the Mississippi River.

Settlers did not arrive in large numbers until after the Civil War, when a tiny trading center known as Allendale was founded. In 1881, Philadelphia businessman Hamilton Disston purchased 4 million acres of land here at 25 cents an acre. Selecting Allendale as his headquarters, Disston changed the town's name to Kissimmee, a Caloosa Indian word meaning Heaven's Place. He drained part of the central Florida swamps and built sugar plantations and lumber camps, which later were interconnected by a system of waterways and railroads.

When the first railroad reached Kissimmee in 1882, the area became a water and rail transfer hub and the hub of commerce in central Florida. In 1883, the South Florida Railroad built the Tropical hotel, whose guests included President Chester A. Arthur.

Until the early 1900s, cattle roamed freely and ranchers brought livestock to Kissimmee for shipment to Cuba. It was here that the Florida Cattleman's Association was founded in 1934.

St. Cloud grew from the ruins of a failed Disston sugar plantation and became a haven for Union veterans of the Civil War in 1909, two years before the town's incorporation.

Visitors are admitted free to the Historical Museum of St. Cloud & Osceola County. For more information, call (407) 892-3671.

The Osceola County Historical Society & Pioneer Enrichment Center here features an 1899 house, a general store from the first decade of this century and a museum of pioneer artifacts, all surrounded by 100-year-old oak trees. There is a nominal fee for admission. For more information, call (407) 396-8644.

Both museums operate on a flexible schedule; calls in advance are recommended.

For area information, contact the Kissimmee-St. Cloud Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 327-9159.

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