Orlando: Four Towns, One Name

On May 2, 2010 · 5 Comments

Four towns. Three of them fade into the background of rural obscurity. One clearly doesn’t belong with the others. Most people know only the outlier, the one in Florida, the one with the tourists and the mouse. Orlando. I imagine few people realize or care that there are other towns named Orlando with their own stories including one that had a legitimate shot at fame-and-fortune, and none of them have anything to do with Disney. Those who don’t care probably aren’t followers of the Twelve Mile Circle, either.

Orlando, Kentucky

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I found very little information on the Orlando in Kentucky. It’s barely a bump in the road along the train tracks. It does have its own ZIP Code, 40460, although the post office proper seems to have been absorbed or combined with one nearby. There’s not much here anymore other than a few single-wide trailers on the edge of the Daniel Boone National Forest.

Orlando, Oklahoma

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Things get a little less sleepy as one rolls into Orlando, Oklahoma where visitors even encounter a roadside sign proclaiming their arrival. At least this one seems to recognize itself as a full-fledged town. Just about two hundred people lived here at the time of the 2000 census.

The spot is large enough to have its own bare-bones Wikipedia entry although it does no justice to the town’s significant place in history. It seems to be a pretty quiet community that’s faded in recent years judging by my Google Street View drive-by. There are plenty of homes but businesses along its primary road seem to have been overtaken by the times and have all shuttered. Could it have something to do with the three Walmarts located within twenty miles of here?

Orlando could have been one of the largest cities in Oklahoma, rivaling maybe even its Floridian counterpart, but history has a strange way of creating winners and losers. Oklahoma was Indian Territory in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century. Orlando had been part what was known as the Unassigned Lands in the north central portion of the territory as the century drew to a close. No tribe resided within these Unassigned Lands after the Creek and Seminole Indians ceded them to the United States after the Civil War. They stood virtually empty and ripe for settlement.

The Unassigned Lands became an excellent choice for the first of several Oklahoma land runs organized by the Federal government to settle Oklahoma. Towns sprung up overnight when homesteaders rushed into the Unassigned Lands in 1889 at the sound of the signal shot. Oklahoma City and Guthrie both recorded populations of greater than 10,000 by the end of the first day.

Orlando was located at the far northern extreme of acreage involved in that initial rush. It stood just below an even larger rush occurring a few years later, a mad scramble for homesteads in the Cherokee Outlet (often called the Cherokee Strip erroneously) which stretched fifty seven miles south from the Kansas border. Orlando, since it was previously established, served as a primary place where people could register their Cherokee Outlet claims. More than 36,000 people showed up in Orlando on September 15, 1893 with that exact intention.

Funny thing, Oklahoma City now has a population of a half-million people but Orlando has been reduced to only two hundred inhabitants. Orlando hits it heyday that very first day in 1893.

Orlando, West Virginia

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Another rural Orlando can be found in West Virginia. It’s so small that the asphalt trail leading to it is fractional: County Road One-Fourth. Actually It’s probably County Road One slash Four (dual designated) but I couldn’t let that stand in the way of a good story. The white building in the background is known locally as the Warehouse and it was constructed around 1907 to hold agricultural produce.

One encounters the most interesting sites lurking in these quieter corners of the Intertubes. I didn’t expect to find much on Orlando, WV, like its counterpart Orlando, KY, but local historians have banded together to make sure the town and its heritage are not forsaken. This small town is the focus of a well-tended blog called Orlando Stone Soup.

In the heart of the West Virginia hills, at the edge of the Little Kanawha River Basin, is Oil Creek with its several tributaries. It was first settled at the beginning of the 1800s. At the confluence of Clover Fork & Oil Creek the town of Orlando developed in the late 1800s and withered in the mid 1900s. For two hundred years a small community has loved, worked, fought dreamed and worshiped here and raised new generations to do the same. Here are some of the stories of that community.

I wandered around the website for quite awhile, browsing through vintage images and absorbing the memories of generations who grew up among those hills and hollows. The feature article on the day I visited was called A Granddaughter Remembers Orlando Visits, the recollections of 84-year-old Ruby Jarvis Brooks, illustrated with a map and family photographs. I love these types of websites and this one was particularly well done.

Orlando, Florida

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When Orlando comes to mind it’s usually the one in Florida, right? This is the one I’ll be visiting for most of next week although frankly, I think I’d prefer to be at any one of the other three. For some reason my employer likes to hold meetings down here and I’ve probably visited this Orlando at least a dozen times.

I suppose they think people consider it a privilege but it gets old after awhile. Strip away Disney World and the rest of the fluff and there’s not much to Orlando except for excessive suburban sprawl in a warm climate. Does anyone know of anything worth seeing for someone who’s traveled here way-to-many-times? Any geo-oddities including those of the hyper-local kind? I’m envisioning a very boring week trapped in a hotel room.

Circling back to an earlier theme, what would Orlando have become had Walt not solidified his land holdings in the 1960’s? The Orlando metropolitan area had only three hundred thousand residents in 1960 and more than two million inhabitants in 2008.

One wonders…

On May 2, 2010 · 5 Comments

5 Responses to “Orlando: Four Towns, One Name”

  1. Mike Lowe says:

    If your meetings don’t drag into the evening, Daytona and NASA / Cape Canaveral stuff isn’t too far away. At least things _look_ that way. I am also playing with Google Maps. I haven’t been to Mickey’s town since I was 12. As a Texan, 50 miles (one way) is just a brief stroll for me. 🙂

    With daylight savings time and decent traffic, you could end work and zip to either place and still see some things. Then have a late dinner and drive back to your hotel.

    Good luck. Anything beats staying in a hotel.

  2. Matthew says:

    The county highpoint, if you haven’t hit that spot already. Or maybe Kissimmee for the unusual city name. Can’t think of much else. Most of the good geo-weirdness that I’ve identified in Florida is in the panhandle, some distance from Orlando. I believe the oldest parks and cities in the USA are in Florida, however, and perhaps there is an oldest something-or-other near Orlando.

  3. Joshua says:

    Actually, Walt Disney World is in the city of Lake Buena Vista, population 16 as well as the city of Bay Lake, population 23.

    • Quite true, Joshua. The whole Reedy Creek construct provides a fascinating tale.

      I should have better differentiated the Orlando metropolitan area from the city proper, too.

  4. Rhodent says:

    Incidentally, the “1/4” designation on the road in West Virginia is neither a fraction (although I understand the roads are informally called “fractional routes” or a dual designation. Rather, it means that it’s the fourth secondary road to branch away from Route 1. The “numerator” can be a County, State, or U.S. Highway; in this case it appears to be County Route 1.

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