Long ago ancient Floridians lived on the creeks and rivers of central Florida. Many shell middens have been found between the St. Johns River and the Tosohatchee State Reserve in the southeast part of this county. Over 30 small mounds or middens have been surveyed just within Tosohatchee.
Timucuan Indians lived around Wekiwa Springs and Rock Springs in the northwest of the county. During the Seminole War, Coacoochee had a camp along the Wekiva River.
Another area that had large villages of both Timucuan and Seminoles was around Lake Apopka. Because the lake became a casualty to red tide and industrial waste since World War II, developers have missed destroying all these sites.
Although I haven't been able to seen any information on it, in Winter Park at Mead Botanical Garden, you can see what looks like the remains of shell middens along the creek in the back of the park. The shell pile remains are not as visible today as a few years ago. Said to have been other mounds at what is now downtown Winter Park.
State archaeology site files refer to "the Winter Park Indian Mounds." These are probably two sites that are on the east side of Lake Mizell at the McKean estate, but are remembered by only a few people today. When this area was surveyed in the 1950's, Seminole pottery was found, and called "Winter Park Brushed" pottery. This was the last type of pottery the Seminoles made before the art became extinct among them in the 1840's. It is different from other types because of the high limestone content from Florida clays. The site was determined to have been an extensive Seminole village, and they even built their village upon the mound remains of much earlier inhabitants. Although this was a major Seminole site, no other written records make notice of it. It would be interesting to know when the village was occupied, and by which family of Florida Seminoles. Unfortunately no extensive archaeology surveys have been done since a simple site report in 1960, and since it is on private land, the land owners can basically do what they want; even develop it if they use their own funds. Hopefully an extensive survey will one day be done.
During the Second Seminole War, the area was opened up to settlement by the different military roads. Forts Gatlin, Maitland, Christmas and McNeil were in this county. (Fort McNeil was named after a casualty of the Second Seminole War who was the nephew of President Franklin Pierce.) None of these forts saw any battles.
In January 1837 there was a major battle on Hatchee-Lustee Creek (Muskogee for "Black Creek"), which is today Reedy Creek. A combined force under General Jesup of Army and Marines attacted a large village and captured or drove off the inhabitants.
One of the stories about Orlando was that it was named after a soldier killed during the Second Seminole War, Orlando Reeves. The problem is, there is no record of a soldier by that name on the regular Army and state militia muster rosters. The name is also missing from any casualty list. Another problem with the story is that soldier Reeves was killed by an arrow, and the Seminoles during the wartime almost abandoned the bow and arrow technology. Local author Mark Andrews and historian Brenda Elliott have exposed this local urban legend. There was a plantation owner Orlando Rees, whose plantation at Spring Garden was burned by the Seminole & Yuchie Indians early in the war. It is thought that Rees traveled through the area chasing Seminoles, and carved his name on a log, later mistaken for a tombstone of Orlando Reeves. Years later the story appeared, and may have even been the concoction of an early Orlando settler Aaron Jernigan. A local school erected a monument to Orlando Reeves on downtown Lake Eola, and now everyone believes it.
Fort Maitland was built in November 1838 as a temporary supply depot on Lake Fumecheliga, which means in Muskogee, "Abode of the Odorous One." King Philip had a village on the lake, and I've never seen him described as odorous, so I don't think it's named after him. The name of the lake was changed to Maitland soon after to give the tourists a name that they could pronounce.
Fort Maitland was established by Lt. Col. Fanning, and named after one of his fellow officers. Captain W. S. Maitland was wounded at the Battle of Wahoo Swamp in November 1836, and died after 9 months of illness. Right before his death he was taken up by steamer to Charleston. While the ship was on the Ashley River, Captain Maitland, "In a temporary fit of derangement threw himself from the stern of the boat and was drowned."
In 1837 the government brought a delegation of Cherokee Indians to Florida to negotiate with the Seminoles. The Seminoles did want to listen to any idea of leaving Florida, and the mission ended in failure. General Jesup even treated the Cherokees with contempt, no different than he did the Seminoles. Jesup considered the Cherokee as interfering with the military campaign against the Indians. The first meeting between the Seminoles and Cherokees is believed to have taken place at Tosohatchee State Reserve.
This reconstructed fort and museum has nice, air conditioned blockhouses with exhibits of the Seminoles and the Second Seminole War. The original Fort Christmas was built on Christmas Day, 1837, and used as a supply depot for three months on the military road that went from Fort Mellon down south. After Fort Pierce was established, supplies were shipped south by ship, and the fort was abandoned. One interesting item on the wall is a copy of Jesup's map of Florida from the time Fort Christmas was active.
There is a display of guns and rifles on the wall, but all were used decades after the war. The clothing on the Seminole & soldier mannequins are inaccurate, but that is because they were put together when the museum was built about 20 years ago. Hopefully they will be corrected to wear the proper attire.
The park office is in the design of an old cracker homestead. The picnic shelter near the office was built by the CCC in the 1930's. Behind the office is a cracker ranch house dating from 1916, all made of local materials. (Palm tree posts on the porch.) Moving the ranch house here from the nearby swamp was quite an accomplishment. Other local cracker homesteads have been recently moved to the park and restored, making a historical village.
There are living history programs at the fort twice a year; usually One in the Spring, and one in November. Call for information on the next one. Admission to the park is free.