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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contact: Sherry Meadows Lewis / Sherry.Lewis@ocfl.net / (407) 836-8595

"Destination Florida: Tourism Before Disney"
New Permanent Exhibit Opens at the Orange County Regional History Center, Friday, June 27, 2008

ORLANDO, Fla. (June 3, 2008) - The Orange County Regional History Center unveils its newest permanent exhibit, "Destination Florida: Tourism Before Disney," on Friday, June 27, 2008. The new installation will take visitors back in time to the 'Golden Age of Tourism,' nearly a century before Disney.

Visitors may be surprised to learn tourism in Florida stretches back to the late 19th century, when wealthy northerners were drawn by the weather and the area's natural beauty, including supposed curative powers of the water. Silver Springs first drew tourists in 1860 and became more popular when the famous glass-bottom boats were added in 1878. In the 1920s, the less well-to-do tin-can tourists followed, arriving in their Model T campers with tin cans perched on the radiators. While fishing and other natural assets continued to draw tourists, more theme parks created around Florida's natural beauty began to spring up and by 1950 tourism replaced agriculture as Florida's principal industry.

The new exhibit allows visitors to discover the remarkable story of Florida tourism through artifacts, images, memorabilia, and interactive components. Visitors can step inside a replica tepee from Wigwam Village, an Orlando motel and popular tourist destination in the 1950s, to learn more about sites that delighted earlier generations; sit inside a replica Model T modified into a "tin-can camper" for an audio/visual trip on the roads tourists traveled long before interstate highways; and then test their "tourist IQ" in an interactive presentation.

The exhibit reveals the stories of some of Florida's most historic attractions, including:
  • Big Tree Park - Home to the Senator, the oldest and largest bald cypress tree in the country
  • The Singing Tower at Bok Gardens - Opened in 1929 with gardens designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead Jr., the designer of Washington D.C.'s National Mall and White House grounds
  • Wigwam Village - Operated from 1935 to 1973, it featured tepees that served as guest rooms
  • Cypress Gardens - Opened in 1936 featuring gardens, Southern Belles, and water ski shows, it quickly became Florida's largest attraction
  • Weeki Wachee Springs - Opened in 1947, it became one of the state's most successful attractions with beautiful "mermaids" smiling, drinking, and eating underwater
  • Gatorland® - Began as a roadside attraction in 1949 and continues to draw crowds today

The Orange County Regional History Center, housed in a restored historic five-story 1927 county courthouse in downtown Orlando, showcases the vast collections of the Historical Society of Central Florida, Inc. The museum features three floors of permanent exhibitions that take visitors on a journey through the region's fascinating transition from Indian settlement to small town surrounded by citrus groves and cattle ranches to today's tourist-centric community. The museum also presents nationally important limited-run exhibitions. The Orange County Regional History Center is accredited by the American Association of Museums and is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.

The History Center is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. General admission is $9*, seniors (60+) are $7, and children ages 5-12 are $6. Historical Society Members and children ages 4 and under are free. *Special admission prices may apply for limited-run exhibitions. Visitors receive two hours of free parking at the Orlando Public Library garage with paid admission. Guided tours are offered on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and are included in the price of general admission. For general information, call (407) 836-8500 or visit www.thehistorycenter.org.
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The Orange County Regional History Center is financed in part by Orange County Government through the Department of Health & Family Services under Orange County Mayor Richard T. Crotty and the Board of County Commissioners, The Historical Society of Central Florida, Inc., United Arts of Central Florida with funds from the United Arts Campaign and by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Arts Council, as well as the National Endowment for the Arts: Division of Historic Resources and Bureau of Historical Museums.