For 70 years, there has been a group dedicated to preserving Osceola County’s history – The Osceola County Historical Society.
The group is celebrating its 70th anniversary with events on Oct. 24 and 27.
St. Cloud was the birthplace of The Historical Association of Osceola County on Oct. 25, 1949, with 43 people and it was led by Charles and Twilah Hartley.
“This group of people was interested in collecting and preserving our history,” said Society Executive Director Kimberly Murray. “If you don’t preserve it, it’s lost.”
The mission of the Historical Society is to collect and provide the county’s history and also provide educational, research and recreational opportunities.
“We want to reinforce a sense of place and where the past, present and future lie,” Murray said.
The first celebration will be Oct. 24 at the Welcome Center and History Museum, 4155 W. Vine St. in Kissimmee. From 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. there will be a free opening reception of the Celebrate! special exhibit.
On Oct. 27, the group is hosting a 70th Anniversary Champagne Brunch at Pioneer Village on Babb Road in Kissimmee. Individual tickets are $40 for members and $50 for non-members. For couples, tickets are $70 for members and $90 for non-members. The event is 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The society has three locations – the welcome center and museum, Pioneer Village and a research center. They receive more than 25,000 visitors each year and 125 members.
“There is a deep, rich heritage here. Osceola County was here way before Disney,” said Murray.
In the early years, the main project was to collect and place in albums old photographs and manuscripts for the historical shelves in the Kissimmee and St. Cloud libraries. Old books and publications were also presented. Today, the welcome center and museum convey the history of the environment and information about the community. It features four realistic dioramas of different habitats.
Education is an important part of what the historical society does. They provide educational programs for schools such as Traveling Trunks containing artifacts, lesson plans, pictures and posters about the past. Students can also visit Pioneer Village for field trips. Murray said they are building their educational program with support from the state.
At the society’s Pioneer Village at Shingle Creek, 2491 Babb Road, Kissimmee, it takes visitors back in time portraying life in the 1890s. They will learn about the Florida Seminoles and how they and early pioneer families lived. It opened in 2014 and has permanent, authentic structures to that time period.
“Our goals include preserving Pioneer Village,” said Murray. “We can’t share history if we don’t exist and sustain ourselves financially.” Fundraisers and grants help provide funds for the society, as well as funding from the county, city and memberships.
On Nov. 9, the Historical Society will hold the 28th Annual Pioneer Day. This is a free, family-friendly event featuring live music, a kids’ craft zone, a real Florida market and pioneer life re-enactors and demonstrations. The group is also working on a new campaign called $70 for 70 years, a new website and a new logo and name – Osceola History.
“It’s fun to tie in $70 for 70 years to our anniversary,” says Lisa Liu, the society’s board president. “We hope that families and businesses will support us. The money will be used for maintenance of the village as well as adding to the artifacts and preserving them.”
Another fun project for the society is the preservation of Desert Inn at Yeehaw Junction. It was donated to the society in 2015 and efforts are underway to find an investor to keep the nostalgic building. They hope to reopen the restaurant and keep the unique building intact.
“We have a long fundraising road ahead of us,” said Liu.