Florida’s oldest working county courthouse
One of the highlights of Osceola County is the historic 1890 Courthouse. Today it’s part of a government complex that fills the block between West Emmett Street and Patrick Street in the historic area in Kissimmee. While the 1889 Courthouse is not fully used as a courthouse currently, there are active courtrooms in the historic building. The complex contains three building with the other two, including the main courthouse, being built in the latter half of the 20th Century.
Because of its continued use by the Osceola County Courts, it’s considered to be the oldest courthouse in Florida. The attractive Romanesque Revival building has a fairly common design for the post-Civil War era in the US. The three-story structure, which included a jail, was designed in 1888 and construction began the next year. The Romanesque details include rounded arches and a tower above the entrance located on the east side of the building. It is a squat cruciform plan, similar to the most common designs of European cathedrals but with the main entrance at the top of the cross instead of at the base. The arms, or transepts, of the building only extend about 15 feet out from the main body.
In August 1977, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places, one of only nine such places in Osceola County as of 2020. 1977 was also the 90th anniversary of the county itself, having been carved out of Orange and Brevard Counties.
The courthouse is red brick with white elements and is surrounded is park-like grounds with stately live and laurel oaks. It’s shady and a great place for a picnic. If you’re exploring historic Kissimmee, it’s a great place to take a bit of a break.
The Pioneers is the life-size statue on the West Emmett Street side of the historic Osceola County Courthouse. Created by Preston Willingham, who is an inventor as well as a sculptor, the work of art represents the earliest European settlers of the Kissimmee area. The Pioneers was nearly entirely privately funded and is a good representation of the county which still mostly consists of rural areas, even though the northern parts continue to grow in population due to its proximity to Orlando and the Walt Disney World.
As can be seen, the sculpture includes a representation of a pioneer Cracker couple with their dog (my favorite part of the sculpture). The man, probably representing Florida’s “Cow Hunters” – the cowboys of the Florida scrub land – is carrying a saddle. The saddle appears to be a McClellan saddle, designed by US Army Captain (later General) George B. McClellan and adopted by the US Army in 1859. In 1863 the Confederate Army adopted the McClellan design as well. The benefits of the McClellan saddle are its simplicity, lightness and lower cost of manufacture.
The first image is a postcard of the courthouse. It’s undated but likely comes from the first decade of the 20th century. In the postcard there is a chain-link fence surrounding the grounds of the courthouse. In the lower right corner, one can see the likely reason of the fence – a cow. A rather appropriate feature considering that Osceola County continues to be a major producer of cattle.
This could also be one of the earliest images of chain-link as it was reportedly first introduced in the US in 1891.