The City of Ocoee was formed as a small agricultural settlement supported by the local citrus and vegetable farming industry. The town was first settled adjacent to Starke Lake, southeast of Lake Apopka, in the mid-1800’s.
Following the end of the Civil War, a number of settlers moved into the area including Captain Bluford M. Sims, a native of Tennessee who served in the Confederacy. He had purchased a tract of land from Dr. J. D. Starke and established the first citrus nursery in the United States. Sims had a number of other credits and accomplishments to his name including road commissioner, Freemason, and contractor for the first framed court house in Orlando. It is the section of land Sims used for citrus growth which now comprises most of what is considered downtown Ocoee. Sims led a group of early settlers in having the town platted and in 1886 the name was changed to Ocoee.
Shoreline of Starke Lake before development (before 1880)
View of Bluford Avenue and Downtown Ocoee (1902)
View of Downtown Ocoee on Mckey Street (1920)
Ocoee Fire and Police Departments (1951)
Completion of the Florida Turnpike through Ocoee (1964)
Town of Ocoee
The Town of Ocoee was the name of a subdivision platted by Bluford Sims in 1886, he took the name from a river in Tennessee. Ocoee means "apricot vine" in the Cherokee language - what we now call the passion flower. The city logo is inspired by this flower. The Town of Ocoee was recognized as a municipality by the Florida legislature in 1923 and became the City of Ocoee in May 1925. Ocoee remained a small town through the mid-1900’s, when the rapidly expanding Orlando Metropolitan Area began to grow westward. As recently as 1960, the population was only about 2,500, but this population would increase rapidly as several major roadways were constructed through the City, creating a more accessible environment.
The first school in Ocoee was established in 1880. It was a three sided hut located on Floral street, which was later replaced by a two-story wooden structure built on Bluford Avenue. That structure was replaced in the early 1920s with a brick building. Mrs. E. D. Perkins was the original teacher. William Blakely arrived in Ocoee in 1881. He soon became school principal and teacher. He was also Postmaster and Justice of the Peace. In 1913 he bought a home on West Oakland avenue and converted one of the rooms into a library which he allowed the community to use. Blakely would devote more than 50 years to teaching, running a general store, and promoting Ocoee as a desirable place to live.
Florida Midland Railroad
As the tracks were laid and completed for the Florida Midland Railroad in the 1880s, growth in the area was rapid. Many more settlers moved in, large areas were cleared, and the market grew larger with better transportation facilities. Hard surfaced roads did not come until many years later, but the sand trails were improved. As a result crops like corn, cotton, and sweet potatoes were abandoned in favor of more lucrative citrus groves and vegetables for the winter market of the north. Though the Florida Midland Railroad would experience some decline and disrepair over time for another more preferred gauge of track, it had unquestionably done much to spur growth in Ocoee.
State Road 50 (SR 50) was constructed south of downtown Ocoee in 1959 and provided a direct east-west connection between the City and a growing Orlando. The development of SR 50 made Ocoee more accessible and attractive to developers, who wanted to build new affordable housing developments.
Florida’s Turnpike was the next major roadway constructed through Ocoee. This 309 mile long freeway was extended through West Orange County in 1964, just south of the Ocoee downtown area, and provided Ocoee with excellent north-south access.
Decades later, in late 1990, the connection between Ocoee and Orlando was further secured when the western extension of SR 408 was completed. The tollway, also known as the East-West Expressway, connects the Turnpike south of SR 50, through downtown Orlando, and to the University of Central Florida in the east.
The final piece of the Ocoee connectivity story is SR 429, also known as the Western Expressway. Completed in 2000, this tollway connects US 441 in the north and Interstate-4 (I-4), just south of Walt Disney World.