The area’s first settlers, who put down stakes near Lake Jesup in the 1860s, called it Solary’s Wharf. Longtime locals point to 1964 as perhaps the most significant year in Oviedo’s history. That’s when a desolate 1,145-acre tract in rural northeast Orange County, about seven miles east of the city, was selected as the site for Florida Technological University (now the University of Central Florida).
Initially, the carpetbagging Ph.D.s and the wary farmers made an unlikely combination. But they were united by their desire to maintain Oviedo’s small-town ambiance and to cling to its agricultural heritage.Indeed, the biggest worry among many longtime residents these days is that Oviedo’s sleepy old downtown might go the way of the long-gone orange groves and celery fields. Oviedo Place, a.k.a. “the new downtown,” is planned for what’s now a tangerine grove just north of Mitchell Hammock Road. Not that the old downtown is particularly quaint. For those just passing through who are forced to stop at the gnarly intersection of state roads 419, 426 and 434, there’s not a lot to catch the eye: the Town House restaurant, a huge Baptist church and a two-block row of fading cinder-block buildings housing an assortment of mom-and-pop businesses.
Take the time to wander the side streets, however, and an altogether different picture of Oviedo emerges, one of the gracious old homes, rolling grass lawns, and moss-shrouded oak trees. Indeed, the Oviedo Historical Trail lists no fewer than 85 sites, including the home of pioneer postmaster George Browne, Built in 1885, and the James Wilson House, built in 1938 on Lake Charm Circle.Another big draw for relocators is the Oviedo area’s public schools, all of which received A’s when the state Department of Education handed out grades last summer.