Discover Old Florida On A Walking Tour of Historic Downtown Longwood

Longwood, a town of 13,000 located in the west-central part of Seminole County, has a keen sense of history. Its highly active historic society was founded in 1969, and not only records the city’s past, but acquires, preserves and restores buildings that date back to the 1800s. The organization’s efforts led to the establishment of Longwood’s Historic District, consisting of roughly 190 acres and including 37 structures. This section of town became part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.

A walking tour through the historic district on a sunny Florida day is sure to enchant you and your family. The area is not intersected by any major roads, although it is easily accessible via Ronald Reagan Boulevard. The Historic Society has created a self-guided ¾ of a mile Central Walking Tour which takes 30-45 minutes (depending on how long you stop to admire the 15 landmarks). The trek is also a terrific opportunity to view Florida’s unique hodge-podge of architectural styles, influenced by Europe and New England but designed to accommodate Florida’s climate (pre-air conditioning).

The Society has also mapped tours of the city’s East and South areas, which take about the same amount of time to complete. With a town this historic, it pays to spend some extra time exploring the place!

Two structures in the historic district were saved from the suburban sprawl of Altamonte Springs, 10 miles away. The Bradlee-McIntyre House, built in 1883 as a luxury cottage, was set to be destroyed when preservation societies rallied community support to have it moved to Longwood’s Historic District in 1973. This Queen Anne-style structure is a shining example of old Florida, and is the only remaining winter cottage of its size built in the 1880s, when Florida was becoming a vacation mecca. The house, known locally as “the Bradlee Mac,” serves as a history museum and offers limited guided tours.

Another important structure moved from Altamonte Springs in ’73 is called the Inside-Outside House, because its structural framing is exposed on the exterior and the interior is finished with stucco over tongue-in-groove siding. Dating back to 1873, it was one of the earliest examples of a prefabricated home in the U.S. It arrived in Sanford by steamship, was transported by mule cart to Altamonte Springs and assembled there. The quaint building, owned by the Historic Society, is rented by a couple who run the Cottage Gift Shop.

The lovely, one-story Longwood Historic Civic Center, also owned by the Society, is thought to be the oldest building that’s original to Longwood. It was erected in 1880 (some say 1875), not long after the first settlers arrived in the area. Over the decades, the building has been a schoolhouse, a church and a home to several community groups, including the Longwood Civic League Woman’s Club, which called it home for 80 years. In 2019, the Historic Society gave the place a major renovation and it now acts as the group’s headquarters. The building is available for rent, with a seating capacity of 80.

The Central Walking Tour also includes other 1800s structures, including the Niemeyer House and Beesley-Milwee House. Gleaming white Christ Church, built in 1881, is still an active Episcopal church. Heroes Park, in front of the Longwood Police Department, is dedicated to first responders and the military. Reiter Park, named after Jimmy Reiter, who founded the city’s volunteer fire department, is a delightful expanse of green space. It underwent a major upgrade that was completed in 2018 and now serves as a hub for social gatherings and small festivals. The park has five pavilions, a walking path, playground, two tennis/pickleball courts, a basketball court and exercise equipment.

When visiting Orlando North, make sure and set aside time to visit Longwood -- a town that takes its history seriously.