Local historians have offered many variations on the origin of the city name. Most agree that Kissimmee is a modern spelling of a tribal word. The book, Florida Indians and the Invasion from Europe, by Jerald T. Milanich, links "Kissimmee" to a village of Jororo, one of Florida's least known tribes.
Historian John Hann researched Spanish documents on missions established to convert Jororo and other groups to Christianity in the late 17th century. Spanish records indicate that a mission was built near the tribe's main village, also called Jororo.
Another mission was called Atissimi. Milanich writes: "Hann suggests that the name Atissimi, sometimes given as Jizimi and Tisimi, may be the source of the modern name of the place Kissimmee. A Spanish map from 1752 used the name "Cacema", which evolved into Kissimmee's current spelling.
The 1700s brought new people to Florida and saw their old tribes plunge into history. Creeks from the Southeast joined forces with Africans fleeing slavery. European rule - first by the Spanish, followed by the British and then by the Americans - wiped out the last villages of Florida's natives.
The new tribes, which would later include the young "chief" Osceola, went to the interior of Florida in search of refuge. The land of pine trees, cypresses and palmettos between the St. John and Kissimmee rivers provided a safe haven. This paradise for mosquitoes remained as the remote homeland of the Seminoles during the 18th century.
The town of Kissimmee was originally a small trading post on the north bank of Lake Tohopekaliga, known as the Allendale community. After the Civil War, this area was included in the purchase of four million acres of wetlands and plains by Hamilton Disston, owner of the Disston Saw Company in Philadelphia. The land sale price totaled $1 million, at 25 cents an acre!
The $1 million infusion to the state of Florida allegedly rescued the state from a financial disaster. In January 1881, Disston contracted to drain the area and deepen the Kissimmee River so that the products could be shipped to the Gulf of Mexico and other points. Many steamboat captains sailed the chain of lakes from Kissimmee to the Gulf with loads of cypress wood and sugar cane.
In 1920, Kissimmee's population increased to over 2,700 as a result of Florida's real estate boom. In the 1930s, the cattle industry began to flourish in the area. However, citrus and other crops remained the predominant industry. Construction of Kissimmee Airport in the 1940s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in preparation for U.S. involvement in World War II increased the population of Kissimmee by 38 percent to 3,700 residents.
City leaders wanting to continue Kissimmee's thriving history, encouraged growth by attracting retirees to the area during the 1950s. This effort stimulated growth by nearly 60%. The next period of growth came in the 1970s with the development of Walt Disney World and other tourist attractions. Since Walt Disney World's debut in 1971, the city's population doubled from 7,500 to 15,000 in 1980. The population doubled again in the 1980s to 30,000.
Source: Kissimmee City Hall.