Mead Botanical Garden announces a new speaker’s series and you’re invited!
The Life Explorers Speaker Series features programs for adults interested in expanding and sharing their knowledge on a variety of environmental and cultural topics. The Life Explorers series will tap the resources of experts from the Central Florida community to serve as speakers for the programs which are offered free of charge.
The initial program of a new speaker’s series got underway November 17th with community leader and noted local historian Rick Baldwin leading the talk on Winter Park’s early years. Sarah Sprinkel and Emily Smith welcomed more than 45 participants to the first in a series of upcoming presentations. With humor, lively anecdotes and interesting historical maps, photos and city plans, Baldwin took the audience on a journey into the city’s past, and helped turn back time to highlight important milestones of Winter Park’s founding.
The factors that make Winter Park desirable today were the very same traits that drew people to the city in the 1800s — good weather, a dependable (rail) transportation system, freshwater lakes, and a workforce available to meet the needs of the new arrivals. As the industrial age boomed in northern cities like Chicago and New York, some of the same problems we are facing today impacted on those living there. Lung disease from air pollution and thick smog from industrial waste forced citizens with means to seek alternative places to live to improve their health and well-being. Winter Park’s clear air and lakeside land, set in a warm and comforting climate, drew visitors here as a respite from the cold, illness-plaqued north. Once here, early city developers sold them on settling more permanently. Over the years the city planners added more and more amenities to entice people to relocate — offering rail service, new hotels, churches, a college, and healthy outdoor activities.
The presentation was filled with names of early developers that are familiar to us today because of the names of our city streets and parks—Mizell, Comstock, Chapman, Chase, Morse, Lyman—to name a few. Baldwin reviewed the city’s early start and highlighted the founding of Rollins College, and the tremendous cultural addition Hugh McKean and Jeanette Genius McKean brought with the development of the Morse Museum and its world renowned Tiffany collection.
Baldwin gave focus to the significance of Hannibal Square, the black community originally established on the west side of town, during the years of Reconstruction and then the era of Jim Crow. The divisions between black and white townspeople were still very prevalent in the “separate but (not so) equal” situation. The Black community’s separate businesses thrived and the Black citizens were a readily available work force for homes and businesses in the growing city within a convenient walking distance.
A well-respected Black leader and publisher of the only area newspaper, Gus Henderson, was responsible for gathering enough members of the west side community together to sign a petition to incorporate Winter Park as a city in 1885. In the city’s first election, two Black alderman were elected, but after Jim Crow laws, the Square was written out of the city until after 1920.
Another less known fact Baldwin shared was that 2 freak hard freezes occurred in 1895 and 1896 that wiped out orange groves and other businesses, and virtually shut down the city for many years. Winter Park had to re-group and was fortunate to have leaders with money and experience in city planning to rebuild and improve the city as it grew to be the gem we have today.
The last portion of the program was devoted to a “Relate” exercise led by moderator Aida Diaz. She guided participants in discussion and sharing exercises designed to help them get to know each other and enhance a sense of community among those attending.
Submitted by Catharine Coward, Nov. 2022