From Cattlefeed to Cashmere

100 Years of Business in Winter Park

Reprinted with permission from The Winter Park Historical Association
 
The first time entrepreneur Loring Chase visited the tiny Central Florida town known as Osceola, surrounded by beautiful pine forests and lakes, in 1881, he envisioned this park-like land could be home to the many wealthy Northerners wishing to spend their winters in Florida. With his partner, Oliver E. Chapman, Chase soon set out to create a planned community called Winter Park on their 600 acres. Their task was simplified by the presence of the railroad that ran from Jacksonville to Orlando. The tracks made a perfect eastern bend into Winter Park, perhaps to accommodate the sawmills that existed prior to Chase and Chapman’s arrival. So the means were already there to bring all those Northerners escaping the cold winters to this new Florida paradise. Equally important, it also brought the town builders, the craftsmen, laborers, servants and clerks.
 

Chase and Chapman drew up the plans for the new city and invited interested parties to visit and purchase plots. The two men designed a town around the lakes that embraced homes, hotels, churches, schools and businesses. The train depot was the first official building of the new town. The city plans included an area on the town’s west side known as Hannibal Square, as a home for African Americans with deliberately planned commercial, church and school areas for its residents. In 1885 the Winter Park Company was founded; Frances B. Knowles and Frederick W. Lyman, two of the many wealthy philanthropists that the area attracted, were among its officers- it is still a thriving business. The town was chartered in 1887 and had its first elected government. Ever a civic-minded group they created the Winter Park Improvement Association. Its mission: to plant trees, keep the sidewalk in repair, fix up parks and encourage sociability.
 

 
After residents and workers, a community required accommodations and the Rogers House opened April 7, 1882, with Chase and Chapman and their families as the first registered guests. By New Year’s day 1886, the Seminole Hotel was open with 208 rooms, steam heat and an electric plant! Culture and education were also important and the founding of Rollins College in 1885 supplied those necessities and increased the status of the little resort town. “Town and Gown” would be an important theme in Winter Park life. Additionally, Rollins was the impetus for another business boom in housing and student amenities.
 

Knowing that the new residents and workers needed businesses to shop at and a postal service, Chase and Chapman offered the best plot of commercial land to ”…a first class man who will open a first class store and a post office.” As a result, by 1885, John R. Ergood had a thriving general merchandise business and even included the items appealing to the well off. “John R. Ergood is busy putting a wide stairway from his store room into Old Town Hall. He has put a nice line of furniture up there, and can come about as near fitting out a house completely as anybody in South Florida.” The ORANGE COUNTY REPORTER, in January of 1886 wrote that Winter Park had “nearly all the conveniences and appliances of a city, all prospering and doing well.” In 1888 were tallied: nine physicians, two brass bands, a street car, several sawmills and planning mills, good livery, THE LOCHMEDE (newspaper), 10 stores, including a meat market that “carries Chicago beef’, dairy and poultry farms and three ice factories close by. Within seven years of first setting eyes on Osceola, Loring Chase and Oliver Chapman built a full-equipped town with shell on the downtown walkways and a calaboose! (Built for $500.) Maybe too much progress.
 
1889 was a banner year! Winter Park’s second newspaper, THE ADVOCATE, debuted. The newspaper was an incredible venture as it was published and printed by Hannibal Square African American businessmen! For several years it served the entire community. I.W. Williams, opened a grocery and dry goods store in Hannibal Square.
 

In 1911, the Bank of Winter Park was established, along with the Galloway Telephone Company and James E. Harper opened the town’s first plumbing store on Park Avenue. These were all required to support the growing citrus industry.
 
Charles H. Morse contributed to the community’s outdoor recreation through his donation of land for our beautiful Central Park and for the 3-hole golf course. In 1922 the 9-hole Aloma Golf Course joined the Morse one.
 
The downtown has gone through many changes. In 1950 The Henkel Block, built in 1886, was tom down to make room for the Florida Bank and trust Company. The “Baby Grand” became the Colony and is now the Pottery Barn. So many shops have come and gone that it would be quite a challenge to name them all. Additionally, by the 1970s, shopping expanded to the Winter Park Mall, just a mile and a half from Park Avenue. This too is in a reincarnation mode. The population of the community continues to grow – by 1887 there were 613 winter residents. During the 1920s Boom the population was 6500. The depression caused a drop, but by the end of World War 11, the town was really growing- 1950 the count was 8250! Today the population stands at over 25,000.
 

In less than 100 years Chase and Chapman’s dream of a Winter Park for wealthy northerners grew to something much more: a thriving city with educational and cultural amenities as well as diverse restaurants and shops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rollins College continues to provide entertainment in the Annie Russell Theatre; there are Art Festivals, the Bach Festival, great museums (the Winter Park Historic Museum opened in 1995), exciting art galleries, clothing and gourmet shops. It has also retained its historical flavor: The Hamilton Hotel of the 1920s still stands on Park Avenue, as the Park Plaza Hotel and Taylor’s Pharmacy, founded by William J. Taylor in 1948 is still open on Park Avenue. Miller’s Hardware is still going strong after over 50 years! Truly Winter Park has gone from cattle feed to cashmere in just the blink of an eye.