PhotoBike Tour 12: Casselberry and Fern Park

HA! You’re laughing! Casselberry? Fern Park? Isn’t that all about 436 and 17-92, you’re asking? Well yes, in a way; 436 slices through the heart of the old farming communities east of old Winter Park, and 17-92 bisects the old fern nurseries of Fern Park. There IS old to be seen here.

Casselberry only became a city in 1965. It has a very picturesque “old” section centered around the Triplet lakes, and its old unincorporated Fern Park section features a lot of old motels and pre-Disney relics strung along 17-92. Casselberry stretches down to Howell Branch Road, and parts of it are still wild, mere seconds from crazy 436. (Remember that you can click on any picture to make it larger and more complete.)

On Lake Ann Lane, just south of Lake Howell. This is a little known street that leads to the big properties that border the lakes .

Here’s Lake Howell as seen from one of the condominiums that line the lake’s west edge. If I don’t see a guard house, I venture in; I’m fourteen years old and invisible, which is how I get many of these shots. While moseying along today, I got caught in a giant cloud of dryer exhaust coming from the condo’s laundry facility, and smelled nothing but fabric softener for a few minutes. Ecch!

This next shot is up near Semoran Skateway, where I and my little spent many evenings in the past rolling round and round and ROUND at Gay Skate. What exactly is Gay Skate? It’s cruising on little rubber wheels, trying to glide with aplomb without looking too ridiculous. For me, that was mostly impossible because I would go into these spastic convolutions rather than just crash merrily into a rail or onto the floor. And you just don’t do something like that in front of a group of gay people, because you will be socially ostracized for life.

Just past the Skateway is the southern entrance to the Kewanee trail, another rails-to-trails path that threads through Casselberry and into Fern Park. I never knew it was there until I looked at Google Maps one day, and there it was.

Along the Kewanee Trail.

Pausing along the Kewanee Trail, with a culvert managing to look picturesque.

Kewanee Park is in here, situated deep inside the suburban spread. Who knew that this place existed so close to 436? Shirley Jackson would have a field day with this isolated little wetland: “and no one can hear you scream, in the night, in the dark… “

Back to Lake Howell Lane, which branches off east and west from Lake Ann Lane, is this imposing set of gates; I think I know of the people who live here. No bikes allowed! Do you think I need to fill my white basket with yellow jonquils?

No Bikes Allowed.

The eastern end of Lake Howell Lane borders on the western edge of the San Pedro Retreat Center. This is a grazing area for local cows, who tend to move to this part of the property at night. I’m told by a San Pedro employee that it’s creepy hearing the cows lowing in the dark late at night…

PhotoBike Tour 11: Biking to Gabriella and Goldenrod

Yesterday I biked out to the Gabriella area. It’s one of a series of farming communities that lined Aloma Avenue when that road was the site of a railroad that ran from Orlando to Oviedo– the “Dinky Line.” You’ll see signs for Jamestown, Slavia and Goldenrod along the road, but Gabriella (aside from its historical marker) and a tiny place named Bertha are forgotten.  (Click on any picture to enlarge it.)

Two historians, Steve and Gayle Rajtar, have written a number of illustrated books covering   Florida’s history. I must credit the historical walking and driving tours published by them, which supplied some of the information I’ve gathered here.

Marker at Aloma Avenue and Bear Gully Road

From my house it’s a short ride along Howell Branch Road going east into the country toward Dodd Road. If you can mentally block out the sprawling suburbs that have sprouted all over, you can see the underlay of what was once a very rural farming area. When I moved here in 1978 I was struck by how many cows there were just a few minutes away from the intersection of 436 and Howell Branch. Dodd Road even had a dangerous right-hand corner at one point that would, if you decided to drive through the wall of yellow barricades, take you directly into somebody’s living room. Now it’s all been smoothed out and curved, yet you can still find the old road and take your bicycle along it. And there’s only one barricade standing.

The bike path looking east from Gabriella.

As you go north on Dodd, on your left you’ll see a road named Eden Point, which is surrounded by farms. There you’ll see cows as you are hurrying toward your destination. On the right you’ll come to a lane that heads east into some private property, and if you look at an aerial map you’ll notice a clump of forest at the end, with Gabriella Lane appearing on the other side, leading toward Tuscawilla Road and further east. There are no farms along the Lane now; they’ve all been sold off and replaced with giant houses on large acreage.

You’d never think that Tuscawilla Road and Aloma Avenue were once lined with farms and a railroad track, because everything is just about gone. However, if you mentally remove the suburban overlay– all very recent– you will find vestiges of the area’s rural past. Here on Tuscawilla Road, just north of Aloma,  is a piece of property where goats romp. Well… they don’t really romp, but they DO pay attention some idiot with a camera ventures up to their gate and starts taking pictures.


Bordering on the bike path at Tuscawilla is this spot, where once stood the train station for the Bertha farming community.

Site of the Bertha station.

Just west of Tuscawilla Road on Aloma are the remains of a tiny little blue and white church that you may remember driving past up through about 2006. It began life as a school building in 1899 and by the 1980s it became the Morning Start Baptist Church. Its last incarnation was as the Bible Believers Tabernacle, damaged beyond repair by a hurricane in 2004. It was pulled down in 2006.

Remains of the 1899 schoolhouse.

Here’s the Burchard house just off Aloma, now the home of Perfect printing. It was built in 1927 from a pre-fab kit that Sears used to sell in its catalogue, and originally stood at 7421 Aloma; it was moved to this spot in 2000. Imagine ordering a house through a catalog? But people did, and the pieces would arrive and you would put them together and then move in. There are also a couple of Sears catalog houses out in Tildenville, west of Winter Garden.

The Burchard House, 1927.

This tiny place was built in 1927, a pre-fab, and christened the “Wee Hoosier Inn” by Professor and Mrs. Fred Gifford.

The Gifford home, 1927.

This is the Adriatico house, located on Grove Avenue. It fronts a large citrus grove which I don’t think is being cultivated anymore. It was built in 1926 and at one point along the front fence, under a very tall Washingtonia palm, there was a tombstone that read “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” gotten from a cemetery in Jamestown (further northeast on Aloma). I haven’t seen it in a long time. It’s hard to get a full picture of this house because of all the overgrown foliage; even I won’t climb the fence.

Adriatico House, 1926.

Below you’ll see shots of a house that once stood near the corner of Howell Branch Road and 436, just east of the plaza where a lot of people I know used to get their Halloween drag accessories. I took these pictures in about 1992; I think this was the Tuck house; the barn burned down about two weeks after I shot these. When I was photographing the house, a woman came out and made friendly conversation, and then invited me inside. She proudly showed off the stove in her kitchen.

The Tuck House (?), early 1920s.

And here’s the Bower-Dike farmstead on Howell Branch Road, seconds away from schools, major subdivisions and shopping centers. It was possibly built in the 1880s, rented by the Tucks, and then bought by the Dike family in 1926. It originally sat where Signal Pointe Apartments is, at the northwest corner of Howell Branch Road and 436, but was moved to its present location in 1970.

The Bower-Dike home near Tangerine Avenue on Howell Branch Road.

Off Bear Gully Road, as you drive up from Aloma toward Howell Branch Road, you’ll find this undeveloped piece of land facing the lake; this is where I always manage to collect sand spurs on the laces of my sneakers. This was all farming country not very long ago.

On Bear Gully Lake.

Almost back home… I picked up the bike trail and approached the bridge from where a train station used to stand at Forsyth and Aloma.

And the bridge, which I skirted because I didn’t have to cross 436 to get home. A sidewalk off the trail brings you to 436, and then I just biked north, crossed Aloma, and was soon home. I tell you– the traffic was wall-to-wall, and it’s incredible how you can find these rural places without ever hearing a note of traffic. And I’ve never felt stuck out here in the suburbs, because these places are just a few minutes away from home.

The trail crossing 436 at Aloma.

Florida Stuff From My Bulging Files

FLORIDA! In 1978, it was a dream come true for me to move down here, on a lot of levels. I can’t believe that was 33 years ago, and now I’m almost as old as the people I saw driving at a snail’s pace on the highways when I arrived- I first experienced Florida in 1970, as a raw fourteen-year-old, and those memories seem to have seared themselves onto my brain pan.

Enamored with my newly-adopted home, I began collecting things (no surprise to anyone who knows me). Here, for your entertainment, are some odd items from my FLORIDA folder…

NOTE: Click on each picture for a larger, more detailed version.

The Florida Department of Citrus handed out postcards of their product for a few years, and friends of mine handed me a batch of them. I mailed them  to antagonize my family in the frozen tundra of Brooklyn.

Winter Park was where I settled, though I’ve never actually lived within the city limits. My first address was Maitland 32751, in Orange County; my second was Winter park 32792, in Seminole County; and my current is Winter Park 32792, also in Seminole County, though I am actually located within the city limits of Casselberry.

Yes… your social standing all depends on the post office which delivers your mail, which is why I don’t own a dinner jacket.

The fabled Langford Hotel was THE place to be seen in Winter Park at one time– the real Winter Park of 32789 fame. Here, women with beehives and barrel curls would sit at the bar talking with men wearing blue polyester suits. It’s true! Just look at the brochure below. Afterwards, everyone would jump in the pool and sober up, hoping that that string of electric lanterns wouldn’t fall in and suddenly render everyone redundant.

I have  a Winter Park Chamber of Commerce booklet from the 1960s– the telephone exchanges in the ads are all MIdway. Here are a couple of pages describing home life. “There is no snobbishness here, and you are judged not by what you have, but by what you are.”  “Houses are constructed here to conform to the casual, informal mode of living, and range in price from $13,500 to $100,000.”

I was introduced in 1978 to a Mrs. Anna Jillson, an assistant VP at the Barnett Bank on Park Avenue. A very nice lady, she sometimes manned a teller station. One day I brought my visiting grandmother in so that she could cash her social security check. The young teller asked, very condescendingly, ‘ohhh? Does SHE have an account here?’ What?! Excuse me?! In response, I name-dropped: ‘Maybe I should go upstairs and ask Mrs. Jillson to come down and see if SHE can handle this professionally?’  Instead, the teller said nicely to my grandmother, ‘how would you like that, in fifties and twenties?’

I eventually traveled further afield, sometimes taking the bus to visit relatives in Sarasota. (I still have the ticket stubs.) This spread in SEE Sarasota, a magazine I treasured from when I first visited the state in 1970, gives the impression that Sarasota was home to women in beehives and barrel curls, barmaids from California, and underground films. I wanted to see underground films, desperately, but what I mostly did with my relatives was play miniature golf and eat pizza.

We went fishing one time in Sarasota (1970), casting off from a place called Uncle Bob’s Fishing Place, “where fishermen meet.” I helped push the boat into the water, and even baited my own hooks– with nicely comatose shrimp one day, and maniacally wriggling shrimp the next day. And I’ll never forget a little black girl asking for some ice at the marina. When she walked away, the middle-aged white man who gave her the ice referred to her with a racial slur that I thought you only heard in movies about the Klan. Boy was I shocked! If I knew then what I know now, I would have asked him: ‘What exactly do you mean by “where fisherman meet.” ‘

Have you ever heard of Xanadu? It was a futuristic house built on a plot of land on Highway 192 going through Kissimmee. It promised all sorts of delights– ‘experience 2001 technology today!’– but it failed to deliver. The place was hot and stuffy; the Robutler stood dusty and broken in a corner, and the bathroom ‘with its waterfall and spa and solar sauna’ wasn’t anything to write home about; in fact, I never did. ‘Every room reveals a futuristic surprise,’ the brochure promised– yes, it was very surprising that each room looked like 1955’s idea of the future. That sculptural tree was supposed to keep the interior climate-controlled, but when you got to the top floor you broke out in a sweat and stopped breathing. And the clerk in the gift shop could NOT have been more bored!

When I got my car, I drove up to Deland and happened to take this photo just before the sky yawned and poured all over me and my camera… and now that I think of it, I know an Igou family.

Citrus crate labels are colorful and beautiful; you can get a lot of nice ones at the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation museums. And the Battaglia family owned a big house on Palmer Avenue in Winter Park.

Time flew… soon it was time for Disney to expand…

I still enjoy going to Epcot. It’s Xanadu in a way, but they do update it every once in a while. I wish they’d get more countries, though.

And here is a map of Orlando from before Interstate 4 was built through the city, which permanently ruined it when it bisected it into eastern and western halves.

And, finally, a page from The Orlando Sentinel, 1965…

I hope you’ve enjoyed your little foray into my filing cabinet. Now I’ve got to put all this stuff back…

A Trip to Sanford, Florida

YOU ARE WHERE?  The orange-colored county is Seminole, Florida’s fourth smallest. There are an awful lot of us jammed in here– just over 400,000 souls– but there are a lot of green areas where they won’t be building any subdivisions any time soon. We live in the little corner of Seminole County just east of unincorporated Goldenrod, and just south of a little bit of Maitland; if I drive ten seconds south on 436, I’m already in Orange County (yellow). Sanford is located on the south shore of the large lake at the top of the map, which is Lake Monroe.

I go up every week or so to the town of Sanford, the county seat, for a Latin service. No, it doesn’t involve my dancing around in a toreador outfit with a hat trimmed in ball fringe and clutching a rose in my teeth; it’s the 1962 pre-Vatican II Latin Mass which still survives in the hearts of cranks like myself. I sang it in choir for almost five years, and I tried to quit once, but Sister  Mary Saint Claire wouldn’t let me. “You don’t want to grow up to be a quitter,” she said. “So I won’t let you quit.” I like to think that she forced me to stay in choir because my voice rivaled Julie Andrews’, but that’s probably not the case: I was cute then, and looked good in group photos.

Sanford is an old river town that’s never quite been totally gentrified to yuppie extremes, but you’ll still find a lot of big, dignified houses downtown. You’ll see many of them on Park Avenue. There are a lot of houses that look like this one:

When you see a house like that, you’re inspired to paint, write, take long walks through the quiet streets, or find a porch and do some reading. There’s a calm that lays over the residential areas.

Look at that upstairs gallery– there’s a bench where you can take a nap– an excellent suggestion!

And look at this place below; it’s being rehabbed even as I type. I hope they’re going to get rid of that second floor room that’s strapped onto the columns because that Greek revival portico needs to be free and clear.

A friend of mine lived in this next little house; she was one of the first people I knew who moved up there to fix up a place. It looks very different from the way she had it, which was much closer to the original plan.

And look at this beautiful gem:

The following are various shots from the downtown business district, now a collection of antiques shops, boutiques, etc. What struck me about the antiques shops? Twenty years ago I would have obsessed about buying Fiesta, Depression glass, Hull pottery, and refrigerator ware. Now I’m like let somebody else buy it. It’s amazing how free of collecting and accumulating I’ve become. How liberating… but how bad I am for downtown Sanford’s business model.

This is a side view of the 1887 Pico Building… and it’s for sale! It says that it’s available for office space, but I picture a lot of artists living in here; the light hitting the windows seems perfect. Offices, schmoffices… we need more artists.

Here’s the back door to the Masonic Temple. Doesn’t an unassuming little door like that make you want to go inside? I know I want to, and I don’t believe half the things that go on inside Masonic temples. Sssshhh… you’re not supposed to tell.

And on the side of the building is this parking space sign:

I was tempted to move my car into that  spot. After all, I can be masterful and I’m certainly worshiped on occasion, but I didn’t want to risk getting a ticket, or being towed. Who knows what troubles I would encounter! I’ve seen all those movies about southern judges, and I know all the lyrics to The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, so I kept my car where it was.

And here are some stained glass windows that have been restored and placed back inside All Souls, bit by bit. At the end of Sunday mass, everybody sings Holy God We Praise Thy Name,  a cappella, which means that the sixty congregants are singing in eighteen different keys. Some would call that charming; I call it Purgatory.

I think this was a good introduction to Sanford. Now that I am once again in possession of a camera, I think the next thing to do is drive up there and then get on the bicycle and do some further exploring. It’s the sort of little town that has something interesting lurking around every corner and down every shady lane.