West Orange County History Posts

 

The people! The history! Working out here in West Orange County is a history buff’s dream come true. Here are some pictures that we’ve run recently on the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation Facebook page.

First off, here’s our Historic Marker, which stands at Woodland and Plant streets at the eastern entrance to downtown:

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Going through the archives, we often encounter particularly striking images. Here’s a dramatic view of Lakeview High School. Alumnae, check in with your class year!

 

The history! The people!
While researching an article on Fullers Crossing, the old agricultural community northeast of Winter Garden, we unearthed a newspaper piece about Mrs. Mary Dale. Beginning in 1919, she lived on the property known locally as “Deadman’s Curve,” which is where North Fuller’s Crossroad makes an extreme right turn and becomes East Fullers Crossroad. Before the road was cut through and improved in the late 1920s, which included a wooden bridge spanning a creek, Mrs. Dale said “the only reason people drove up here was to come and see me.” Mrs. Dale is shown second from left in this gathering of ladies honoring Mrs. Phil Peters for the latter’s work at Winter Garden’s First United Methodist Church.
L to R: Margaret (Mrs. Bill Story), Mary (Mrs. Neal) Dale, Laura (Mrs. J. S.) Kirton [long-serving principal of Lakeview High School], (Charman of arrangements), Billy (Mrs. Bob) Davis, Madge (Mrs. Phil C.) Peters, Murphy (Mrs. L.W.) Tilden.

 

 
The Hawthorne Grove care barn fire occurred on August 18, 1975. The building was located off Broad Street behind the former First State Bank on South Dillard St. in Winter Garden, and was rented from H.M. Bowness of Ocoee. The Winter Garden Fire Department was assisted by the Ocoee Fire Department to help quell the flames.
Pictured are Fire Chief Jim Briggs (center) and Mike Spears (second from right). The other firefighters are not identified.

 

 

Welcome back to school from the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation!
The first schoolhouse in Winter Garden was built in the 1890s on the northwest corner of what is now Park Avenue and State Road 50, on land homesteaded by J.W.F. Bray in 1880. Consider yourselves lucky, kids: this school didn’t come with air conditioning!
By 1929, it was a private home lived in by Beulah’s Gillard family. Twenty years later it was moved to the South Tildenville neighborhood, though it no longer stands.

 

State Road 438 through Oakland was once a quiet country byway, and nowadays you might miss this Oakland gem constructed by the Orange Belt Railway company in the late 1880s. It is one of four residences still standing that were built to house company employees. The house, photographed here in 1986, exhibits many of the architectural details characteristic of the Carpenter Gothic style popular at the time. It is known historically as the “Pierson home,” named for Datus L. Pierson (1855-1914), its first owner. He was one of the founders of the South Lake Apopka Citrus Growers Association, the agricultural cooperative whose buildings still stand on Tildenville School Road at the West Orange Trail. Pierson is buried in the Oakland Cemetery, located a half mile west of the house.

 

 

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Winter Park’s Rollins College Greenhouse

Today after breakfast at the new branch of First Watch on Aloma Avenue, we went with our buddies Alan and Mark to visit the greenhouse at Rollins College; it was a nice antidote to all the yelling I’ve been doing this week thanks to the imminent destruction of the pioneer Capen House.

Alan is the greenhouse manager, and this morning he gave us a tour.  According to the Rollins website, The Susan O. and Frederick A. Hauck Botanical Research Center, or what is commonly referred to as “The Greenhouse,” is conveniently located next to the Alfond Boathouse on the shores of beautiful Lake Virginia. The Greenhouse opened on October 20, 1983, to facilitate student and faculty research, provide plant material for study and to permanently house a diverse collection of plant species, some of which are indigenous to Florida. During the Summer of 1998, a student designed and installed a butterfly garden. A book which describes each plant in the butterfly garden in detail is available to the public as a reference during normal hours.

It was very warm inside, what with all this weather we’ve been having, but I managed to photograph some of the inmates before the camera’s lens fogged over.

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This is a chenille plant, though I first knew it as “Love Lies Bleeding” when I planted seeds years ago. “Love Lies Bleeding” sounds like the name of one of those bodice-ripper romance novels featuring Fabio on the cover. 

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I’d ask to live in here if it was air-conditioned, but then I would survive and most of the plants wouldn’t. Besides, there might be bugs. I can imagine waking up at night and, in a panic, breaking through the glass panes because I discovered that I was covered with ants. It’s very nice inside, steamy and tropical and there are hundreds and hundreds of unusual plants growing and blooming. 

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A geranium and a blood lily.

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Pitcher plants. These things are big, over six inches long in some cases, and have been known to entice and digest things like mice. 

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Beautiful orchids, here and below…

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Ropy donkey tail, a sedum.

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A nut from a cacao tree. Inside there is Swiss chocolate!

I also took some video of Alan demonstrating how the Venus Fly Traps work, but they are .avi files and won’t upload on WordPress unless I buy an upgrade. 

And there’s so much to see on the college grounds. Pinehurst Cottage, erected in 1886, is a showplace. It was one of the school’s original two buildings.

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And the chapel…

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It’s a beautiful spot for a school, nestled along Lake Virginia. It deserves a trip back, by bicycle.

Bulldozing Winter Park

CAPENThe Capen House, Winter Park, Florida. Photo by George Skene of The Orlando Sentinel.

The world is a volatile place: turn on NPR on the way to work and you might find yourself in a righteous rage by the time you set foot in the office. The human species, in reaction, tries to create places of refuge which will enable us to isolate ourselves from the outside fray, even if for just a few hours.

Winter Park is one of those places. Planned as a leafy retreat from cold, northern winters in the 19th. century, it’s always held a special cachet in the hearts of people who dream about living as ideally as possible. Though we all know that bad things lurk behind the front doors of our homes, and perfection is impossible, we still strive for utopia and we build with that in mind. On so many levels, our homes reflect the people we wish to be.

Winter Park was lucky in that its original settlers and earliest families built homes that truly reflected their idea of living beautifully. They decorated the landscape with representations of architecture from various periods, some practical, some fanciful, but so many of them memorable.

And so many: gone.

RussellAnnie Russell house in Winter Park. Gone.

I realize that, with no historic district in place, a house can still be marked notable… and still liable to being razed.

I realize that people can do what they want with their property, and can build what they want, and can tear down what they don’t like. This is America and, when a house is not on a protected list, it goes extinct.

I understand all that.

What I don’t understand is why people would move to a town because of its historic charm, and then proceed to obliterate one of the things that drew them to that town in the first place. It’s almost sacrilegious.

Sometimes, good things happen. Remember Casa Feliz, the beautiful home in Winter Park that was purchased and then threatened with demolition by its new owner? He was going to build a new house on the lot; apparently, the last I heard, he never did. The community got angry, however, and pitched in to have Casa Feliz moved slightly west, on the golf course… and it’s now a valuable, cherished part of Winter Park. It’s a piece of the past functioning as a vital part of the present-  ergo, the future.

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Oneonta Lodge, Winter Park. Gone.

I work in historic preservation out in west Orange County. My office is in a railroad shed that was built in about 1915, and what we do is collect family history, documents, photographs, and the like. We are well past halfway in our capital campaign to have a NEW preservation facility built; however, the old building will remain part of an expanded Central Florida Railroad Museum.

EdgewaterThe Edgewater Hotel. Three restaurants, shops… and history.

That’s the way they do things in Winter Garden. When the brick buildings that you see were built between 1912 and 1930, they were built mainly to replace rows of wooden businesses that had disappeared during the fires of 1909 and 1912. Winter Garden built their new edifices to last, and they still stand proudly– and are all occupied and put to good use. They stand next to the 1927 Edgewater Hotel, the 1934 Garden Theatre, and so much more.

Winter Garden couldn’t afford to tear everything down and build spanking new modern edifices in the 70s and 80s like so many other towns. The pollution of Lake Apopka, the decimation of the orange industry due to freezes, the shutting down of the railroads, and the construction of highways around the little city all conspired to keep the area overwhelmingly unable to dynamite the old and build the new. Granted, some unforgettable, iconic structures bit the dust, but early efforts by concerned townspeople led to the creation of organizations dedicated to the preservation of a world from the past; a world that continues to spin. People riding through Winter Garden, Oakland and Tildenville on the West Orange Trail are amazed at what the area looks like today.

The past is palp[able in Winter Garden– it’s appreciated, nurtured, catered to, and loved. Since I work out there but live in Winter Park, I get to see the latter city often, and I’m always dismayed at what I see happening in the name of progress where I live. It makes no sense, this bulldozing of what attracted people here. Why kill the reason why you came here?

But, it’s happening. And it will continue to happen. So many people want to live in Winter Park, but they want it to look like Palm Beach. (Notice the tall hedges now obscuring many previously-visible houses?)

Winter Park, with all its resources, should be ashamed of itself. And I wonder if there’s a corner in their history museum that keeps track of what continues to disappear? I’m almost afraid to find out.

Many of the iconic old homes still stand, documented in a booklet I have called “Historic Winter Park– A Driving Tour,” published by the Junior League in 1980. I just hope this little treasure doesn’t end up becoming nothing more than a book of memories.

IKEA MADNESS: Comfort Food and… Comforters

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So, in the mail this past week arrived a brochure from IKEA promising comforters, Weight 3, any size… for $14.99, starting this morning at 10am.

$14.99!

Now, people who know me know that we’re not into possessions; we are the world’s worst consumers. When President Obama has to have an economy conference, we are not included in the equation. We just don’t buy stuff; in fact, we give away stuff, and I won’t be happy until the house is empty of things we never use anymore.

But a $14.99 comforter… everyone needs one of these, so we decided to buy two– only two to a customer, please!– and divide them between the two beds. But wait! Knowing that my sister Lois sniffs out bargains like bloodhounds sniff out dead bodies, I called her and told her about this once-in-a-lifetime offer, and of course she wanted one. “And couldja look for two shams too while you’re at it?” Certainly! So now we were up to THREE comforters, and decided to make it an even four– only two to a customer, please, so why not?

The Orlando IKEA opens at 10, and we decided that we’d better get there in case there was a huge rush. HA! A huge rush for comforters in Florida, the Sunshine State? But, you never know, so we checked the catalog to make sure the store really DID open at 10, and then discovered that they let the breakfast crowd in at 9:30. My God, this could turn out to practically be a holiday of international proportions!!

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I was awakened from a dream I was having (involving two parish priests and an outdoor Mass, with one of them asking if I was going to be attending, and ended with me lying and answering “Yes”) and given coffee, and, before I knew it, was in the car on the interstate heading to the Millennia Mall exit. We giddily planned on being there early, and so we parked and discovered that we were actually first in line when we arrived at 9:10. First! That’s never happened, and you could see the envy in the eyes of the other shoppers who arrived very soon after we did as they lined up Swedishly behind us. We wondered: could these people suddenly streaming out of their cars ALL be wanting $14.99 comforters? They came as if to Lourdes, afoot or with walkers, on crutches, in wheelchairs… and, just in case you’re wondering, the less ambulatory did not automatically move to the head of the line, which was us: this wasn’t Disney, after all– this was, essentially, Sweden, where everyone is equal. Just ask the King and Queen!

At one point I remarked that it seemed like we were all waiting anxiously in line to see the premiere of the newest Joan Crawford movie.

Because we have lived here for decades, we did meet someone we knew– a tall, nice-looking guy named Patrick who is always so bashfully polite and friendly that we let him stand with us. Guess what he was going to buy? Comforters! And it was a good thing that we met him– Patrick told us that to get FREE COFFEE and be eligible for the incredible discount on comforters, we would have to be Ikea Family members. If not, we could quickly register at a kiosk inside the store. WHAT?!?! We weren’t IKEA Family members!! How did we do that?! And would that result in a delay?! Suppose somebody got ahead of us!!

At 9:30 sharp (this WAS Sweden, after all) the doors opened and we streamed in politely to have breakfast, the two of us stopping to ask the greeter where the comforters were– and everyone stopped in place behind us!!  I almost started singing Kumbaya! The answer was given– they’d be located in the warehouse area– and then patrick deftly pointed out two kiosks to us so that we could register as IKEA Family members. Which we did, though Kirk had a spot of trouble with his terminal, lending me no end of angst, sighs and sweat. The problem was that he had to type in his birth year as 1951, not 51 (sorry, Kirk) but I corrected it and we were on our way. We weren’t first in line anymore, but we queued up in the food area and had a nice discussion with two women (yes, they were there to buy comforters), one of whom ran her hand along my sweater, leading to a detailed discussion about all the different kinds of wool there were in the world.

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We wolfed breakfast, and then some sort of secret signal went off, and we paying  breakfasters advanced to the rope at about 9:50 so that we could be let into the store proper. And that’s when we noticed a giant crowd of people waiting beyond the rope who were there for the 10am opening, but who had to patiently wait while we Paying Breakfasters (except for the coffee) were herded past them.

It was incredible– an IKEA staffer led the hundreds of us to a staircase that reached down to the main floor, and there we were given a speech. He basically told us that:

*     There were enough comforters for everyone.

*     There would be no pushing, shoving or running.

*     We would advance toe the area where the comforters were offered, and we would be handed the size we needed by staffers. There would be no diving into boxes. No jumping ahead. Non issues.

*     Finally, even though the ad said TWO to a customer, we could each buy up to FOUR. Not twenty-five… FOUR. Still, there was mass salivation at that point, which (I think) was a great way of making the crowd feel even MORE disposed toward buying even MORE.

As we waited those final minutes before 10am, we talked with the people around us. We learned from our staffer that comforter COVERS were going to be offered for sale on Monday, and a woman next to us said “great!,” to which I replied “awww, whatta you need covers for?” And she replied: “Men leave stains.” Laughter and commiseration followed, and then I told the story of how my grandmother was waiting outside Gimbel’s sometime in the 1940s for a huge sale, and the crush of women dressed in their winter coats and hats eventually surged too far forward, breaking the store windows. But they let the women in anyway because, after all, a sale is a sale.  (Eugene, was your mother there for that? Because every Brooklyn woman I know was there for that.)

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10am finally ticked, and we were led like hungry sheep to the warehouse area; you could feel the crowd hurrying up as we got closer. Even though we had been instructed to WALK, the people in front were definitely breaking into a trot, causing the rest of us to do so as well. (The Brazilians, I am happy to say, were easily outflanked by the Americans among us who chose to use their splayed elbows as shields.)

And you know? IKEA was true to its word– there were comforters galore, and we all got our allotment. We couldn’t find and shams– I even called Lois from my Jitterbug, in public, which I never do because that phone is big and red and looks like a shoe horn stuck to my face– but we did find a bath mat for the guest bath because the one in there looks like a leaf of tissue paper on the floor.

They must have sold sixty-five thousand comforters this morning, all of us high on breakfast carbs. There was a sort of World’s Fair pleasantry going on, what with people talking and laughing and feeling one another’s sweaters. We were Americans, lined up politely, spending money, improving the economy, and making the President happy. And it was good. And then loaded our comforters and bath mat into the trunk and, drunk with accomplishment, we headed to our next scintillating destination– something we’d been planning for weeks: to Sears Fashion Square for vacuum bags.

(Incidentally, we met at a party on February 16, 1985– 28 years ago exactly, and we call it Meeting Day– and so this is exactly how to celebrate such an auspicious occasion: comforters, bath mats and vacuum bags. I rest my case.)

Sara and Matt’s Traditional Wiccan Wedding on Cocoa Beach

One thing about being Catholic is that we’re not allowed to rag on anyone else’s religion; gone are the days when dire consequences would accompany any religious act not taking place within the hallowed precincts of a Catholic Church. Eating meat on a Friday was bad enough, but attending a Protestant service– and participating!!– was like riding a leaky rubber raft down the river to Perdition City.

Not that most people paid attention to all that, really. Divorce? We divorced. Birth control? Over 90% of the faithful continued using birth control even after Paul VI’s famous veto of the decisions of the majority of the bishops during Vatican II. So there ya go. Wiccans? There weren’t any Wiccan families on my Brooklyn block that I know of, so this was a nice opportunity to partake of yet another religious tradition.

Our friend Sara married her beloved Matthew at a touching Wiccan ceremony out on Cocoa Beach yesterday, and a good time was had by all. Yes, there were some raised eyebrows as well as a tiny bit of amazed tittering during the pronouncements, but eventually everyone got it: it wasn’t about black magic or the devil, and nobody ever mentioned Rosemary’s baby, not even once. The shaman shared words of encouragement and love, had them plight their troths to one another, swept away evil by using a broom while circling the groom and then the bride, and then had them stand on a raised platform where they drank and ate symbolic food. He bound their hands together with a rope and that’s how they exited: linked together with love.

The color theme was black and violet and green, though the bride was in traditional white and the groom was kilted. The colors were carried over into the reception hall at the Tides Club, where bunting draped the utilitarian banisters and floated down from the ceiling in airy arcs. And in that space you had all the wedding traditions as practiced during the late twentieth / early twenty-first centuries.

My Manhattans came in a proper vessel  rather than in the current martini glass that seems to be wrapped around every cocktail of choice these days. I paid, and we got ready to leave, but intrepid Yesun chased me down because she had made a mistake on my tab; I thought I’d been getting a hefty discount (which I’d mentioned when paying) because I’m so charming, but that wasn’t the case.

The whole experience was a wonderful mix of traditions and people, and I even ran into a family of former upstaters (New York) now living in Central Florida. It’s great hearing their reactions to their New Land; even after many years here we still get the occasional urge to smack heads, but by now– at least in my case– it’s a sweeter sort of smacking… fageddaboutit!

Umanhattans in Umatilla with the Girls

I’ve made reference to my friend Becky on this blog site. She’s related to just about everybody in Florida who’s been here forever, and so you have to be real careful what you say to her: there’s a cousin under every bush. We recently went to find one of her ancestors in Geneva, and a couple of weeks ago we set out to find some more– this time in Umatilla.

Umatilla is an ancient Florida town located way up north of Orlando on the fringes of the Ocala National Forest. To get there you find 441 through Apopka, and then avail yourself of the Eustis By-Pass. That sounds rather like open heart surgery, doesn’t it? But I love Eustis; the By-Pass actually takes you thorough some beautiful farm country. After bypassing Eustis in a nice way, you get on 44A and then 19 north to Umatilla.

Now, Becky had told us that there were plantation houses in her family, but we weren’t quite prepared for The Palms… you can just about hear Melanie Wilkes opening the back doors onto the porch at Twelve Oaks and saying “I love it as more than a house… it’s a whole world that just wants to be graceful and beautiful.” And then Ashley takes her in his arms and kisses her in a cinematic moment of innocence and foreshadowing. Smash cut to Scarlett sitting under a tree surrounded by a dozen randy bloods: “I’m glad I sat here instead of at a table… a girl’s got only two sides at a table!”

The lady of the house, Becky’s Cousin Sister, is just as gracious and beautiful as the home she lives in. That day she was getting ready to root for the Gators on TV with her friend Dixie, both of them proudly wearing the orange and the blue. Sister let us roam up and down the two stories, poking into rooms and basking in the sheer simple beauty of The Palms.

Yes, I go into people’s homes and photograph their mixers. Someday the Umatilla Historical Society is going to be wanting a photo of this!

In the neighborhood of this fabulous house, which is situated downtown, you’ll find this old Methodist church, now occupied by another sect. You see it pictured in just about any historic treatise dedicated to Umatilla, and it was built in 1922. Methodist churches are always so solidly-built, as they plan on sticking around for a very long time.

Later we drove north to the family camp on Lake Beakman, which is quite a distance away. We drove through Altoona and Pittman, Linda and I glancing at one another in the car as the sky darkened. On either side of us, nothing but banks of trees and green isolation… … and then Sister says something to us like “there are still plenty of people living in these woods.” Which immediately brings to mind every horror movie you’ve ever seen. But, we were well taken care of. We weren’t dragged from the car by triple third cousins intent on introducing us to the rest of the family.

Beautiful Lake Beakman.

There’s a wonderful little restaurant called the Blackwater Inn on the St. John’s River just east of the camp, in Astor, just below Lake George. (Daytona Beach was due east as the crow flies.) We watched a rain shower sweep toward the big glass windows and had a couple of drinks to top off the ones we’d had earlier at The Tavern in Umatilla, which was another type of place entirely.

The Tavern has a sign on its front door imploring  bikers to refrain from displaying their colors while inside the joint. That was our first reminder that we weren’t in Kansas anymore. The second reminder was a karaoke set-up, thankfully shut down for daytime or I would have been up there crooning, after my two “Manhattans,” everything that Tammy Wynette ever recorded. And she’s a girl.

Our little boy is four years old and quite a little man
So we spell out the words we don’t want him to understand
Like T.O.Y or maybe S.U.R.P.R.I.S.E
But the words we’re hiding from him now
Tear the heart right out of me.

Our D.I.V.O.R.C.E becomes final today
Me and little J.O.E will be goin’ away
I love you both and it will be pure H.E double L for me
Oh, I wish that we could stop this D.I.V.O.R.C.E.

Watch him smile, he thinks it Christmas
Or his 5th Birthay
And he thinks C.U.S.O.T.D.Y spells fun or play
I spell out all the hurtin’ words
And turn my head when I speak
‘Cause I can’t spell a way this hurt
That’s drippin’ down my cheek.

Our D.I.V.O.R.C.E becomes final today
Me and little J.O.E will be goin’ away
I love you both and it will be pure H.E double L for me
Oh, I wish that we could stop this D.I.V.O.R.C.E.

Right? Even before the first refrain, I would have been tied to a motorcycle muffler and given an involuntary tour of Umatilla– from the ground up– past the car parts emporium and the Collins Building that’s being restored, around the square, and finally deposited in the parking lot of the feed store.

Let me tell you about those Manhattans. First, let me begin by saying that I and my friends are in no way elitist; we love everyone and treat everyone according to our political and societal mores. That said, our waitress at The Tavern– smiling, big-hearted, friendly– came to take our drink orders. A Maker’s Mark Manhattan straight up for me and Becky, and a Ketel One Martini (very dry) for Linda, with a twist. I tell you, the friendly light blinked out in our server’s  eyes, replaced by a haze of unknowing, but she brought our drink orders to the bar and started to make them with much clattering, fizzing, and ice picking. She hollered over to us at one point and asked which kind of glasses we wanted, and we chose martini glasses. But.

Time passed. The other waitress finally stopped by and whispered conspiratorily that SHE would be making our drinks: what were they again? Becky and I eventually got our Manhattans: straight up bourbon on the rocks, with lemon slices and straws; no vermouth; no cherry. Linda’s turned out to be just vodka on the rocks, with lemon. Was there a straw? I have no recollection.

And we ordered another round, with nary a complaint. Why complain? The cycles and the chains were parked just a few yards away, their owners seated mere feet from our cynical backs.

Through a Manhattan glass… darkly.

… and we tipped very well.

A Drive to Bradenton and Ellenton: Botanical Gardens, Castles, Mansions, Ruins, and Pottery

Today we made like Mother Cabrini and went not to the east, but to the west. Kirk had some time off and so we headed to the balmy west coast of Florida to gaze upon flowers, friends, squeezins, and mansions. And decayed castles, which was the main draw for me. Okay, the REAL main event was visiting Evelyn and her husband Brian (she and Kirk went to massage therapy school together), but you know me: “decayed castle” perked my radar and there we scurried.

Above is the entrance at the Palma Sola Botanical Park, which we had completely to ourselves the whole time we were there. (Office Closed Until August 7th. No brochures. No map. No polite answers to our exorbitant questions.) We roamed and roamed in the intense heat– it was like an oven, but it’s August in Florida and so there you have it. The park boasts of the fact that many of its specimens simply won’t grow inland.

There’s a section here planted with exotic fruit trees, so you can see where all those weird-looking things at the Spanish supermarket come from.

We behaved, even though my mother wasn’t around to say “don’t touch anything! You could get a rash!”

And this lovely thing crashed to the ground from a tall palm tree A SECOND after Kirk moved out of its range. A SECOND! Imagine having to visit the emergency room at manatee Memorial Hospital with this thing in tow? Incidentally, we didn’t see any signs warning us of falling frond sheaths… I think we’ll build the house over by the inlet.

I sat and stared at this duck for a good ten minutes, and he stared back at me. I felt a bit guilty– my lovebird’s first commandment is “I am the Lord thy bird– thou shalt have no strange ducks before me.”

Some shots of the striking and beautifully maintained landscape here, mostly photographed by Kirk:

This area of Bradenton is generally referred to as Palma Sola; the name alone makes you relax. It’s just north of state route 64, which leads you west across the bay and eventually to Anna Maria Island. Here you can make a right and go through the sleepy beach towns of Holmes Beach and Anna Maria on the island which juts northwest into the Gulf. Of course, “sleepy” is relative; there is much development and plenty of Chrysler Imperial Crown Victorias prowling the little streets at ten miles per hour, but at least you get to stare at everybody’s front yards.

We had a late lunch at the apparently incredibly popular Sandbar, which has both valet and lot parking scattered all over the place, but it was very relaxing indoors. I always love looking at people at the surrounding tables, and beach restaurants always seem to attract people who would normally seem more at home in offices: the men look uncomfortable in their Lacoste alligator shirts, ironed plaid shorts, and sock-less feet wedged into topsiders, the muu-muued and flip-flopped women more at ease in high heels and red power jackets. I guess they’re slumming! Then there are the three-generation families who, practically naked and covered in sand and salt, sit merrily at giant tables swilling iced tea and causing giant, heaped bowls of fritters and fried calamari to disappear. I love them all.

Here’s the Palma Sola Community Church, nestled within an old cemetery… On the map on the way home I noticed that we had completely bypassed (can you imagine?!) another site– the Fogartyville Cemetery– and so I’ll have to go back one day.

Our next visit was to the Braden Castle ruins, hidden in a manufactured home community that hugs the south shore of the Manatee River. We’d been here years ago, and I recall Kirk muttering “it’s just a pile of coquina” as he sped by, but this time I made him park the car while I circled the site and took a thousand photos. It’s not the friendliest sort of neighborhood: signs surrounding the site warn you to NOT park, so you have to settle the car on a tiny side street. (Everything is tiny in here: the roads, the houses, and– I hope– all the people.)

A display shows a photo of the “Castle” when it was intact.

And here’s its story:

And here’s what it looks like now:

We then left this pile of coquina tabby (a mixture of lime, sand, crushed shells, water, and heartbreak) and headed across the river to Ellenton, where we paused to refresh at the Gamble Mansion, which was built between 1845 and 1850.

There are a couple of plantation devices on the grounds, used to press the juices from corn and sugar cane. When Liz and I were here years ago, we laughed and laughed when we saw the “squeezins” machines. Well, it was beastly hot; the mansion was closed; of coursed we were half hysterical in the heat. This time the mansion was open but we didn’t tour it. Next time!

Our last stop was to Evelyn and Brian’s house nearby; she was a fellow student when Kirk went to school at the Reese Institute of Massage Therapy. Evelyn and Brian ahve a neat little house which they are surrounding with foliage and love, and inside we discovered that she had once worked at a potter’s studio in Massachusetts. (Evelyn is also an accomplished painter.) Here are some of the wares she designed and worked her sgraffito magic on:

And then home toward a blackening sky. As we approached Orlando on I-4, we decided to go north on the 429 and head into Winter Park via the 414 through Maitland, thus avoiding all the storms. Good move! And I noticed some sort of monument at the intersection of I-4 and the 429, which bears investigation… stay tuned!

Deeper Inside West Orange County, Florida: Oakland, Beulah, and “To Kill A Mockingbird” in Winter Garden

This area is caked with history… you should have a slice!

I know what you’re thinking– but I can’t seem to get enough of this area. Something about it’s even tenor matches mine; I feel the same way out in Oakland as I do in Key West. Maybe I was always meant to be a small town kind of guy– Brooklyn is wonderful and all, and I can’t get enough of it when I’m there (when Mom lets me out of the house), but I feel most at home in small towns and rural landscapes. Maybe it comes with age. Maybe there’s a front porch in my future– can you see me sitting there with a pistol hidden under my lap robe, like Mrs. DuBose in “To Kill A Mockingbird?” Who can say? Damn kids running all over the lawn… !

But I digress. I’ve been going out to West Orange County because I’ve become affiliated with the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation, their History Center, and the Central Florida Anthropological Society. They’re all busy cataloguing some of our area’s history via sophisticated computer programs and doing digs on historic properties. It’s amazing what they unearth, and it goads me into further explorations on my own.

I did a leisurely tour a couple of weeks ago, taking photos in places I hadn’t been to in a few years, and revisiting other old favorite spots. I was pleasantly surprised when I drove south on  Daniels Road down to where it meets the 429 at the intersection with county road 435 (Fowler Groves). On the left, backing up to Lake Tilden (there are your Oakland and Tildenville Tildens again) is a horse farm.

The day I’m writing this, I picked up a copy of the West Orange Times and read that the land will be considered in a sale to a hospital that wants to build here in the Fowler Groves area. Don’t mistake me– hospitals are good, though my Inner Utopian wishes otherwise.

Going north on 435 you’ll pass a beautiful old home set back from the road on the right; this is the Hause-Roper house. The Ropers owned a lot of agricultural land in these regions; they helped establish Winter Garden and many of them are buried in the Oakland cemetery. The house was built in 1932 and has orange groves on three sides. It looks like it has a coffeepot warming on the stove all day, with maybe Mr. Cleaver sitting in the breakfast nook reading the day’s newspaper headline: LIZ LEAVES EDDIE FOR DICK.

Going back north from here, towards Highway 50 and the Turnpike, you’ll find Beulah, a tiny settlement (and the home of giant West Orange High School). Driving through here in the 1980s, the surrounding area was pastureland and orange groves: Lakes Beulah, Tilden and Black supplied water for agriculture. And, since there weren’t enough highways in the neighborhood, they added the 429 Western Beltway recently. There’s a reason why they call the intersection of 50, 429 and the Turnpike the “Fruit Loop.” I distinctly remember driving along lonely sand roads which hugged Lake Beulah, but now it’s hugged by houses on three sides. The west side does feature the beautiful and tranquil Beulah Cemetery however; Beulah in the bible means “heavenly Zion.”

Here’s little Beulah Baptist Church, and a cozy old house surrounded by palmettos.

Heading back to Winter Garden you’ll come to Resurrection Catholic Church, a rarity for these parts.

In the chapel, this rather exuberant Madonna and Child keep watch: you wouldn’t want to get tangled up with HER.

One of the linchpins of the resurrected downtown Winter Garden is the History Center, where you can get lost in all the documents and photos they have. I mean, imagine moving to central Florida and never availing yourself of this information? There are people who come here who aren’t even curious. I just don’t understand that; when you move to a new place, the first thing you should do is not check out the malls– you’ll find the same stores back in Ohio and White Plains– but you should read up on the history of the area you’re helping to populate.

The Winter Garden History Center is housed in one of the former train stations. Staff and volunteers help maintain and preserve the collection, and they’re building a brand-new addition and expansion nearby. And their train ephemera and memorabilia collection is incredible!

A couple of beautiful country miles east is the Petris home in Oakland, built in 1885 by the Orange Belt railroad men. It’s one of three homes standing which were constructed by this railroad company. A sign out front reads “The 1879 House” but that could be wrong.  The stone block in front, which was a carriage block, originally began as a tombstone which the original purchaser was dissatisfied with; it was subsequently sold to the man who first lived in this house.

 This yellow house on Tubb Street, the Hartsfield house, was once the Oakland hospital. The Central Florida Archaeological Society did a dig here recently and uncovered lots of artifacts from the town’s past. Back in those days, refuse and broken objects were often buried on site, effectively serving as time capsules. Excavations help show that Oakland was once an industrious, populous town, busy with railroad and agricultural enterprises as well as being a noted social hub for Orange County.

Speer Park is named for one of the town’s earliest settlers, James Gamble Speer. (You can read about the Speer family’s unfortunate burial circumstances here.) This man was incredible, not only having provided much of Oakland’s history, but Orlando’s as well.

One of THE most peaceful spots in Florida can be found right here at the northernmost end of Tubb Street (which stretches from Lake Apopka south to Johns Lake.) Yes, there are alligators here, so you are encouraged not to swim, but you can rest on the dock’s benches and not hear a sound for hours. Hard to believe there used to be a band pavilion here, back when Oakland was hopping; you can still see the concrete posts in the water.

I thought to myself: what would happen if I tapped my foot lightly on the dock? And this guy showed up a minute later…

This is the Hovsepian home, “The House of Three Mayors.” I need to find out exactly which mayors, who and when. The house faces Tubb Street but has been joined, I believe, to at least one other house around the corner on Speer Avenue– it’s huge.

This day I also planned on exploring the older of the two black cemeteries in town; there’s the historically white one at Walker Street and Sadler Avenue, and the black cemetery that you see on Highway 50 just outside the southwestern corner of Oakland… but I only recently became aware of an even older black cemetery, forgotten until it was rediscovered by highway planners when the Turnpike was being configured. I had no idea where it was, only that it was near the black cemetery that you see from the road, so I parked there and began to walk into the brush. Three people were in the cemetery a few yards east of me, and a woman called out and asked if I needed help. I explained my mission, and it turned out that she was in charge of the Oakland-Tildenville Cemetery, Inc., and would be happy to escort me to the older cemetery. What a stroke of luck! The four of us (the two women in dresses) plowed through the high grass and weeds, traffic on Highway 50 whizzing by closely, and then we disappeared into the woods. I was thinking about ticks, deer flies, rattlesnakes, bobcats, panthers, bears, ants, wasps, hornets and poison ivy, but all the while jabbering a mile a minute with Sharon about the cemetery. On we pressed… stumps, spider webs, fallen trees… on and on we walked, and I’m thinking thank GOD I wore long pants and socks that day. Soon we came into a low area, actually a wide, shallow sinkhole surrounded by a high chain link fence with a locked gate, and we were there. Sharon spun the tumblers on the combination lock and we went inside. I tell you, it’s incredible– here’s an old burial ground that very, very few people even know about, considering its location between two busy roads. We walked and walked, very carefully, because there are many red flag indicators planted in the  ground: a crew from UCF has gone in here and identified many of the plots, though most of the stones and markers are gone. Also, due to varying family circumstances, many graves are marked only with metal signs or even faded paper cards.

Come along with me… 

From the frying pan and into the fire: we still had a ways to walk after entering the woods from the high grass…

Believe it or not, you are looking at a cemetery, complete with many markers…

A very old marker made with seashells, a tradition which reminds many families of their coastal origins.

There’s a Herriot Avenue in the traditionally African-American “Quarters” in Oakland.

The next day we were back in the area with Darlyn and Brad, this time to see To Kill A Mockingbird at the restored movie theatre in Winter Garden.

The stone benches in the center of town are constructed to look like citrus crates, complete with reproductions of original labels. Here’s Grace, the doyenne of Edgegrove, the Mather-Smith estate in Oakland.

We had dinner at a restaurant inside the Edgewater Hotel…

This was taken inside the theatre…

It was wonderful seeing To Kill A Mockingbird on the big screen; Gregory Peck never looks so good as when he’s towering over an audience. And you see details which you miss when watching the film at home. Incredible. And what an audience! It was composed of all ages, and everyone was quiet, polite, respectful, and attentive. Nobody was playing Tetris or Angry Birds!

I hope you’ll get out to West Orange County one of these days… you’ll come away with a broader sense of the history of the region, something that California-based Disney just wouldn’t understand.

More History / PhotoBike Tours and blogs:

PhotoBike Tour 16: Oakland and West Orange County, Florida

Where’s Grandma? (Not in the Osceola Vault.)

PhotoBike Tour 9: Biking the West Orange Trail

Where’s Grandma? (Not in the Osceola Vault.)

Me, inside the Osceola vault.

I used to work at the bookstore with a crazy lady named Becky. She’s a Florida native and has cousins around every corner, and she recently wrote a book about Umatilla for Arcadia Press describing the history of the small Lake County community, much of which was perpetrated by her extensive family. She reads my blogs and got in touch with me last week after reading my latest Oakland blog, and suggested a trip up to Geneva, a very small town in northern Seminole County.

“I want to find my great great great grandmother in the Geneva cemetery,” she said.

“Well, that should be easy,” I said. “She can’t have wandered very far.”

Her name was Mary Ann Higginbotham Hart, and she was born in 1817 and died in 1906. Our goal was to find the lady’s final resting place and then go looking for the Osceola vault– a bank vault used by the vanished timber mill town of Osceola to store money and valuables. I had read about it and seen it on Google Earth, and realized that I’d driven right past it months ago without noticing because a guy wearing sunglasses and a tractor waved at me as I rounded that corner on my way to finding the end of lonely East Osceola Road.

Like myself, Becky is game for getting into possibly precarious situations; also like me, she has a positive attitude guaranteed to get her out of tight places. Today, the two Pollyannas (one somewhat bald and hard of hearing, one talking in a loud twang) set out on a jaunt.

The Geneva area is country. You’ll see lots of indications that the natives respect Republicans, the Baptist faith, and fried pork rinds. (You usually find them all in one place, like a church cellar.)

A Geneva farmstead.

After a few well-marked turns, we found cemetery Road, which took us directly east into the Geneva Cemetery. It’s certainly a colorful and interesting cemetery, decorated in spots as if the surviving families were expecting the circus to pull into town any minute, but it’s actually a happy place. You won’t be set upon by officious yuppie women in blue suits wielding sharp clipboards, yelling because you placed red, white and blue plastic carnations into a vase. Here, it seems like anything goes:

We wandered up and down the rows looking for Mary Ann, occasionally calling out to one another across the rural stillness. Sometimes we’d confer with Becky’s phone, calling up the Internet for clues as to where she was located. There were plenty of Harts and Prevatts and Raulersons, all intricately connected (like I said, Becky has cousins all over the place, including underfoot)… but no Mary Ann.

Though it was well before noon, it was very warm, and soon a bank of fluffy gray clouds rained on us, considerably cooling things off. Was Mary Ann encouraging us to keep looking? Who can say? I finally decided that we should split up and each take half of the small cemetery, conscientiously reading tombstones until we found her, by golly! And we marched to the front (we’d started in back) and, sure enough, Becky found her even before we started looking hard, located right along the main road coming in. Yay! There was Becky’s great-great-great grandmother. Becky felt a keen sense of connection, and an ever more acute tie to the past, something which all native Southerners live for. never mind about the present– they dream they dwell in marble halls.

And now it was time to find the Osceola vault. Now, I knew what it looked like from online photos, but still: I had to see it for myself. This was ancient (for Florida) history, just laying out on a road somewhere for all to see.

We passed the Geneva Methodist church on our way out of town, which I wanted to enter but, as a snakeskin-booted young man informed me, services were being held: I could hear the preacher hollering inside.

Along the road heading into the country is a historical marker telling about King Philipstown:

Personally, I love the line “the Indians were repulsed… ” Though they mean “vanquished,” I like to think it meant that the Indians were repulsed by the awful things the white settlers were doing when they arrived. This marker is located at the entrance to a trail which we walked down for a minute or so: absolutely stunning.

Just a little bit further down the road we found… the Osceola vault! This is the only surviving relic of the old mill town of Osceola, which flourished from 1916 to 1940. (I read historical markers, or else I would be hopelessly confused.) The timber company’s valuable assets were stored here, well away from the “town” which was located a few miles south next to Geneva.

Of course I had to climb INTO the vault, but had to cross those weeds that you see. Now I understand why the English all carry walking sticks, which must be hell on the London subways, but I can see where they would come in handy in a place like this. I pressed on, flattening weeds and expecting snakes, spiders, and assorted vermin to leap at me, but nothing happened.

There’s no money inside the vault anymore– only what money can buy:

Above the entryway, which I noticed when I was well inside, were these clumps of web looking disturbingly occupied. I had to pass beneath them, naturally, to get back outside into the safety of the weeds…

At this point any normal people who have had their fill and started home, but I’d mentioned that I’d gone as far as I thought I could along East Osceola Road that last time, and of course Becky suggested that we go and see if it went further; according to the map, the road curved north, then west, and then possibly south to Highway 46 out of Sanford. We had to go and see.

A link to the Geneva Wilderness Area. 

Here’s what the smooth black top turned to soon after the Osceola vault:

Yes, there’s room for one vehicle; SOMEONE would have the right of way if two vehicles met, and we had a feeling it would be one of the natives.

We were charmed by a road called Gator Growl, and here’s what was almost at the end of it: the St. John’s River. (A vehicle met us face to face, but he turned off into a sideway and we pressed on.)

Somewhere along here was a sign that said “Residents Only” to anyone, mainly us, desiring to go further. If any patrol car could be found in this remote place, and the occupant decided to stop and grill us, we were ready with excuses:

“We’re looking at property.”

“There’s a cabin for sale that we want to look at.”

“We’ve been invited to a baptizing along the river.”

“We’ve been invited to a hanging, hopefully not ours.”

Nobody stopped us, and we drove on and on and ON, and it was beautiful and wild. Becky took the following three pictures:

Did we make jokes about furniture and household items made from cypress knees? Yes.

We went just past B.F. Egypt, and decided to not go much further– the map, upon closer inspection, indicated that the road eventually ended a short ways ahead. We turned around, precariously but carefully on the one-track trail, and got back to a turn– and found ourselves faced by three vehicles of varying sizes, all of which wanted to go through. There was lots of (wary) smiling and (wary) waving and assorted (wary) country-friendly hand signals until the four drivers decided which way to go; it was like a chess game but eventually we sorted it out and we were on our way  when Becky spied easy access to the river: up a short rise, past an outhouse which she was tempted to use, and then down a slope to the St. John’s. She parked, we set out and, just to make sure we meant no harm, Becky started calling out: “Hello??? Hello??? Hello???” her voice echoed through the loneliness, but nobody appeared except for the family of seven, each of whom had three eyes and wore clothes made from human skin. Kidding! Nobody was home, but Becky elected to not use the facilities.

Have you ever known a woman to pass facilities without availing herself of them? Becky did!

We eventually ended up back in Geneva by way of another street, and we came across the Radley House. Well, it’s the closest to the Radley House that I’ve ever seen in real life…

After all this rural, I treated to lunch at Cavallari Gourmet in Oviedo.  It was an odd though delicious jolt into the present after all the past we had immersed ourselves in. And many thanks to Becky for driving all that way; it was interesting talking during one of these little trips, as I am practically almost always off on my own. And Becky and all her cousins were fine company.

PhotoBike Tour 16– Oakland and West Orange County, Florida

Looking north along Florida’s Turnpike from the bridge on the West Orange Trail. This highway takes you, eventually, to Wildwood, where it meets Interstate 75. Follow 75 north and you will, after a few days, be on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula which is, for all practical purposes, Canada.

OFFSIDES!! Biking the West Orange Trail is an excursion into the past, a central Florida which hasn’t existed for over a hundred years. I don’t think most people realize the pedigree of the little towns and unincorporated communities they speed through on their bikes, skates, or even their feet. It’s great to schuss from the Lake County line east to Winter Garden, where you’ll stop to have lunch or a drink or browse the cool little shops; the direct line keeps you on the Trail, but i wonder how many people actually go offsides? I like to explore, and prowl. I see a dirt road, or a path leading through the orange groves, or a lonely side street… and there I go. I figure I’m on my bike and can make a speedy getaway if somebody starts yelling at me or chasing me, though so far that hasn’t happened in a big way. I respect private property, and seldom venture to intrude: if my curiosity gets the best of me in a potentially tender situation, I collar the nearest human and ask permission to prowl or take pictures. So far, everyone has said yes; there must be something about my face that disarms people. Or maybe they think “look at that poor idiot on his bike… let’s be nice to him.” This past Sunday I biked a good twenty miles or so in and out of Oakland and the communities of Killarney, Tildenville, and Hull island. Hull Island? Yes, Virginia, it exists for real as much as it does in your imagination… Near where the Trail crosses Deer Isle Road is the site of the Jones General Store at Killarney, an area settled in 1880. Here, a sawmill office, post office and general store were sited at various times in one building. You can still see part of the foundation.

This is the Hull Family monument, which you can see to the left of the bridge just after you cross it going east on the Trail. It says that the Hull Family has been here since 1905, which is a long time for central Florida. (The Pirates of the Caribbean ride isn’t even that old.) You are standing in the vicinity of one of the oldest orange groves in the entire state, though most of the trees are gone and you are lucky if you find some orderly rows of remnants. Hull Avenue in Oakland is named for the family.

Have you ever turned left onto Hull Island Drive while traversing the Trail? Here’s what you’ll find:

It’s a region of old groves and farms that have been worked for  generations, a real slice of Old Florida. And there’s an ashram here too– a slice of NEW Florida.

J.W. Jones Road is accessed just past the foundation of the Jones store, and you can easily bike it to the houses and three mobile home communities (Killarney Court, South Shore, and Gourdneck Village) nestled along the south shore of Lake Apopka. There’s a nice view of the lake, and a residence flying the actual flag of the Confederacy, not the battle flag we are all familiar with.

Continuing east, I paused at the rest stop just west of Oakland, and saw how the trees reaching toward the canopy reminded me of the soaring arches in a Gothic cathedral, which is where they got the idea: from observing how the trees kept themselves standing. Get off the Trail at Pollard Avenue and make a right; it’ll take you directly into the heart of the town’s African-American neighborhood. Here’s where a Masonic Temple stood up until just a few months ago on Sadler Avenue…

Here’s the non-updated image of the Masonic Temple from Google Earth:

I stopped a woman driving by and she explained that there were only a couple of old guys who still went to the Lodge, and that one had recently died, and so that was that.

There are three cemeteries in Oakland– one for white families and two for black families; it’s just the way it has always been.  (The older of the two black cemeteries is hidden in the dense growth west of town, only recently having been “discovered.”) In the white cemetery is the marker for James Gamble Speer, one of the area’s pioneer settlers. He and his family used to all be interred in the family plot on the north shore of Lake John, south of Tubb Street. When the property was sold to a developer, he removed all the headstones, piled them in a corner, and built houses atop the plots. James Gamble Speer (1821-1893) would NOT approve, and I hope he gives them all hell once in a while.

Here’s approximately where the Speer cemetery was located, south of Tubb Street; you go across the bridge that crosses over the Turnpike, and you’re at Lake Johns Circle. I walked through a belt of trees between two houses, and there was the lake. Southwest from here and across the lake is a peninsula which still does have a cemetery on it, nestled in the remaining orange grove.

The black cemetery serves as the final resting place for Samuel Pollard, for whom the street is named. And look… somebody brought him some sandwiches! I noticed a dirt track leading around the northern border of the cemetery, and so I decided to follow it, carefully. I mean, you never know what you will encounter among the trees. All sorts of possibilities entered my feverish brain, most of them ending dimly, but I was spared; I did see some piles of tires, assorted mounds of refuse, but nothing worse. I suppose people use it as a dump driving up off of Highway 50, from which you can see this cemetery. Sad. This path eventually popped me out onto Sadler Avenue, right where the Masonic Temple used to stand. I biked further east to the Vick house on Tubb Street, which used to be an Oakland schoolhouse for a time. It’s apparently the oldest home in Oakland, built as an inn in the 1860s. It became the Vick home in 1903. Beautiful and simple. A bit further east you come to Brock Street… here’s a gem of a house, perfect in its lines and aspect. It bears a resemblance to a home on Tildenville School Road South on Tildenville School Road, just north of where it crosses Oakland Avenue (438) sits this grand old house built in 1908. It was situated cater-corner of its present site until the 1990s when it was sold; the family let it go for a song and the new buyer had to move it to a new lot– thankfully minutes away, since it IS an Oakland grande dame and should therefore have been allowed to stay in the neighborhood. The present owners were on the front porch and graciously answered questions I had about the area, and then they magically invited me inside. (Do I channel Little Jimmy? Does he make an appearance and charm everyone?) I’d been in the house when it was being sold years ago– there was an estate sale then– and I remember it seeming very enclosed regarding rooms and hallways. The house is now so different– structural walls have been opened up, and everything is painted a bright white. Brick Road ends here at Tildenville School Road, a pleasant country lane that goes east to Winter Garden. (Actually, the Winter Garden city limits encompass Tildenville now). Brick Road is a remnany of Highway 22, which crossed the center of the state; Washington Street in Orlando was part of it, as was Story Road in Winter Garden– once also known as Washington Street until it was renamed for the Story family.

This home is located on Brick Road; it was built by a Willis and occupied at one time by Annie Connell, who taught at the old Oakland-Winter Garden School across the way.

Now we travel to south Tildenville, an African-American community separated from north Tildenville by Highway 50 and the Turnpike. The road becomes Avalon Road here. Just past the Turnpike overpass, on the left going south, you’ll find the entrance to the “West Orange, Country Club.” It was built in 1911 by the Mather-Smiths, a prominent Oakland family who found the existing golfing facilities in town too small– the Mather-Smiths loved to party, so they built their own country club and had a ball. All that remains is this archway. (UPDATE: See comments section regarding the existence of the Club’s guest house.)

I love the name: the O Deli.

Back in Oakland, I biked to the Presbyterian church (its third incarnation), hoping to get inside to see the preserved stained glass windows from the second church, which was a beautiful, ivy-covered brick building. It was Sunday afternoon, and services were over, and I wondered how I’d manage. Hmm. An older guy appeared after a few minutes to take down an Easter banner, and I asked about access. Well, everything was closed, services over , the building hermetically sealed, the works… and so I mentioned the stained glass and the guy said “oh yes, right through that church office door, and that’s open.” Oh. So inside I went, and there was this window… and there’s our man James Gamble Speer…

In that lobby area where this window is located, a man and his two young sons were sitting and waiting for someone; he saw me observing the window and mentioned that there was another one down a hall and in another office area. In that direction I could hear a string ensemble practicing, so I followed the sound of the sliding bow and came across a group of people playing in a room off the hall. They all stopped  and looked up as I looked in– the door was open, and their resin  ground to a halt. I was tempted to ask to join them on the flute, or perhaps the tuba, but before I could the conductor, an elegant older woman, asked if I needed help. I mentioned the second stained glass window and one of the ensemblists jumped up and offered to show me where it was. We had to go through the darkened sanctuary, where I almost stumbled into the older guy I’d encountered earlier: “I managed to find my way in here anyway,” I said, and he looked at me like I was crazy, but he did take me to the second window as the ensemblist returned to his practice… and here you see noted our friends the Tildens!

And finally, the Sadler house, built by the family who gives its name to Sadler Avenue. This was also once the house of artist Joe Burch. It receives a memorable Hallowe’en dressing each year. Right here along the road (Oakland Avenue / 438) are the Sadler oaks, planted by the family and now just as much a part of Oakland as the orange groves.

The next time you’re on the West Orange Trail, take a few detours and explore the historical offsides areas– these are sleepy parts of west Orange County that not many people get to see.

Thanks to Steve Rajtar and Eve Bacon for historical footnotes that lead me to these spots…