By Mike Miller Updated March 19, 2023
Winter Park, Florida is an upscale city in the heart of the Orange County urban area. Orlando is located south of and adjacent to Winter Park's city limit. The population in 2021 is 30,233.
Winter Park is about 6 miles north of downtown Orlando. The major highways that serve the city are I-4 and US Highway 17-92, known locally as Orlando Avenue.
David Mizell bought 8 acres of land in 1858 between the present Lakes Mizelle, Berry and Virginia. He founded the little town of Lake View on his land. In 1879 the name was changed to Osceola.
In 1881 Loring A. Chase of Chicago visited the place, loved the area and bought 600 acres along Lake Maitland and Lake Osceola. He and a partner, O.E. Chapman, platted the town and named it Winter Park.
The city of Winter Park began to develop in the 1880s as a citrus-growing center.
It also became a wintering retreat for wealthy Northerners, including Colonel Franklin Fairbanks and his partner, Charles Hosmer Morse.
They visited the area on one of their Florida vacations and fell in love with the place.
They were partners in various businesses including what is now the Fairbanks Morse Company, manufacturers of engines and pumps.
Fairbanks Avenue and Morse Boulevard in Winter Park are named for these gentlemen who contributed much to the development of Winter Park in the early days.
In 1885, the Congregational Church established one of Florida’s early institutes of higher learning, Rollins College. The college's campus sits on the shore of Lake Virginia.
Rollins is considered by most folks to be one of the best colleges in Florida.
Anthony Perkins was a student at Rollins before hitting it big as Norman Bates in Hitchcock's 1960 classic, "Psycho".
Another Rollins graduate, Donald Cram, won a 1987 Nobel Prize for chemistry.
Author Rex Beach, who wrote "The Spoilers" and other classics, went to Rollins and his grave is on campus.
Another famous graduate is Fred Rogers of the popular television show Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.
The architecture of Rollins College inspires visions of Florida's Spanish heritage. The college has one of the most beautiful campuses in Florida and is a pleasant place to take a walk.
It's sometimes hard to believe such a quiet place exists so near the bustle of Walt Disney World and Universal Studios and the hectic traffic on nearby I-4.
Winter Park is often overlooked as a central Florida tourism attraction, but is definitely worth a visit or an extended stay.
The Park Avenue downtown area is an excellent place to stay and convenient to the local attractions.
It is also the location of the farmer's market that takes place every Saturday morning from 8am to 1pm in downtown's Central Park Meadow West.
I lived in Winter Park on two separate occasions. It is a relaxing place to live. If you live close to downtown, everything you need is within walking distance or a short drive.
The city has many historic buildings and prides itself on preserving most of them in useable condition and serving as homes, shops, and offices.
Casa Feliz is one of these historic homes. It is located next to the Winter Park Country Club and Golf Course.
The building is in frequent use as a recreation center and venue for special events including weddings.
The house was originally known as the Robert Bruce Barbour House and was designed by noted architect James Gamble Rogers II.
The house was slated for destruction in 2000, but the community rallied to save it and raised $1.2 million.
It was moved it to its current location and restored by highly skilled craftsmen to its original design.
It is on the American Institute of Architects Florida Chapter list of Florida Architecture: 100 Years, 100 Places. It is also on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Today Casa Feliz serves the Winter Park community as a museum and a venue for weddings, business events, and private parties.
The Winter Park Country Club and Golf Course is also on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Shops and restaurants line the brick paved Park Avenue. As the name implies, there is a large grassy tree shaded park along the west side of the avenue.
It is known as Central Park, maybe inspired by the much larger version in New York City.
Winter Park shopping is a frequent delight for locals and tourists alike. The east side of Park Avenue is lined with shops and restaurants.
Flowers and ferns are cultivated and hanging from balconies all along the avenue.
Many of the restaurants have sidewalk dining, and the whole Park Avenue stretch is a people watcher's paradise.
Park Avenue is host to several art and craft shows, auto shows, and other events during the year.
Central Park is a popular place to take a stroll or just stretch out a blanket and make your own relaxing picnic area.
Even the Amtrak station is conveniently located downtown across from Central Park on Park Avenue.
My son used to take the train down from Georgia and walk to my house to visit me.
Another great shopping and dining destination is Winter Park Village on the west side of the city.
The Village is a large outdoor mall with several restaurants, shops and movie theaters.
It is often used as an entertainment center, featuring among other events, the fall concert series.
Several museums are within walking distance of Park Avenue, including:
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens
Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins Museum of Art
Hannibal Square Heritage Center
Menello Museum of American Art
Winter Park History Museum
The Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour at the eastern end of Morse Boulevard takes passengers on tours through the narrow canals between Lakes Virginia and Osceola.
They have been at this location since 1938.
The tour highlights nature and local birds, but another outstanding feature of the tours are the opulent mansions, old and new, that line the lakes.
Park Plaza Hotel. This is the only hotel right downtown, and is a treat to stay in. Sit on your balcony and watch the people strolling along the avenue. 307 S Park Ave, Winter Park Florida. Tel: 407-647-1072
The Alfond Inn. This boutique hotel is at Rollins College, just a block from the main Park Avenue downtown district. The 112 room hotel has a pool and modern accommodations. 1000 Holt Ave. Winter Park, Florida 32789. Hotel telephone : 407-326-0801
Visit the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art: This world-renowned museum houses the most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, as well as an impressive collection of American art pottery and late 19th- and early 20th-century American paintings. Explore the stunning Tiffany Chapel interior and a variety of Tiffany's art glass creations. For more information about the Morse Museum, visit their website.
Stroll through the Mead Botanical Garden: Spanning 47 acres, the Mead Botanical Garden offers visitors a tranquil oasis filled with native and exotic plants, butterflies, and birds. The garden features walking trails, a butterfly garden, and various environmental education programs. For more information about the Mead Botanical Garden, visit their website.
Explore the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens: This museum is dedicated to preserving the works of Czech-American sculptor Albin Polasek. The museum features an impressive collection of Polasek's sculptures, paintings, and drawings, as well as beautifully landscaped gardens showcasing additional sculptures. For more information about the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, visit their website.
Take a scenic boat tour: Winter Park's scenic boat tour offers a unique perspective of the city's beautiful lakes and historic homes. The guided tour navigates through the picturesque Winter Park chain of lakes, providing interesting facts about the area's history and wildlife. For more information about the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour, visit their website.
Enjoy shopping and dining on Park Avenue: This charming, tree-lined street is the heart of Winter Park, offering visitors an array of boutiques, art galleries, and cafes. Park Avenue is the perfect destination for a leisurely stroll, alfresco dining, or simply people-watching. For more information about Park Avenue, visit the Winter Park website.
Attend a performance at the Annie Russell Theatre: Located on the Rollins College campus, the historic Annie Russell Theatre showcases a variety of theatrical productions throughout the year. From musicals to dramas, the theatre offers an intimate setting for enjoying high-quality performances. For more information about the Annie Russell Theatre, visit their website.
Explore the Cornell Fine Arts Museum: Situated on the Rollins College campus, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum features an extensive collection of more than 5,000 works of art. The museum's collection ranges from European Old Masters to contemporary American pieces, providing visitors with a diverse visual experience. For more information about the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, visit their website.
Visit the Kraft Azalea Garden: This 5.22-acre public garden is located on the shores of Lake Maitland and features beautiful azalea blooms during the spring season. The garden is a popular spot for picnics, photography, and bird-watching, offering a serene setting amidst the lush landscape.
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By Mike Miller, Copyright 2009-2023
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