ot long ago, while planning a cross-country drive, I picked up a copy of the 2016 Rand McNally Road Atlas. Old school, yes, in this era of Google Maps, but good to have in the car when the wireless signal turns fickle. I flipped to Florida, scanned to where my hometown should be and … no Winter Park. Plenty of much smaller places made the map, places that hardly possess downtowns, such as Geneva, for gosh sakes, and even Oak Hill. But Winter Park? Snubbed. My first reaction was outrage. But that was almost instantly replaced by: How much can we pay Rand-McNally to keep leaving Winter Park off their maps? Maybe there ought to be other tactics as well. Not that I’d endorse one of those “walls” that certain folks talk about, but a broad campaign of “benign misdirection?” That’s something I could get behind. I can’t count the times, when asked by out-of-towners where I’m from, I’ve told them Winter Park only to hear: “Oh, where the Red Sox used to have spring training?” Nope, that’s Winter Haven. Or, “That old citrus town west of Orlando?” No, that’s Winter Garden. Or, “That place just south of Sanford?” Unh-uh, that’s Winter Springs. Admittedly, for the uninitiated, it can be tough sorting out all the Winter whatevers in this neck of the woods. And let the record show that I’ve always tried to be helpful and set their geography straight. But no more. Let those who can’t quite figure out where Winter Park is stay confused. Let ’em wander off toward Lakeland or up 17-92. Let ’em consult their Rand McNallys. Before I came to live in Winter Park, I embraced the same view of Winter Parkers that all who don’t live here hold to be true: That Winter Parkers are a smug, self-satisfied lot who believe their town is more special than all the rest. After all, we have long had street signs that say: “Entering Winter Park. Please drive with extraordinary care.” And pranksters still come along with spray paint and change them to: “Please drive extraordinary car.” 18 LIVING IN WINTER PARK Vandalism, yes, but forgivable, mainly because it’s spot-on social commentary. It reinforces the notion that Winter Parkers hold themselves in way-too-high esteem. That they are just so … insufferable. Now that I am a Winter Parker of many years standing I can say with authority: Guilty as charged. But, I would plead, there are extenuating circumstances. Can we help it if the place we call home is the most livable city in Florida? I’m not saying ours is Florida’s coolest, hippest city. Miami, Fort Lauderdale — they win on that front. Nor, despite our art festivals, galleries and museums is it the most cultured. That’s Sarasota, easy, with Palm Beach a distant, seasonal contender. And Winter Park is far too prim and proper — we won’t even allow dogs in Central Park, for god’s sake — to rank high on the funky front. Key West, downtown O’do — they all outfunk us. By a long shot. But when it comes to sheer livability, hands down, it’s Winter Park. Winter Park is an island in a sea of sameness. Of all the other “Parks” hereabouts — College, Thornton, Baldwin, Theme, etc.— it’s the only one that’s incorporated, and thereby officially delineated (physically and psychically) from Central Florida’s sprawl. Now marking 129 years since its incorporation as a city, Winter Park has cemented its standing not only as a place more special, but as a center of influence and affluence of far greater regional impact than its population (about 29,000 residents) might suggest. It has been that way throughout the city’s history, which is so entwined with that of Rollins College that it’s often difficult to remember which came first, the college or the city. While the first permanent residents settled here in the 1850s, it wasn’t until 1880 that the area began to flourish, thanks largely to the expansion of the South Florida Railroad and the arrival of Chicagoan Loring Chase and his business partner, Oliver Chapman, from Massachusetts. They bought 600 acres along the chain of lakes with the purpose of creat- N Winter Park’s downtown still retains a village atmosphere, buoyed by the character of buildings such as those comprising Greeneda Court, developed in 1947 by Ray Greene, a former mayor.
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