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The Seminole Hotel opened in 1886 and was, at the time, the state’s largest hotel. Winter Park didn’t yet have a golf course, but the Seminole offered a driving range, as well as tennis courts and a bowling alley. There were two yachts, one of which launched on Lake Virginia and one on Lake Osceola. Two presidents — Grover Cleveland (1889) and Benjamin Harrison (1890) — were among the guests. The original hotel burned to the ground in 1902, and was replaced by a smaller (but no less posh) version in 1912. LIVING IN WINTER PARK 47 In a four-page, handwritten letter dated August 12, 1881, Phelps raved about “the beneficial effects of this climate” and even offered to provide the names of other residents, including Comstock, his neighbor, who would confirm his statements about the area’s health benefits. A one-man chamber of commerce, Phelps also provided Chase and Chapman with an almanac of information, including average year-round temperatures. He described the soil as well-suited for growing citrus, noting that Central Florida was “below the frost line.” The land was verdant and, in his opinion, would continue to rise in value. Their confidence bolstered, the entrepreneurial New Englanders officially named their holdings Winter Park — a logical decision, since they felt that the words “winter” and “park” would be appealing to potential relocators — and quickly had the land surveyed, platted and mapped. Chapman and Chase clearly made an effective team. A newspaper article from 1886 called Chapman “cool, quiet, level-headed and judicial in his makeup, but once his mind is made up, he never relaxes his grip until his end is accomplished.” Chase, on the other hand, was described as “a rustler, quick to grasp, vigorous to act and relentless in his efforts.” “Relentless” may have been an understatement. Chase would make daily trips to Sanford, then the region’s most prominent city, and stop by the Sanford House, a resort hotel frequented by affluent Northern visitors. Standing on the front steps of the hotel, he was often the first person to welcome new arrivals. Before guests even had a chance to check in, Chase would deliver his sales pitch and “rustle” likely prospects to accompany him to Winter Park. General Henry S. Sanford, owner of the Sanford House, threatened to put Chase in jail for stealing his business. MASTERFUL PLANNING The two promoters, unlike some others touting Florida real estate deals, were genuinely passionate about creating a special place. The town plan, designed by civil engineer Samuel Robinson, included a central park fronted by lots for commercial buildings as well as tracts for schools, hotels and churches. Curved streets radiated out from the town center. Remarkably, Winter Park today looks very close to what the original town plan envisioned. Indeed, Robinson’s work could serve as a template for presentday planners responsible for so-called New Urbanist communities such as Baldwin Park and Celebration. There is, however, one key difference. Establishing a precedent for segregation that would endure for generations, the plan designated a west side tract, dubbed Hannibal Square, for African Americans. After all, “men of means” would need a labor force to work in their groves, homes and hotels. So, 38 small residential lots were made available to “Negro families of good character.” In fact, Winter Park was a relatively enlightened place, particularly for the Deep South. Many of its early boosters, well-educated Northeastern Republicans, held views on race relations that were liberal for the time. In the aftermath of Reconstruction, given the limited options open to them, many displaced former slaves considered it an attractive place to live and work. Chase, in particular, strongly advocated education for all races and was outspoken in his belief that African Americans should be active participants in local government. In 1890, during dedication ceremonies for a school in Hannibal Square, he delivered a speech that would have sounded just as timely during the Civil Rights movement of the next century. “Knowledge is power,” Chase thundered. “Get knowledge and you shall command the respect of those who would count you out. Then you may COURTESY OF THE ROLLINS COLLEGE DEPARTMENT OF ARCHIVES AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS


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