LIVING IN WINTER PARK 51 lachen Avenue site donated by the Knowles estate, in 1902. In 1889, J. Harry Abbott debuted the Orlando-Winter Park Railroad, more commonly referred to as the Dinky Line, a nickname sometimes given to short-haul rail operations. The bumpy, smoky 6-mile trip between Orlando and Winter Park took about a half-hour and cost 15 cents. The two engines were known as the “Tea Pot” and the “Coffee Pot,” and the train itself was the “Little Wiggle.” Cute and quirky though it was, the Dinky Line’s popularity waned as roads were improved and automobiles proliferated, although it managed to hang on until the last tracks were removed in 1969. Today, the site of the Dinky Line’s depot is a public park and swimming and fishing pier on Lake Virginia known as Dinky Dock. As the 1880s drew to a close, Winter Park had attracted 250 families and 600 residents, many of them seasonal, from 29 states and five foreign countries. The Massachusetts and Illinois contingents were the largest, but New York and Georgia were also well represented. According to an 1889 promotional brochure for the Seminole Hotel, occupations of those residents included “lawyers, judges, army and navy officers, civil engineers, college professors, journalists, physicians, ministers, manufacturers, bishops, merchants, bankers, millionaires, etc.” There would, however, soon be a winnowing of millionaires. COLD AND COLDER In a region that was supposed to be below the frost line, two ruinous freezes — in December of 1894 and February of 1895 — brought temperatures that set historic lows, wiping out citrus groves and devastating the economy. The Winter Park Company, the city’s primary land developer, felt the sting. It defaulted on loan payments to the estate of Francis Bangs Knowles, who had been the company’s largest shareholder, and surrendered roughly 1,200 lots to satisfy the debt. In 1904, Chicago industrialist Charles Hosmer Morse bought the Knowles estate’s vast holdings for roughly $10,000 — the equivalent of about $250,000 today. That fateful transaction was colorfully recalled by Harold A. “H.A.” Ward at a 1954 dinner commemorating his retirement from the Winter Park Land Company, which was formed by Morse to purchase the Knowles properties. Ward was working at the Pioneer Store, a general-merchandise emporium that also sold real estate. Here’s how Ward told the story of perhaps the most important business deal in Winter Park’s history: “Well, as I had said, Mr. Morse came into the store and asked if I had the sale of the Knowles estate property. I said. ‘That’s correct. Would you like to buy a lot?’ And we talked a little, and he said, ‘What’ll they take for the whole shebang?’ That’s the way he expressed it. It like to have knocked me down.” Ward “blurted out the low price they’d given me” and Morse said he’d take it — with one condition: “Provided you can get released from your present work here, and take charge of the property for me.” After all, Morse noted, his primary home was still in Chicago, and he’d need year-round local management. So Morse — along with his son, Charles H. Morse Jr. (who lived full time in Chicago) and Ward — became the original directors of the Winter Park Land Company. In addition to property owned by the Knowles estate, Morse acquired about 200 acres of heavily wooded land bordered by lakes Virginia, Mizell COURTESY OF THE ROLLINS COLLEGE DEPARTMENT OF ARCHIVES AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS In a region that was supposed to be below the frost line, two ruinous freezes — in December of 1894 and February of 1895 — brought temperatures that set historic lows, wiping out citrus groves and devastating the economy. The Winter Park Company felt the sting. It defaulted on loan payments to the estate of Francis Bangs Knowles, who had been the company’s largest shareholder, and surrendered roughly 1,200 lots to satisfy the debt.
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