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magine a sprawling, primeval jungle nestled in the heart of Winter Park, unchanged and untamed for centuries, surrounded on its periphery by attractive homes and located just minutes from Park Avenue and Rollins College. In 1937, an intrepid former Boy Scout and an urbane professor explored the 48-acre site, on which they discovered a small lake and encountered deer, bobcats, wild boar and, not surprisingly, an alligator that they later estimated had to be at least 18 feet long. Undaunted, the duo decided that the mysterious morass should be transformed into a beautiful botanical garden that would pay tribute to their recently deceased friend, horticulturalist Theodore Luqueer Mead. Today, Mead Botanical Garden is an ecological jewel, albeit an unpolished one. Tucked away at the end of South Denning Drive, across the railroad tracks and bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue and Howell Creek, it has enchanted casual visitors and serious naturalists for decades. By the 2000s, however, this urban oasis was in decline. Beyond mowing the grass, the City of Winter Park did little to improve the site. It was simply too big and too expensive to maintain as a true botanical garden So it became an oversized park, breathtaking in places but marred by overgrown pathways, rotting boardwalks, a handful of ramshackle buildings and even city vehicles parked adjacent to a metal maintenance shed. What a difference a few years — and a small army of volunteers — can make. Today, Mead Botanical Garden is being reclaimed, revitalized and reinvigorated. And, although plans are preliminary and funding has not been secured, there’s serious discussion of a new multipurpose facility being built on the grounds. “This is a place that has meaning to a lot of people in Winter Park,” says Cynthia Hasenau, executive director of Mead Botanical Garden Inc., the nonprofit organization that now leases the park from the city and operates its facilities. “And what’s happening here now is the result of exemplary volunteers.” 82 LIVING IN WINTER PARK Mead Botanical Garden isn’t, and never will be, a meticulously manicured and skillfully sculptured picture-postcard of a place. The setting is meant to be natural and unspoiled; an anomaly in a city where everything appears preternaturally orderly. But its origins are quintessentially Winter Park, from the interesting characters who founded it to the fierce protectiveness of the citizens who have cherished it and nurtured it through more than 75 years. THE PAMPERED GENIUS In 1867, a 15-year-old boy stood admiring a Jacquard loom at the Industrial Exhibition in Paris, absorbed in the complex working of the machinery. It had been easy for Theodore Mead to talk his well-to-do parents, Samuel and Mary, into letting him leave school and their home in Fishkill, New York, to tour France, Italy, Germany, Russia and Scandinavia. During this and previous European vacations, “Teddy” much preferred inspecting collections of machines and insects to marveling over great works of art. His mother, who had accompanied him on this trip, was compelled to bribe him with $50 worth of butterflies before he would agree to return. Young Mead was thrilled with the butterflies his mother had bought him, and soon became obsessed with the winged creatures. He spent the summer of 1869 at the West Virginia home of William H. Edwards, the acknowledged North American expert on lepidoptera, the study of moths and butterflies. Two years later, Mead accompanied the Edwards family on a government sponsored mapping expedition of the Colorado Rockies There they discovered 20 new species — and named three of them “meadii.” He later collected more butterflies in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. In 1874, Mead enrolled at Cornell University, where three years later he earned a degree in civil engineering. Upon graduation, Mead sold his burgeoning butterfly collection, which he claimed had become one of the largest of its kind in the world, to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. He The Grove amphitheater hosts a variety of concerts and special events. Spectators bring blankets and lawn chairs to the grassy lawn facing the stage. I


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