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Mead Garden has become a haven for dozens of species of birds and armies of bird watchers. For example, if you’re lucky — and stealthy — you might see a solitary hooded warbler in the cypress trees near Howell Creek during migration. LIVING IN WINTER PARK 85 While attending Dartmouth College he worked as a reporter for the Boston Globe and edited the Dartmouth Literary Monthly. After graduating in 1894 with a degree in literature, he enrolled in graduate school at Harvard. However, instead of earning an advanced degree, he chose to visit Europe and the Middle East, an adventure he managed despite having only $300 to his name. Upon his return to the U.S. in 1900, Grover worked as a textbook salesman in the Midwest, and shortly thereafter became chief editor of Rand McNally in Chicago. He formed his own publishing company in 1905, but sold it six years later and bought controlling interest in the Prang Company, a manufacturer of crayons and watercolors. After “serving a sentence of almost 30 years in the publishing business,” Grover was ready to retire. Then, in 1926, a call from Rollins President Hamilton Holt prompted a change of plans. Holt wanted Grover as the college’s “professor of books,” making him — as far as anyone knows, at least — the first academic in the U.S. to hold such a title. Intrigued, he accepted. At Rollins, Grover helped students publish the college’s first literary magazine, Flamingo, in 1927, and for the next two decades was “editor” of the Animated Magazine, which was not a published work but a series of lectures featuring national figures from politics, literature, the arts and even show business. Grover was also a charter member of the University Club of Winter Park, and helped found Winter Park’s first bookstore, The Bookery. He encouraged his wife, Mertie, to spearhead the opening of a day nursery for the children of African-American working mothers. When Mertie was killed in an automobile accident, Grover asked that funds in her name be donated for the establishment of a children’s library on the city’s west side, which was primarily African-American. A man of varied interests, Grover was a friend of Mead’s and a follower of his work. Coincidentally, one of Grover’s brightest students was Connery, who had been one of Mead’s Boy Scouts and, while attending college, had continued to assist the aging horticulturalist. Upon Mead’s death in 1936, Connery inherited his grateful mentor’s collection of amaryllis, hemerocallis, fancy-leaf caladiums and more than 1,000 orchids. Mead’s young protégé had been a student curator of the Rollins Museum of Natural History, so he knew horticulture. And he had been faithfully caring for the plants at Mead’s now-unoccupied estate. But he knew that a more permanent, long-term solution was needed if the collection was to be saved. Connery and Grover hoped to establish some sort of memorial garden that would pay homage to a man they both admired, while providing students a place to study plants and nature. But where? Grover had considered pushing Rollins to buy Mead’s Oviedo property. Connery, however, thought he had a better idea. Would Grover be willing to join him for an expedition? That’s when the duo explored the untamed site of what would become Mead Botanical Garden. Excited by the possibilities, they hurried to the office of real-estate developer Walter Rose, who owned 20 acres buffering his subdivision, Beverly Shores. After hearing out Grover and Connery, Rose agreed to donate his property to the city. James A. Treat, a former Winter Park mayor, gave another six acres that included an egret rookery and the heretofore hidden lake that Grover and Connery had discovered. The diplomatic Grover promptly named it “Lake Lillian,” for one of Treat’s granddaughters. R. F. Leedy, a Park Avenue clothing merchant, was persuaded to kick in a tract bordering Pennsylvania Avenue, and a Jacksonville woman, Mary Bartell, turned over 20 acres of high ground where today’s entrance greets visitors. Orange County owned a quarter-acre encompassing a clay pit. But the county agreed to give it up, and the clay was eventually used to bolster the garden’s meandering nature trails. On May 11, 1937, Theodore L. Mead Botanical Garden Inc., a nonprofit organization that would operate the garden, was formed. At its helm were Grover as president and Holt as honorary president. Connery was named director and executive secretary. Thanks to Grover and Connery, the acreage had been assembled. Now what? THE SOWING AND REAPING During the Great Depression, the city certainly didn’t have the funds to transform nearly 50 dense acres into a botanical showplace. Luckily, however, neither Grover nor Connery was easily daunted. Grover secured a $20,170 grant from the Works Progress Administration. But the grant required that the city, which was already in default on $90,000 worth of municipal bonds, put up matching funds. Connery saved the day when he gave the city an assortment of palm trees and Mead’s plant collection, which the WPA agreed to accept as the equivalent of a cash contribution. With funding in place, WPA workers fenced the property and built and landscaped two main entrances, one in Winter Park and one in Orlando. That way, Grover noted, “the two cities could be tied together with a bond of beauty.” PHOTO BY LAURENCE TAYLOR


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