Getting Schooled On Winter Park

I’m an okay student. I’m better when the materials are interesting, the instructors are fun, there’s lots of joking, interaction. The outdoor classroom experience has always appealed to me as well. But when one moves to Florida from places further north, perhaps that part’s not surprising. I dig blue sky and sun, warmth accompanied by breezes, a classroom ceiling of oak (branches), maybe some stalactites of Spanish moss adding to both the atmosphere and subject matter.

Sounds like learning at its best. Give me that and I’m game to be schooled. I might have even gotten all ‘A’s if my lessons were taught via this, the Winter Park City Tours method of learning.

You show up and meet your tour guide, in my case Tom Smith. He didn’t yell at me for being a bit late and I was never threatened with a detention, even as I dallied behind the group snapping more and more photos. Tom’s the sort of gregarious, knowledgeable local you hope for on such an expedition. You can tell he doesn’t simply deliver information via bullet points in his head – precise delivery that’s got to be in a specific order or we’ll all get off track. Instead, while surely covering the bases, he takes questions as an opportunity to go on a bit of a tangent about another part of Winter Park, another historic figure, other history he’s happy to share. This is only one of the tours he conducts, thus, he’s happy to branch out when needed, asked to do so.

We’re walking, we’re talking, we’re learning. Winter Park City Tours guide Tom Smith multi-tasks during what is obviously a very active “retirement”.

This tour, my first of two in one day, was to be through the Rollins College campus. Tom speaks of the “synergy between Rollins and Winter Park”, as we move along the sidewalks, enjoying the landscape here, a building façade there, the story of a town founder or college President and how he or she helped to mold the area, make it more interesting, adding to the figurative cultural landscape or the literal one around us. He explains how Rollins became the first college in all of Florida, how the first Winter Park residents celebrated their accomplishment by ringing a church bell to announce they’d overcome significant odds for a “backwoods” community so recently settled. That same bell now hangs in the Knowles Chapel tower on the Rollins campus.

Tom didn’t grow up here, but has been here so long he’s likely earned honorary native status, likely knows it better than most who are. He explains to those on the tour, pointing off into the distance south of Rollins, that he’s “been in the same house for 38 years.” I think I also heard him say something about never leaving, as if he would need to.

“Pinehurst Cottage,” the last original structure on Rollins Campus. It now serves as a student dormitory.

Jennifer Franklin was on this tour also. Jennifer is the founder of Winter Park City Tours, which she started last fall to “help others learn about what makes our community so special within the broader central Florida area”. Given her enthusiasm for the community, she’s no doubt taken the tour many times before, but she walks along, ever attentive to the information Tom shares, once and a while falling back to chat on her cell phone (as Realtors will do) but then scurrying to catch up again. She’s heard, seen this before, but you get the idea she could never tire of it. At one point, Tom asks if anyone knows what a fox on the lawn – the central grassy area of campus – means and the excited Rollins grad’s hand shoots eagerly skyward. When Tom nods for her to reveal the answer, she exclaims: “It’s a day off!” You can take the girl out of Rollins, but you can’t take the Rollins memories out of the girl, I thought later.

Mr. Popular. Students, in a photo from the Rollins website, pose with the fox statue which has signaled a ‘day off’.

Apparently, Rollins has a long tradition of one spring day each year, when the temperature is so ideal, and the sky so picture perfect, the college president recognizes it to be the kind which inspires students to ditch classes and insert themselves into the post card just outside their windows. So, he beats them to it. On that day, as has become tradition, he has a fox statue placed on the central lawn: school’s out! In recent years, apparently, the school’s even taken to hiring buses to whisk students off to the beach for maximum enjoyment of fox day. That story was just one of many which provide the sort of inside, real-life behind the scenes traditions which make such a tour enjoyable, not just bits of information collected from a book or pamphlet, but knowledge shared right where it happens, such that your mind begins to imagine students celebrating all around, plotting excitedly at an unexpected day’s freedom from classes.

In the same area as the lawn, Tom explains that one of Rollins’ most beloved historic figures, College President Hamilton Holt, started Youtube. Okay, not exactly Youtube, but what could be the 1920s version of it. Longing for students and Winter Park residents to have a firsthand opportunity to hear from noted scholars and writers of the day, Holt initiated the school’s “Live Magazines”. Authors, writers, other public figures would come to Rollins and recite their works on the lawn, sharing them personally, face to face. I like that Rollins seems to like that outdoor learning thing as much as I do.

One AMAZING, gorgeous tree. There are many beautiful trees on the Rollins campus. This one is said to have been around 100 years old at the time of Rollins’ founding. That would make it roughly 225 years old now.

Leading up to the lawn, along a long sidewalk, Tom pointed out the ‘Walk of Fame’. Yes, even a few celebrities here, but no ‘stars’. It’s a series of rocks from specific areas of the country or globe, engraved with names, dates, phrases. Tom explained that it was meant to be a way to bring the world together, promote peace. Below the large oaks, the setting is surely just that: peaceful.

Tom has definitely struck me as the kind of guy who doesn’t give “canned” answers, likes to pull a new rabbit out of his hat when possible. Winter Park’s ample supply of Spanish moss comes up and Tom shares that it’s been used for everything from mattress stuffing – and, thus, the origin of “don’t let the bed bugs bite” – to filling car seats on early model Ford vehicles . . . . and was then the catalyst behind the adage “itching to buy a Ford”.

Early on he insists he’s retired – was that followed by a laugh? not sure – but since meeting him I’ve seen him three times and he was working each time. . . . conducting another tour or driving one of the boats for the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tours. I joined him later on that same Saturday for a Winter Park City Tours’ ‘Comstock Tour’. With about 45 minutes in between, he rushed back in from the outside bike rack, greeted the new guests with a big smile and was ready to go again. He hits the highlights of Chapman & Chase, a “planned community” before allowing the surroundings to take over. We walk through the Winter Park Farmer’s Market and Tom immediately lets loose with a few pieces of amazing information which had me making mental notes for future blogs. (THANKS, Tom!)

The spectacular ceiling of Rollins’ Knowles Chapel. The courtyard outside between two covered breezeways is pretty awesome as well. The Annie Russell Theater just on the other side of the breezeways.

An Amtrak train parked in our path didn’t derail Tom. He gathered his guests, and proceeded with more historicment, his own special hybrid of historic narration big on entertaining side notes and personal experiences. We wandered through Central Park, along Morse for “the last hitching post in all of Winter Park” and then down Interlachen where he told of the origin of how peacocks became such a symbol of the city. We were then down to Casa Feliz where he explained that the “swag” in the roof was built in from the beginning, along with the brick column ‘remnants’ along its back lanai . . . . both purposeful parts of James Gamble Rogers’ original design to more than guarantee that often times elusive and difficult to define quality we call ‘character’. I suddenly felt a little silly for thinking otherwise; I should have somehow known.

We walked around front, visited more fountains, and made our way back to Central Park. Tom saw his daughter and after ensuring everyone knew how to reach their car, had final send-off information, dealt with any additional questions, we all parted ways and Tom hurried off to find his daughter . . . . who failed to hear all of our yells trying to get her attention as she wandered along.

It was time to end another tour.

As well schooled on Winter Park as I felt, it was a tad disappointing to see it conclude and not have another to look forward to that day. Now to find some outdoor lessons on patience.

Winter Park City Tours are a deal! And, as you might have noticed, I highly enjoyed mine. You can find out more about their tours via their website: or by calling them at 407-896-9665. They’re happy to put together custom packages for large groups or conventions, as they just did with their “Sweetheart Stroll” for Valentine’s Day. Getting schooled isn’t just informative for you or your out of town visitors, but will also be a great time!

Found Treasure With A Neighbor We Treasure

When it comes to estate sales, I’ve got tiger blood! (Okay, sorry I went there.) I see a sign and I’ve got to stop. This past weekend I stopped by one on Via Sienna and made off with some terrific treasures, including this wonderful (very) vintage black and white framed photograph. It belonged to long-time Winter Park residents Betty & Samuel Schnur. Samuel recently passed away; and, this piece apparently hung for years and years in his office. Betty helped to provide one of my nicest estate sale experiences ever by showing me around a bit and congratulating me on picking up one of her favorite small pieces, a small wooden piece with wire handle, three colorful vases inside. (I tried to get her to keep it, but she would have none of it!) Betty told me the scene was from Park Avenue LONG ago, but I didn’t have a clue. I turned to find out more about this treasure from another Winter Park treasure, our neighbor Mr. Dave Elliott. Mr. Elliott — who very graciously provides romp room for our three CRAZY Boxers — one of which seems to have a crush on him — is my go-to guy for Winter Park history. He believes the scene is of the corner of Park Avenue and New England Avenues, the building pictured where Luma is located now. I initially thought 1920s, but I’m not sure it might not be 1910s or even a bit earlier. But I’m no expert. No question, though, it’s a wonderful picture, complete with a very dirty Park Avenue (sans bricks) and a horse and carriage. Perhaps they just came from the grain and feed store further down. Mr. Elliott will appear in a future blog, as he was the long-time owner of Cottrell’s Five & Dime on Park Avenue for 35 years. Chico’s now occupies the spot. THANK YOU to Betty (you’re awesome) and Dave (you’re not only awesome, but PATIENT & such a wonderful neighbor) for bringing this piece into my life and educating me a bit on what the subject matter seems to be.

And, lastly, this blog, as it moves forward, will celebrate many things. From Winter Park history and the AMAZING museums we have around us, to the arts and arts festivals and all the wonderful people and businesses which I have coined ‘Parkpreneurs’, those entities or people which make Winter Park a unique and wonderful community to call home. Got something special going on with your business, from a move to an anniversary, to a new manager . . . let me know. I’ve love to mention it here. Winter Park presents so many opportunities, and one of those is the opportunity to get to know one another and share, CELEBRATE all that it is and will be. Parkpreneurs are a wonderful brick in that Winter Park mosaic! Send your ideas and updates to:

Until next time . . . . enjoy and love the place you’re Parked! It’s special and unique. I LUV Winter Park!

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2 Responses to Getting Schooled On Winter Park

  1. Linda Barnby says:

    Congratulations on the new blog! LUV the giant photos of my hometown! One of my daughters is a student at Rollins and my other daughter will be there next year as a Freshman. We LUV Rollins College!

    Keep up the good work!

    Linda Barnby
    National Association of Entrepreneurs/Winter Park Chapter

  2. Carolyn Cooper says:

    Clyde…you are doing a wonderful job with your blog. Lots to celebrate in Winter Park. I read every word. You tell a great story. Keep up the celebration. Lindsey Hayes at will be able to help with history of your photo treasure. I will be back to enjoy! Well done!

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