Central Florida is internationally known for Mickey Mouse and its grand assortment of theme parks. However, if you're willing to travel off the beaten path and explore, you'll discover the region filled with authentic Florida experiences. Known as "a charming little city with a juicy past", Winter Garden is definitely one authentic old Florida destination well worth a visit.
Located 14 miles west of Downtown Orlando, Winter Garden is a city of 42,000 residents that was officially incorporated in 1908. A mid-19th century farming settlement along the south shore of Lake Apopka, the city you see today is largely a result of the Orange Belt Railroad (1880s) and the Tavares & Gulf Railroad (1899) moving the area's citrus industry to center stage.
Fueled by a number of early 20th century citrus packinghouses, an impressive community had developed around its railroad lines by the 1920s collapse of Florida's real estate market. In the 1940s and 50s, the canning of juice and concentrate led to growth in the citrus industry that would largely support the city's economy through the 20th century. At the same time, the popularity of the automobile and improvements to State Road 50 eventually led to the corridor replacing Plant Street (the railroad ran in its center) as the retail epicenter of the city.
By 1980, much of the former Orange Belt Railroad had been abandoned and pulled up, following the 1967 merger of the Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Air Line Railroads. In addition, tourist attracted to Bass fishing on Lake Apopka, began to avoid the area as the lake became polluted by surrounding agricultural uses.
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Davis is a certified senior planner and graduate of Florida A&M University. He is the author of the award winning books “Reclaiming Jacksonville,” “Cohen Brothers: The Big Store” and “Images of Modern America: Jacksonville.” Davis has served with various organizations committed to improving urban communities, including the American Planning Association and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. A 2013 Next City Vanguard, Davis is the co-founder of Metro Jacksonville.com and ModernCities.com — two websites dedicated to promoting fiscally sustainable communities — and Transform Jax, a tactical urbanist group. Contact Ennis at firstname.lastname@example.org