A hometown can hold a special place in our hearts. Especially when its past history meets the present.
Just ask Ward Britt, who has lived in the area for most of his life. As past chairman, and part of the executive committee, on the board of the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation, he has joined forces with the non-profit’s main mission of preserving Winter Garden’s beauty, history and landmarks.
What was once a citrus industry, Winter Garden is now home to over 30,000 people. “Winter Garden was the biggest shipper of produce in the area,” Britt says. “I used to get out of school and help harvest the crops. We had an icehouse where the trains would pull up, and they’d put blocks of ice in the ice car. Then it would be taken to the northeast.” As a third-generation resident, Britt even lives in the same house.
Jerry Chicone started the Winter Park Heritage Foundation. He felt the community was growing and changing so fast that its history might be lost. “He drug me to a heritage meeting. I said, ‘Man, we have to get organized.’ That one sentence made me chairman,” Britt says. Fourteen years later, he still volunteers his time.
For the past 23 years, the foundation has revitalized, preserved, and educated residents and visitors on what makes the area so special. It operates the area’s two museums – the Winter Garden Heritage Museum and the Central Florida Railroad Museum.
The foundation also purchased the old theater to be renovated. “I was asked to be on the advisory board when they purchased the theater,” says Lori Gibson, president of the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation. She feels the history of the area sets it apart. She was the main person behind its Capital Campaign, where funds were raised to build a special building, which will open in January, as the foundation’s history center. The center will serve as an archive that will hold historic photos, publications, artifacts, videos and memorabilia. There is a collection of Native American artifacts, artifacts from the Florida citrus industry, and Lake Buena Vista High School memorabilia, all donated by residents. “There is a nice collection of World War II memorabilia. We can now show more of our collection by using the new space,” Gibson says.
Both Britt and Gibson, along with other residents, take pride in making sure Winter Garden is the best it can be. The town also has bragging rights to the Music Fest, which is held the second week in October. “There is live music on three stages over three days,” says Gibson.
“Yes, we have done a magnificent job,” Britt says. “We have an exemplary bunch of people. Plus, the city of Winter Garden has been a wonderful partner with the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation. The mayor and city manager have been great partners with us,” Britt says.