History Of Winter Garden FL

Fri, Nov 03, 2023 at 11:45AM

Uncovering the Rich History of Winter Garden, FL

Nestled in the heart of Central Florida, Winter Garden is a charming city with a rich and storied past. From its humble beginnings as a citrus farming community to its architectural gems and cultural landmarks, Winter Garden has something for everyone. Join us on a journey through time as we uncover the fascinating history of Winter Garden FL.

Winter Garden FL

Key Takeaways

  • Winter Garden, FL was established in the 1850s and experienced rapid growth due to its fertile muck land and railroads.

  • The Winter Garden Heritage Foundation has worked with the local community to protect historical buildings such as Downtown Winter Garden, West Orange Trail, Lake Apopka’s South Shore and Edgewater Hotel.

  • These landmarks have been restored while preserving their historic essence for future generations to enjoy.

A Fruitful Beginning: Winter Garden's Early Years

Established in the 1850s and officially incorporated in 1908, Winter Garden’s history is deeply rooted in citrus and vegetable farming. The allure of fertile muck land and the arrival of the Orange Belt Railroad in the mid-1880s transformed this once sleepy settlement into a thriving town, rich in winter garden’s history and experiencing winter garden’s rapid development.

As businesses and commerce flourished, the charming little city we know today began to take shape.

Birth of a Charming City

The early residents of Winter Garden cultivated citrus and vegetables, which contributed to the city’s growth and the development of the citrus industry. However, the harsh winter of 1894-95 brought devastation to the community, as two hard freezes decimated 90% of the citrus trees, leading to a mass exodus of settlers.

Despite these setbacks, the resilient spirit of Winter Garden’s inhabitants persisted, and the city continued to grow with the establishment of Miller’s Plat of Winter Garden in 1907, including the development of Plant Street.

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The Role of Railroads

The growth of Winter Garden owes much to railroads, as the business district burgeoned alongside the Orange Belt and Tavares & Gulf Railroads. Beyond transporting oranges and other produce, these railroads attracted settlers and stimulated the area’s economic development. To learn more about this rich history, consider visiting the Central Florida Railroad Museum in Winter Garden.

People were lured to Winter Garden by the accessibility and convenience of the railroads, which led to population growth and a bustling downtown area.

Architectural Gems: Preserving Winter Garden's Heritage

The rich history of Winter Garden is reflected in its winter garden’s architectural heritage. The Winter Garden Heritage Foundation, established in 1994, has been instrumental in preserving the city’s architectural gems. The foundation and the local community have joined forces to preserve and celebrate the city’s heritage, from downtown Winter Garden’s historic buildings to the picturesque West Orange Trail.

Downtown Winter Garden: A Walk Through Time

Downtown Winter Garden is home to an array of historic buildings and sites, including the Winter Garden’s Historic District, Winter Garden Heritage Museum, and the Downtown Water Tower. These landmarks, together with the city’s preservation efforts, have helped maintain Winter Garden’s unique charm and contributed to the development of the winter garden’s business district.

Community leaders and citizens banded together in 1996 to secure downtown Winter Garden’s spot on the National Register of Historic Places. This listing is a testament to their dedication and advocacy for historic preservation.

West Orange Trail: A Pathway to the Past

Spanning 22 miles through West Orange County on a former railroad alignment, the West Orange Trail links several communities along Lake Apopka. Not only has the trail drawn thousands of visitors, but it has also significantly contributed to preserving Winter Garden’s architectural heritage and historic buildings.

The West Orange Trail today stands as a picturesque emblem of Winter Garden’s past and its enduring dedication to historic preservation, including the revitalization of East Plant Street.

Cultural Cornerstones: Winter Garden's Entertainment History

Winter Garden’s entertainment history is as rich and colorful as the city itself. Winter Garden has always served as a cultural and entertainment hub, with landmarks ranging from the historic Garden Theatre, built in 1935, to the Star-Lite Drive-In, known for its nostalgic starlit nights.

Garden Theatre: A Revival Of The Arts

The Garden Theatre was once a popular single-screen movie theater, serving as a source of entertainment for the local community. Sadly, the theater fell into disrepair and closed as television gained prominence.

In 2008, the Garden Theatre underwent renovation and was reborn as a live performance venue, showcasing a diverse array of theatrical productions, concerts, and events. Today, it remains a vibrant hub for the arts in Winter Garden.

Star-Lite Drive-In: Nostalgic Nights Under the Stars

The Star-Lite Drive-In was a beloved single-screen drive-in theater that opened its doors in 1949. Serving as a popular social center and nostalgic gathering place for moviegoers, the drive-in was a landmark in the community.

Sadly, it closed its doors in 1996 after 46 years of operation. The Star-Lite Drive-In remains a cherished memory for those who experienced the magic of watching films under the stars.

Lake Apopka: Winter Garden's Natural Treasure

Lake Apopka constitutes a key part of Winter Garden’s captivating natural beauty. Its reputation as a favored destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers offers activities like fishing, boating, and birdwatching.

The Lake Apopka Wildlife Trail and the Lake Apopka Loop Trail offer scenic routes for hiking and biking, enhancing the appeal of Lake Apopka and Winter Garden as a whole.

The Lake's South Shore: A Tourism Hotspot

Lake Apopka’s south shore is a popular tourist destination, offering a range of activities such as:

  • Picnicking

  • Boat launching

  • Wildlife observation

  • Bird watching

  • Enjoying sunset views at Magnolia Park

Lake Apopka’s fame as “the large-mouth bass capital” led to a surge in tourism, culminating in the establishment of the Edgewater Hotel in 1927 to accommodate the influx of visitors.

Environmental Challenges and Restoration

Despite its natural beauty, Lake Apopka faces numerous environmental challenges, such as blue-green algae blooms, pesticide contamination, and nutrient loads from sewage and wastewater. In response to these issues, various organizations, including the St. Johns River Water Management District and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, have implemented measures to restore Lake Apopka’s ecosystem.

These sustained efforts are focused on mitigating pollution and improving the lake’s health to secure its preservation for the generations to come.

Winter Garden's Historic Edgewater Hotel: A Timeless Retreat

A picture of Edgewater Hotel in its prime

The iconic Edgewater Hotel, established in 1927, has long been a cornerstone of Winter Garden’s history and charm. Once a bustling hub for tourists and fishermen drawn to Lake Apopka, the hotel has witnessed the city’s growth and evolution over the years.

The Golden Era: Edgewater Hotel in Its Prime

During its prime, the Edgewater Hotel provided a range of unique amenities, including:

  • Stunning waterfront decks

  • Breathtaking views

  • Cozy rooms with fireplaces and music themes

  • A hospitable staff

The hotel was a winter retreat for businessmen, a home for the Washington Senators during their Spring training, and a destination for renowned celebrities, such as Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, and Clark Gable.

A New Chapter: Restoring the Edgewater Hotel

A drop in the number of bass in Lake Apopka, resulting from agricultural pollution, decreased the number of fishermen frequenting the Edgewater Hotel.

Nevertheless, the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation and other community members collaborated to restore the hotel’s former grandeur, preserving its historic essence while updating it with modern amenities for guests.


From its fruitful beginnings as a citrus farming community to its architectural gems and vibrant entertainment scene, Winter Garden is a city with a rich history just waiting to be discovered. As we’ve journeyed through time, we’ve seen the resilience and passion of the people who have shaped this charming city. As Winter Garden continues to grow and evolve, its history remains a testament to the enduring spirit of its community.

Frequently Asked Questions

What did the Winter Gardens used to be?

The Winter Gardens used to be popularly known as glasshouse ranges that housed tropical plants for people to enjoy during the winter months, with the most famous example being the Regent's Park Winter Gardens from the 19th century.

What is Winter Garden Florida known for?

Winter Garden, Florida is known for its historic architecture, dining, cultural venues and ecotourism opportunities, situated just 30 minutes west of Orlando.

What is the origin of Winter Gardens?

The origin of Winter Gardens dates back to the 19th century, when they were built for public enjoyment of tropical plants during the winter months. The Regent's Park Winter Gardens is a notable example of this.

When was Winter Garden Florida built?

Winter Garden was established in 1903 and officially incorporated as a City in 1908. The first Mayor of Winter Garden was A.B. Newton and by 1920 the population had grown to over 1,000 people.

What role did railroads play in the growth of Winter Garden?

Railroads played an integral role in the growth of Winter Garden, stimulating economic development and attracting settlers with the introduction of the Orange Belt and Tavares & Gulf Railroads.

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