Hi gang, Rick here from Used Pontoon Boats with our latest holiday travel destination , Central Florida Winter Park. The tour boat glides past lavish lake front homes as the guide recites the names of notable past and present occupants: Walgreen as in drugstores, Sinclair as in oil, Horace Grant as in the Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic.
We might have been cruising past the genteel mansions of Lake Geneva, Wis., if it weren't for the Spanish moss hanging from the cypress trees and the alligators lurking in the reeds. The simple pontoon boat ride seemed typical of a Midwestern lake resort.
If you think of Central Florida as all theme parks and tourist attractions with little history and culture, Winter Park will surprise you. Though only 30-40 minutes up I-4 from Walt Disney World, this city of 28,000 seems a world apart, a world with several Chicago connections.
In the early 1900s wealthy Northerners came to Winter Park by train to escape the harsh winters back home, just as they escaped to Lake Geneva to flee the summer heat of Chicago.
In Florida, they built cottages, then posh estates that became year-round homes with the advent of air conditioning. Arts and Crafts bungalows lined the streets of Florida's first planned community and French provincial, Mediterranean and Tudor homes sprouted along the city's seven lakes.
One of these winter residents, Charles Hosmer Morse, was the controlling partner at Fairbanks, Morse & Co. in Chicago. As the Industrial Revolution took off, this manufacturer of presses, trucks, motors and other machinery made a fortune. When Morse retired in 1915 his winter home became his primary residence and he made Winter Park the beneficiary of his philanthropy.
He donated the land for Central Park, still a downtown haven with fountain and rose garden, and helped organize the Winter Park Country Club, a public nine-hole course with a 1914 clubhouse on the National Register of Historic Places.
Perhaps his greatest legacy came two generations later when granddaughter Jeannette McKean, who grew up in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood, founded the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, the world's most comprehensive collection of the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany.
For fans of Tiffany glass, Winter Park is a mecca. More than half of the museum's visitors come from out of state, detouring around Disney to wander through 19 galleries of stained glass, favrile glass and Tiffany's works in pottery, jewelry and furniture.
Chief among them, the Tiffany Chapel, once drew crowds in Chicago during the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.
Designed as a promotional tool showcasing Tiffany's talents, the Byzantine-style chapel was never a consecrated sanctuary. Nevertheless, visitors reacted with reverence, the men instinctively removing their hats as they entered. A 1,000-pound electrified chandelier in the shape of a cross hung over a marble and white-glass altar, a dome-shaped baptismal font and 16 mosaic columns. The chapel had several windows, one containing 10,000 separate pieces of glass.
After the fair, the chapel was dismantled and moved to St. John the Divine church in New York City, where it fell into disrepair. Tiffany reacquired it and moved it to his Long Island estate, where he restored it.
McKean and her husband, Hugh, an artist who studied at Tiffany's estate, had become friends of the Tiffany family. In 1957, when one of Tiffany's granddaughters phoned to say a fire destroyed much of the estate, they rushed to Long Island and salvaged what they could, bringing the pieces back to Winter Park. The chapel was kept in storage until recently when it was restored for a second time and installed in a new wing of the museum.
The McKeans' estate, where they once kept a flock of peacocks, sits on Lake Virginia and is passed on the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour. The pontoon boat also motors by Eastbank, built in 1883 for William C. Comstock, former president of the Chicago Board of Trade, and the estate of sculptor Albin Polasek, now a museum and sculpture garden open to the public.
The Mediterranean architecture of Rollins College also can be seen from the boat. Florida's oldest institution of higher education was founded in 1885. Alonzo W. Rollins, owner of a Chicago company that sold dyes to woolen mills, donated money and land for the college, which became the artistic heart of Winter Park. The campus contains the Annie Russell Theatre, which showcases both student and professional talent, and the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, the oldest collection of art in Florida with more than 6,000 objects.
Several prominent families sent their children to Rollins. Jeanette McKean attended classes there and later served on the college board. Hugh McKean was an instructor there and then college president. Fred Rogers of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" courted his wife there while earning a degree in music composition.
Cruising along the shoreline of Lake Osceola, the boat's skipper points to a red brick home where Rogers lived. "That's the real Mr. Rogers' neighborhood," he quips.
Corny jokes and odd bits of trivia are as thick as the vegetation along the two manmade canals navigated on the one-hour tour. Originally built by the logging industry to connect the lakes in the area, the narrow channels wind past backyards where bamboo, Egyptian papyrus and banana trees flourish. Gliding along the Venice canal brings gondolas and singing boatmen to mind.
Winter Park compares itself to Europe in other ways, especially the downtown shopping area with its brick streets, sidewalk cafes and restaurants that buy produce from the local farmers market. Among the 120 shops and galleries are some national names, including Nicole Miller, Lilly Pulitzer, Pottery Barn, Ann Taylor and Williams-Sonoma, but no big chain stores. Instead, Park Avenue is lined with one-of-a-kind boutiques and salons.
At Shou'ture you get a free pedicure when you buy designer shoes (minimum purchase $250). You also can buy the themed pedicure of the month or the signature chocolate pedicure using chocolate-scented products applied while you sip a chocolate martini or cappuccino.
BullFish, named for its two owners, one a Pisces and the other a Taurus, sells an eclectic mix of pet items, gifts and gourmet food products. You can buy a designer collar for your dog, a wine caddy or a bottle of balsamic vinegar.
Along with Park Avenue's chocolate shops and men's and women's clothing boutiques is the Wine Room, a combination wine store, wine bar and deli. It stocks more than 15,000 bottles representing 1,200 different labels, some hard to come by. Purchase a card for access to samples at the push of a button and drink to the notable Chicagoans who had the foresight to settle in Central Florida.
If you go
Winter Park, Fla.
Go: To see Tiffany glass, shop and cruise along a chain of lakes and canals
No: If you go to Florida for theme parks or beaches
Need to know: Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, (877) 972-4262, www.winterpark.org; City of Winter Park, www.cityofwinterpark.org
Getting there: The closest major airport is in Orlando and is served by several airlines with flights from Chicago. Go north of the airport on I-4 and take the Fairbanks exit (exit 87) east to Park Avenue.
When to go: Central Florida records average high temperatures in the 90s in summer, in the 70s in winter.
Where to stay:
Park Plaza Hotel, 307 Park Ave. South, (800) 228-7220, www.parkplazahotel.com
Best Western Mt. Vernon Inn, 110 S. Orlando Ave., (800) 992-3379, www.bestwestern.com/mtvernoninn
Thurston House bed and breakfast, 851 Lake Ave., Maitland, Fla., (800) 843-2721, www.resortsandlodges.com/lodging/usa/florida/central-florida.html
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art: 445 N. Park Ave., (407) 645-5311, www.morsemuseum.org. Open Tuesday through Sunday; $3 adults.
Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour: 312 E. Morse Blvd., (404) 644-4056, www.scenicboattours.com. Operates daily except Christmas; $10 adults, $5 ages 2-11.
Rollins College: 1000 Holt Ave.; Cornell Fine Arts Museum, (407) 646-25, www.rollins.edu/cfam; Annie Russell Theatre, (407) 646-2145, www.rollins.edu/theatre.
Thanks to the Daily Herald for this.
Used Pontoon Boats, By Rick Ostler
Used Pontoon Boats-North American Waterway
If you found this interesting, please tell others by clicking on the bookmark icon in top left corner of page and insert a brief remark to let others know were here.
Also we value your comments, if you can add more info in regards to this article please do so. Thanks............Rick