A town situated on several small lakes, Winter Park in the center of the state is a beautiful slice of Old Florida.
Mansions set on the lakes, built by industrialists, society leaders and others who wintered here pepper the town that features a train station in its park on the square downtown. Modern shops and restaurants now line the tree-shaded area, making it a nice strolling area.
The back yards and boathouses of the gorgeous mansions from the ’30s and ’40s can been seen by taking the Scenic Boat Tour, an hour’s guided ride around Lake Maitland and Lake Osceola. The guides won’t say who lives in them now, but names like Walgreen’s founders, Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers), and a famous Heat basketball player I’m afraid escapes me, all have had homes here – many built by James Gamble Rogers II, the main architect in this town. He also built a home on the Isle of Sicily – a spit of land in Lake Maitland. Two bedrooms, one bath – and 15,000 square feet.
Capt. Frank was our guide, explaining to some visitors from Seattle about cypress trees and knees, and pointing out the live oaks dripping with moss overhanging the tiny canals that link the lakes. Rollins College was a main feature – its rowing team was practicing the day we visited, but the ski team and sailing teams all have a presence on the lake.
The gorgeous old cypress trees lining the banks of the lakes, and the live oaks dripping with moss represent over a century of growth, according to Frank. Hurricanes have decimated many – an oak propped up over one of the canals with steel pipes is a testament to the residents who work to preserve the natural beauty of this area.
Orlando is encroaching, and only a few miles away, the interstate takes workers and tourists to the attractions, but here in Winter Park, it’s more serene. The Morse Museum, with the largest Tiffany collection in the country, is only one of the arts and cultural attractions here. Rollins College has its own modern art collection.
A number of great restaurants can sate the food lovers – Luma on Park, the Beard-nominated Ravenous Pig, or Prato for pizza.
For more info on touring Winter Park by boat, go to the web site for Scenic Boat Tours. It’s $12 for adults, $6 for kids and they leave on the hour all days except Christmas.