A Cute Town With A Juicy Past
Orlando is a massive metroplex with dozens of suburban towns that include Walt Disney World in the west and Winter Park in the Northeast. Within the Orlando orbit and located twenty miles due north of Disney World is the town of Winter Garden.
It was a thriving town in the early twentieth century with it’s principle focus on growing oranges (juicy past). It was located in Orange County and at one time shipped more fruit than any other spot in the nation. Centrally located. two railroad lines passed through the town bringing in tourists and hauling out oranges. Many of the tourists came to fish Lake Apopka, once an international capital for bass fishing.
By mid-century the lake was terribly polluted (mostly from agricultural runoff on its north shore), the orange industry had consolidated around mostly larger corporate groves that had moved farther south and the town was drying up.
The town has enjoyed a rebirth recently. In 1994 the West Orange Trail opened on the former Atlantic Coast Line rail bed and become one of the states most popular biking and walking trails stretching out to twenty some miles. Created by Orange County the trail included way stations and rest stops doted along its length. On weekends Winter Garden plays host to throngs of bikers from all over riding the West Orange Trail. The middle of the trail runs right through the center of Plant Street, Winter Garden’s main downtown strip.
For several decades Lake Apopka has seen extensive efforts to reverse its pollution and the results are showing signs of making a difference. Anglers are catching bass again and boaters are using the lake for recreation. The town is making use of a lakeside park for concerts and Forth of July celebrations and there are plans to improve the waterfront.
Located on Plant Street along with two bicycle shops are a number of noteworthy attractions including the Edgewater Hotel. Developed in the 1920s as a state-of-the art accommodation for the anglers who visited Winter Garden to fish largemouth bass, it now operates as an upscale boutique bed and breakfast.
Also there’s the Plant Street Market, a new facility that looks a lot like Winter Park’s original Farmer’s Market. On the outside, the brick building looks like a survivor from the earlier century, but inside it’s 21st-century modern, with a craft brewery along with a number of food venue choices.
The town includes the Garden Theatre, which originally opened in 1935 as a modern motion-picture theatre and was restored in 2008 to become a performing-arts center that now offers plays, concerts and movie festivals.
The downtown district covers an area about eight blocks long and two to three blocks wide and within this area are two museums, several gift shops, four women’sdress shops, more than ten restaurants and three café/coffee shops.
Weekends are full of events with Friday night music on the square in the town center, along with additional music usually available in three or four other venues around town. Live music is usually featured all weekend at The Attic Door wine café, Pilars Martini Bar (Pilars also features a great open-mic jazz Sunday) along with the Crooked Can Brewery in Plant Street Market.
Saturday mornings start with one of the best Farmers Markets in Florida and continues with more live music around town going right thru Sunday. Recently on one Saturday evening there was live music going on at seven different locations in town.
Winter Garden is also noteworthy for a number of special weekend events throughout the year. There is the Spring Fling Garden Show, Blues and Barbeque, Classic Car nights, Halloween Treats in Town, Holiday Light Up Winter Garden., Orlando Symphony on the Lake, along with a couple of music concert weekends taking over the length of Plant Street.
If you are visiting Orlando or live within driving distance and are looking for a fun day consider a visit to Winter Garden. Unfortunately other than the Edgewater Hotel there are not a lot of hotels nearby.