The hurricane destroyed a nearly 100-year-old water tower from the city's citrus days.
The water tower wasn't included on the National Register of Historic Places, or any other historic site, for that matter, but it held significant value in Winter Garden nonetheless.
Constructed in the 1920s, the tank was an important part of the operations at the South Lake Apopka Citrus Growers Association in Tildenville for decades. To locals in recent times, it was an endearing reminder of yesteryear.
But the old metal structure was no match for Hurricane Irma, which raged through Central Florida late Sunday, Sept. 10, and early Monday, Sept. 11. The water tower, located on the old SLACGA property on Tildenville School Road, was knocked to the ground sometime during the storm, sending rushing waters into nearby businesses and destroying inventory and records.
On Tuesday morning, employees of Ledet Services, a fabricating and welding company that rents a building there, were pulling out furniture and files outside, seeing what could be saved.
Across the parking lot, Kathy Robertson, owner of Party Plus, was preparing to set up tables in the sun to allow her important papers to dry. She was already tallying up the damage to her inventory, saying her cotton-candy machine was a loss and hoping her chocolate fountain, sno-cone machine and other electrical pieces would still work.
When the tank fell, the water blasted through the concrete wall outside Party Plus, smashing the wall and filling one of her four spaces with water and mud. When she returned to her place of business, all of her machines and party supplies were pushed against the northern wall.
She spent an entire day washing mud off the walls and surveying the damage.
Lester Austin, a former citrus grower who owns the property, said he suspects a tornado struck the tower because of the twisted metal. None of it is salvageable, he said.
Though it wasn't used for potable water, the tank provided water for the former packinghouse's fire sprinklers and plumbing and for tenants to wash their vehicles.
Water was supplied by a deep well, Austin said. He is now planning to talk to the city of Winter Garden about hooking up to the city's water system. Austin is a third-generation resident; his grandfather farmed in Winter Garden before transitioning to citrus in the 1940s.
Contact Amy Quesinberry at [email protected].