Elected officials hope the Arts & Heritage Center at Oakland will become a social hub for town residents and West Orange Trail users.
A construction office trailer and a storage trailer currently sit on the lot across from Town Hall, just north of the West Orange Trail. But by summer, a beautiful new center will stand in its place, a facility intended to bring the community together by celebrating its arts and heritage — and also providing a trail stop to buy snacks and use the rest room.
At the town’s groundbreaking ceremony Nov. 14, town staff, the Town Commission, community leaders, local and state officials, and investment and development partners turned the dirt to ceremonially begin work on the Arts & Heritage Center at Oakland.
The facility will stand near the Grace Park pergola, which recently was refurbished by Oakland’s Public Works staff. Originally built in 1913, it was partially “resurrected” in the late 1990s after years of neglect and decay and was again showing the effects of time.
“The new building is designed to wrap around the existing structure and, effectively, make it a focal point of the new facility,” Public Works Director Mike Parker said.
R. Miller Architecture is the project architect; Ovation Construction is the builder.
The 3,100-square-foot center will include a multi-purpose room that also will serve as the main exhibit hall. It has about 1,600 square feet of space and will have its own set of rest rooms that are separate from the public facilities outside.
A 300-square-foot storage area will hold historic exhibits when the multi-purpose space is being used for other cultural activities, such as music- and art-related gatherings. It can serve as a meeting or conference room, too.
The large, wrap-around, Southern-style porch can be used for many purposes. There is a 200-square-foot space that will likely house a concession area sometime in the future, Parker said.
Commissioner Joseph McMullen, an advocate for youth arts and music programs, has worked for years to bring something like this to Oakland. He said the venue is about serving the public and will be available to rent for events such as social engagements and community meetings.
“It's the start of our town having a central location that the residents can call our own and learn about our history and get to see art on display, live music, food and more activities only a few steps away from their home,” McMullen said.
He stressed that the art portion of the plan is all about art presentation and the facility will not offer classes or programs.
Construction of the center is expected to be completed around June 1.
“And, yes, that does include the much-needed rest room facilities,” Parker said.
When construction is finished, the town will shift its focus to the creation of the internal features.
“We are already working closely with the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation in developing historical displays and exhibits.”
The town is collaborating with the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation, which will provide logistical support with the historic preservation, identify and procure potential donors and manage the capital campaign.
This partnership is nothing new, as the WGHF already assists the town of Oakland in creating exhibits highlighting the town’s history.
“We will continue to do so in the new Arts & Heritage Center, as well as provide consultation on the town’s acquisition of proper display cases and lighting for their exhibits,” said Cynthia Cardona, WGHF executive director. “We occasionally will also assist in the creation of programs related to the town’s history which will be held at the new Arts & Heritage Center.”
The Winter Garden History Center has amassed an impressive collection of Oakland artifacts, photographs and archival material, and Cardona said it will remain the repository for such items. There are family files documenting the town’s earliest residents, as well as memorabilia such as a large stained-glass window and wall sconces saved from the second church building.
“When these items are needed for new exhibits at the Arts & Heritage Center, we will display them there, but the items will remain part of the foundation’s collection,” Cardona said. “The foundation will continue to collect and preserve material related to Oakland’s history, as the new Arts & Heritage Center will not feature an archive.”
The collaboration between the two organizations allows for the continued professional preservation of Oakland’s history, Cardona said. The heritage foundation has started a capital campaign to help raise funds for the new center.
“The expertise the foundation provides in exhibit and program development will be pivotal to the Arts & Heritage Center’s success,” she said.
“The Arts and Heritage Center at Oakland will become part of our community,” Mayor Kathy Stark said. “This is what we are all about; it differentiates us and makes us a town. This is the heart of our community, a place to gather, learn, make memories and share memories.”
The town is collaborating with the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation, which will provide logistical support with the historic preservation, identify and procure potential donors and manage the capital campaign.
THE NAME GAME
The town is offering naming opportunities for various parts of the new Arts & Heritage Center. For information, call the WGHF at (407) 656-3244.
• Exterior: bike racks, $5,000 each; the gardens, $15,000 each; entry paths, $20,000 each; handicap ramp entry, $20,000; porches, $30,000 each; courtyard concession wall, $30,000; courtyard, $50,000;
• Interior: wall hanging system, $10,000; display cases, $10,000; conference room break station, $15,000; A/V system, $25,000; conference room, $70,000; community meeting room, $300,000;
• Entire building: $1.5 million.
HISTORY: Oakland —A small town on the verge of growth
Though the town of Oakland wasn’t incorporated until 1887, records indicate there were four Indian trading posts and six Indian villages set up in the area in the 1850s. The first real settler, James Gamble Speer, arrived in the Oakland area after being appointed a member of the Indian Removal Commission.
He bought a spanse of land between Lake Apopka and John’s Lake in 1857. The park at the northwest corner of Tubb Street and Briley Avenue is named for this pioneer.
At that time, Oakland was considered a loosely designated area between the two lakes and two or three miles east and west. Today, Oakland has 3,119 residents in its 2.13 square miles.
Oakland’s popularity increased when the railroad system was extended through the area in the late 1880s. But the town’s economy took a major downturn when a devastating fire later wiped out the downtown business district, an 1895 freeze killed off the orange groves and the railroad pulled out because of a decline in business.
According to archives, Oakland’s town limits stretched from Killarney to Tildenville from 1926 to 1959, when Oakland officials voted to de-annex more than 800 acres because the town couldn’t afford to serve the area.
The town seemed to stay at a relative standstill for decades — partly by choice and partly because of a lack of real authority — until 1999, when Oakland’s mayor, commissioners, manager and Town Hall staff began working on a steady growth plan that was aggressive yet well-planned.
A large portion of this timeline was furnished from a history written in 1976 by H.S. “Buck” Hall Jr. Other historical information was provided by the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation.
1860: The first post office was established; William C. Roper was postmaster. A two-story inn was built at a midway point on the trail between Sanford (then called Mellonville) and Tampa. James Speer, who was moving back to Texas, sold his holdings in Oakland to Dr. Buford, who then sold them to James Jackson.
1867: The post office closed. Speer returned to Oakland and bought 1,000 acres from Dr. J.D. Starke of Ocoee.
1869: Speer became the largest landowner in Central Florida when Jackson, his wife’s father, died and Speer bought the land from the other heirs.
1877: Speer reopened the post office as postmaster. Other pioneers of the day were Luther Fuller Tilden and George Frank Connell, farmers; and James E. Willis, farmer and citrus grower.
1885: A charter was issued for the Orange Belt Railroad, which was to run from Lake Monroe to Lake Apopka. A second railroad, the Tavares, Apopka & Gulf, was started with tracks that began at Ellsworth Junction near Tavares.
1886: The Orange Belt was purchased, and tracks were laid on a path toward Lake Apopka. Speer offered 200 acres on the south shore of Lake Apopka (half interest in 180 acres plus 15 acres for railroad shops and a depot and five acres for a town park) if the owners would swing the railroad line into Oakland. An agreement was reached. The rails reached the town later that year, and the first train arrived in Oakland. Once the depot was built, the business section was established with a hotel, hospital, opera house, grocery, hardware store and offices. Thomas Jefferson Appleyard started publishing the first newspaper of the area, a weekly called The Southern Sun.
1887: A meeting was called to incorporate the town with 31 qualified voters listed. Peter A. Demens was elected the first mayor. The Presbyterian Church was organized.
1888: James Orlando Brock was proprietor of the Oakland grocery. The Town Council created the positions of tax assessor, city marshal and tax collector.
1889: The first black school opened in Oakland.
1890: A new two-story schoolhouse was built just west of the Presbyterian Church. The Oakland Cemetery Association was formed.
1891: The Florida Legislature legalized incorporation of the town of Oakland. The first mayor, a Russian immigrant, wanted to name it St. Petersburg, but residents insisted on keeping the Oakland name because it reflected the town’s beautiful canopy of oak trees. There was a confrontation between the two railroads when the TAG rails were laid nearly to Oakland and the Orange Belt threatened TAG with an injunction to keep it out of town. However, the TAG took advantage of a Monday holiday and ran the tracks along what is now Arrington Street. All the track was laid by the time courts opened Tuesday. The TAG later reorganized as the Tavares & Gulf Railroad.
1893: Judge James G. Speer died. The Orange Belt Railroad reorganized as the Sanford & St. Petersburg Railroad.
1894: The black school closed.
1895: During the “Big Freeze,” the Sanford & St. Petersburg line was sold to the Plant System because of a decline in freight along the line.
1900: The town’s population dropped to about 200.
1902: The Oakland jail was a wooden building behind the hardware store.
1904: An official post office building was built near Grace Park. Prior to this, the post office was temporarily set up in a number of locations, including several stores and postmasters’ homes. An Episcopal Chapel was built near the town’s hotel.
1905: The black school reopened.
1909: The South Lake Citrus Growers Association was organized.
1910: The Angebilt Lodge, also called the Oakland Hotel, was constructed on what is now Tubb Street, and rooms were $3 a day. A Missionary Baptist Church was erected at the west end of town. The Masonic Lodge, on the corner of Hull and Walker streets, was used as a school for black children. A few homes had electric lights from power furnished by the South Lake Apopka packinghouse; the lights were turned off at 11 p.m. after a five-minute warning flicker.
1911: Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church was built in west Oakland.
1912: Highway 438 (Oakland Avenue) was paved west to the Orange County line and north to the Oakland Bank (now historic Town Hall).
1913: The town hired two black police officers, R.S. Simmons and R.L. Pollard, to assist officers T. Smallbone and R.L. Smith. The town ordered 10 lights from Winter Garden Water & Light Company to be placed on posts. The driving speed limit was set at 10 mph.
1914: The Town Council set the millage at five mills for streets, parks, public areas and lighting on Henschen Avenue and Tubb Street; and five mills for salaries, building and incidentals. The council also voted to build sidewalks in certain areas of town. A clay road was put down in front of stores leading to the train depot at a cost of .506 cents per cubic yard.
1915: The town added more sidewalks and streetlights.
1917: Oakland had its first motorized school bus, a Model T Ford that replaced the previously used one-mule wagon. Driver Tilly Rosell hauled children from Killarney.
1919: The town dock was built on Lake Apopka at the end of Tubb Street.
1921: A new concrete jail was built.
1926: Residents petitioned the council to put a stop to camping in the big city park. Later that year, the town took over Erskine Sadler’s lease on Block 35 to use as a tourist camp. The town annexed all property from Tildenville to Killarney with 41 of the 43 voters in favor of the move. The Oakland Bank closed with all of the town funds. Money was borrowed from First National Bank of Winter Garden to operate on until the next tax collection. In October, the bank reopened, but only 60 percent of any given account was available.
1927: C.W. Olsen, who was given a franchise for furnishing water in 1925, entered an agreement with the town to supply water to the dock, parks, jail, pound and campground for $60 a year.
1928: First National Bank of Winter Garden took over the Oakland Bank, purchasing the building and land for $2,250. Grover C. Tubb was appointed deputy clerk, and later clerk, of the town.
1929: The council voted to spend $1,500 for a fire truck. The council cut Clerk Tubb’s salary from $75 to $5; the town had $21.20 in its treasury. The next month, he was rehired at $75 a month. The town opened an account with Bank of Ocoee.
1930: The town leased the Town Hall lobby to Mrs. Rhodes to use as a post office at $100 annually.
1931: A boys school was opened in the old hotel.
* From 1931-41, the town held few council meetings because, in part, there was no money in the treasury. In some years, the town spent no money, even cutting off the lights in Town Hall and the post office. In 1936 and ’38, the town held one meeting in the spring and one in the fall. In other years, there were only three meetings.
1932: Tubb’s wages were cut to $5 again, and all street work was discontinued.
1933: C.M. “Pete” Tucker was appointed constable.
1934: The town’s property tax ended. A volunteer fire force was formed with Tubb as chief, Lundeen as assistant chief and seven council members as firefighters.
1940: Two Army camps were set up on Lake Johns and on the old Oakland golf course, and the troops practiced drilling on Oakland’s main street. Dewey Vick and R.L. Smith ran for the mayor’s seat. Each received 10 votes, the council ruled “no mayor elected,” and the town operated without a mayor.
1945: The town dock was rebuilt.
1947: Oakland passed a utility tax ordinance.
1948: Dave Starr was appointed city marshal. The big park finally received a name: Speer Park.
1949: Children could roller skate in the new rink built in Speer Park. A flashing stoplight was installed on Highway 438. Pete Tucker was elected justice of the peace.
1950: The town bought the water works from Olsen. The Tavares & Gulf depot was closed.
1951: Tubb was sworn in as marshal at $25 a month.
1953: The flashing stoplight was sold to the Winter Garden Lions Club for two-thirds its original cost. Albert Walker became mayor.
1954: The T&G depot was torn down.
1955: The town contracted with Florida Power for streetlights. Boney Subdivision was annexed into the town.
1959: A zoning ordinance was passed. The new town charter was approved by state legislature, moving the town limits back to those of 1886.
1962: Town Council meetings were set for the first Tuesday of each month.
1964: The new post office was dedicated.
1965: A contract for $5,048 was signed to pave Tubb Street from Henschen Avenue to the railroad crossing.
1966: A new 1,000-gallon pressure tank was installed in the water system.
1967: Oakland bought the black elementary school property from the Orange County School Board for $5,000.
1969: A full-time police officer was hired for the town. Trinity Baptist Church was dedicated. T&G train service was discontinued. Due to W.S. Arrington’s failing health, a new city clerk was hired.
1970: Agnes Smith was named postmaster.
1971: T&G railroad ties and tracks were taken up.
1972: All town streets were given names honoring longtime residents. Streets and avenues were designated by numbers prior to this time. Avenues No. 1-8 became, respectively, Speer, Vick, Briley, Petris, Gulley, Henschen, Oakland, Hull and Sadler. Two previously unnamed avenues on the west side became Postell and Herriott. Streets No. 1-10 became, respectively, Starr, Brock, Arrington, Tubb, Cross, Daniels, Walker, Nixon, Pollard and Jefferson. Two streets in Boney Subdivision were named Smith and Winters, while two avenues bounding the subdivision on the north and south became extensions of Gulley and Henschen.
1974: The Oakland Volunteer Fire Department was authorized. No one qualified to run for mayor, so H.S. Hull Jr., Town Council president, became the acting mayor.
1975: Curtis Massey was elected mayor. The council voted 3-2 to allow Gallman’s Oakland Inn tavern on the west side of town to sell beer on Sundays.
1977: The town dedicated the original Grover Tubb Fountain.
1981: Oakland forgot to include the name change from “city” to “town” when it approved a proposed charter revision, so it didn’t appear on the ballot that year. Mayor Sam Hovsepian said he prefers “village.” Oakland was considered a city after a charter revision in 1959.
1982: A new charter was passed that established the makeup of the commission and with the mayor as the head. Until that time, the mayor served only as a figurehead and only could vote in a tie. The Town Council dropped plans for funding a dock and a bike trail in favor of a new fire station. The council voted to charge residents $3 monthly for street lighting.
1985: The state threatened to pull Oakland’s charter and resolve the township back into Orange County. There were no taxes at the time. The remaining fish camps ceased operation on Lake Apopka.
1986: Oakland had three full-time employees and three part-time workers. An entire truckload of trash was buried on the corner of Arrington Street and the West Orange Trail because the truck wouldn’t start, it was the middle of summer and the garbage was smoking and smelling.
1987: The last Atlantic Coast Line train went through town.
1989: Fire Chief Jim Briggs resigned. The town budget was $216,000 (in the General Fund) and $65,000 (for the Water Department). The Oakleaf was published by the town as a monthly paper.
1991: The Friends of Lake Apopka organized in an effort to save the polluted lake.
1993: Oakland, with Jake Voss as mayor, enacted the town’s first property tax in 60 years. The millage rate was set at four mills, which was expected to generate approximately $100,000.
1994: Orange County Chairman Linda Chapin cut the ribbon to official open the West Orange Trail through Oakland.
1996: The Oakland Gazette newsletter was started with an annual subscription rate of $10. The town approved Oakland Pointe, the first of several subdivisions to be built in the town. The Florida Legislature passed the Lake Apopka Restoration Act and allocated funding to begin the buyout of the north-shore muck farms.
1998: The police department started a K-9 program. In the first round of shakeups in the town, the commission fired the town manager and town auditor. In an effort to operate in the black again, the town closed its building department and terminated the police captain and code enforcement officer.
1999: The Oak Tubb Bed and Breakfast opened. The Town Commission enacted the Gateway Corridor Ordinance to strictly control the types of businesses — and their architectural styles, landscaping, signage and lighting — along West Colonial Drive and Oakland Avenue. The Oakland Nature Preserve was purchased with funds from the Florida Communities Trust, and an agreement between the town and the ONP board of directors allowed the board to develop and manage the preserve. Oakland’s controversial old “blue building” was torn down.
2000: Oakland hired its first female police officers, Nicole Torres and Dawn Beninato. A committee unveiled plans for a possible town center. Homes in Partnership and the town dedicated several homes.
2001: Residents balked when the Town Commission discussed putting paving options on the election ballot.
2002: A town center design was unveiled. Oakland received Tree City USA designation. The police department disbanded the K-9 program. ONP dedicated its boardwalk that leads to Lake Apopka.
2003: After years of planning, the town dedicated West Orange Charter Elementary School (now called Oakland Avenue Charter School) and the police and fire facility. FOLA completed its design of the Greenways and Trails project, which includes a loop trail around the lake.
2004: Kathy Stark, the current mayor, was elected. The town held a dedication ceremony for the new Oakland Town Hall and adjacent meeting hall, the roundabout (C.M. “Pete” Tucker Square) and the Grover Tubb Fountain on Tubb Street. The long-forgotten original Oakland-Tildenville Colored Cemetery — which has no plot map and no formal burial list — was rediscovered in an overgrown thicket near West Colonial Drive. The town and ONP joined resources to organize the Oakland Heritage Festival to celebrate their “natural and cultural heritage.”
2007: All four incumbents ran unopposed in the town election: Mayor Kathy Stark and commissioners Mike Satterfield, Willie Welch and Joseph McMullen.
2009: Dennis Foltz was hired as interim town manager, a temporary job that ended up being a full-time position for the next nine years.
2011: Steve Thomas was hired as Oakland police chief. Historic Town Hall was renovated.
2013: Oakland formed an agreement with the city of Clermont to process wastewater for the town and received the first of $2.35 million to fund the wastewater utility.
2014: The town modernized the water utility with construction of new pumping and storage facilities. Walt Disney World partnered with the town to build a Kaboom! Playground.
2015: Pavilions, sidewalks and landscaping were added to improve VanderLey Park.
2016: The town received three drainage grants worth $779,000 and began getting grants to begin construction on the Arts & Heritage Center at Oakland along the West Orange Trail. Officials negotiated an update to the town’s Joint Planning Area Agreement with Orange County.
2018: Town Manager Dennis Foltz retired and was replaced by Steve Koontz. The town broke ground on its Arts & Heritage Center. Dedication ceremonies were held to recognize residents who have made significant contributions to Oakland: the late Commissioner Willie Welch, Pollard Park and Pavilion; the late Mayor Jon VanderLey, VanderLey Park; former Mayor Francine Postell, Oakland Avenue Charter School media center; the late Mayor Jake Voss, boat dock; and the late Bob Montgomery, Speer Park gazebo. The town acquired land and developed a plan for another future street, on the east side of town, that will connect Oakland Avenue with West Colonial Drive; acquired land and facilitated the first phase of construction of the Cemetery Loop trail extension, which will connect the West Orange Trail to the commercial areas along Tubb Street and West Colonial; acquired land and facilitated construction of a new roadway, Sansparilla Road, connecting Oakland Avenue with West Colonial; and acquired lakefront land and facilitated construction of a new neighborhood park in the Hull Island area.