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Photo: Courtesy of Rollins College Archives - Student residents at Pinehurst Cottage at Rollins College, Florida's first college, in 1889.
Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Jul. 16, 2015 3 years ago

Salute Winter Park businesses at Chamber celebration

The biggest and oldest
by: Anne Lottman

In 1882, Winter Park’s founding fathers, Oliver Chapman and Loring Chase, sold the first piece of land in Winter Park to John Ergood and Robert White, Jr. who built a general store on the corner of Morse Boulevard and Park Avenue. Since then hundreds of companies have left a legacy improving the health of the community, supplying thousands of jobs, and providing top-notch education to Central Floridians.

On July 23, the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce will partner with the city of Winter Park and the Economic Development Advisory Board to honor more than 220 businesses that have been a part of Winter Park for over 25 years. The Salute to Business Celebration will recognize businesses with anniversaries ranging from 25 to 75 years. Get a sneak peek at some of the superlatives to be featured at the ceremony below.

The largest employer

Winter Park Memorial Hospital celebrated its 60th anniversary this month. With almost 1,400 employees, it is one of the largest employers in the city. Next month, the hospital will ask the city for approval on two major expansions: an expanded emergency room, and a patient pavilion. For Ken Bradley, Winter Park Memorial Hospital CEO and former Winter Park mayor, one of the milestones that has brought him the most joy in the past 15 years is seeing the number of babies delivered at the hospital reach the 30,000 mark. Several physicians at the hospital have delivered many generations.

“You hear about the circle of life, we see it often,” Bradley said.

Bradley said he frequently sees people in orientations for their first day on staff that were born at the hospital. Over the years, the hospital has partnered with Winter Park Health Foundation to strive to be the healthiest community in the nation. Bradley said a recent Healthy Central Florida initiative, the Breathe Free campaign, has been very well received in the community. Thirty businesses chose willfully, “and with great gusto,” to join the movement of creating smoke-free patio dining areas.

The longest family-run business

The Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour is one of the longest family-run businesses in Winter Park. Established in 1938 by the Meloon family, it has been owned by several families over the years, said Ron Hightower, current owner of the boat tour. He and his grandfather purchased it in 1995.

Located on the shore of Lake Osceola, the boat tour is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and only closes Christmas Day. Hightower said the boat tours see on average 40,000 visitors a year. Though each tour will cover the same sights, the tour guides put in their individual twists.

“Most of our guys are retirees who work part time,” Hightower said. “They have diverse backgrounds and they bring their personality to their tour.”

Along with learning the rich history of the beautiful lakeside estates, visitors cruise through narrow, man-made canals to get to Lake Maitland and Lake Virginia. Hightower said not much has changed about the tours since Capt. Walt Meloon started the Winter Park attraction 77 years ago. Not much, he said, except for lakeside estates being renovated, or floated across the lake on barges such as the Capen House in 2013.

Florida’s first college

Rollins College is the first recognized college in Florida. It first opened its doors in 1885, the same year the city of Winter Park was founded. Founded by New England Congregationalists, the liberal arts college attracted students mostly from the Northeast Atlantic region.

“Most of the students coming down knew about it through the social network of the congregational church,” Professor Julian Chambliss said.

The associate history professor said that the Annie Russell Theatre, which staged its first play in 1932, has served as a fixture of the community for more than 80 years.

“It was the only theatre in the area. So if people wanted to see a play, you really had to go to the Annie Russell Theatre,” Chambliss said.

The only lasting structure from Rollins’ founding is Pinehurst Cottage, which now serves as a co-ed residence hall, but was used as a library, infirmary, and chemistry lab over the years.

“Our curriculum was a classical curriculum, very much like the curriculum you would have taken at Harvard at the time,” Chambliss said. Through the years, several traditions have lived on. Fox Day, first created by Hugh McKean, Rollins’ 10th president in 1956, is a day in the spring term when the president cancels classes and everyone enjoys a picnic on the green.

The Salute to Business Celebration will honor of all these businesses’ longevity and lasting impact on the community. The Winter Park Chamber of Commerce will also be honoring long-time members, including its oldest members CenturyLink, and The Winter Park Land Company. Visit for more information, and to register for the event.

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