- April 11, 2019
For the residents of West Winter Park, the places and faces in the frames are familiar: The young woman posing in a flower swimsuit, the family dressed in their Sunday best in front of the father's prized car and the proud sixth-grade girl. They are all seconds in history now reborn, captured to live forever on the walls of the Hannibal Square Heritage Center.
The Center celebrated eight long years of work on July 9, with the opening of "125 Windows into a Historic Community: The Complete Heritage Collection". While versions of this collection have been resting on the walls since its first opening with only 30 pieces in 2003, this time all of the museum's "windows" have been put on display. Black and white memories, complete with background stories, have been framed to help bring to life the past of Winter Park's historically black west side neighborhood.
"This belongs to the people," said Fairolyn Livingston, once the little girl, now the Center's manager and chief historian.
It belongs to the young lady in the bathing suit, who, in the picture, pretends she's enjoying a day in Hawaii while she's really just at home in Winter Park. Forty years later, she got to really go on that dream vacation. Now she can remember that Winter Park day long ago by visiting the Heritage Center. And what's more important, so can future generations of her family.
"It makes me feel good to have something to share with my great-great-grandchildren," Lurline Fletcher said, "that they'll be able to come in and see where their great, great grandmother has been and what their great-great-grandmother has done, that there's some history left here."
The exhibit has been eight years in the making, with six Community Heritage Days helping to create the collection. Peter Schreyer, curator of the collection and founder of the Center, and his team reached out to the community to dig up and dust off their photographic memories on each of these days.
When Livingston helps to collect photos and stories, her own history comes flooding back. She feels privileged to speak to people she's known her entire life, who can tell her about her own mother and even about the day she was born — because they were there.
"It's a feeling you can't buy or reproduce," she said.
When the first day was held in 2002, Schreyer said he didn't know if anyone would show up. When more than 20 came, a dream was born. He knew that the photographs were what the community needed to capture and remember the past. So much is forgotten, but the photos are here to keep history alive, he said.
"Photographs are such a powerful tool in storing memory," Schreyer said.
As people browsed the exhibit Friday night, the proof to this theory was on the visitors' faces. They walked slowly around the photos, stopping to point out their friends and relatives, and to read the stories. Rhonda Sweet, who drove in from Clermont, couldn't hide her excitement as she giggled with joy at the familiar faces she saw on the wall, sharing the moments with her mother.
"I'm overwhelmed, it's wonderful," said Sweet, who grew up in Winter Park. "It just brings back so many memories."
Emily Hamilton felt the same.
"I'm surprised I recognized people; it makes the exhibit more meaningful," Hamilton said.
And for a place whose whole story hasn't always been voiced, this collection helps to complete the picture, Schreyer said.
"What's missing is the everyday story of people like you and me," he said.
This exhibit shows all that Winter Park's black community contributed to the city, and pays tribute to the everyday people who did the work. Schreyer hopes it will help the community learn from the past so that they may make better decisions for the future, especially regarding historical preservation.
The community gets that.
"You have to know the past to know the future," Hamilton said.
Visitor Valada Flewellyn agreed.
"The community changes so much, and it's nice to have a reflection of what it was, so that we can preserve it," she said.
The Center wants to continue developing the collection, and Schreyer sees multimedia features in the future, with audio and video stories being told alongside the written ones.
And Livingston doesn't see an end to the Center's quest for west side history.
"Until we hear every person's story, the history is incomplete."
The "125 Windows into a Historic Community: The Complete Heritage Collection" will be on display July 9 to Sept. 25. Visit the Hannibal Square Heritage Center for free Tuesday through Friday from noon to 4 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, call 407-539-2680 or visit www.hannibalsquareheritagecenter.org.