- February 19, 2015
Through a new exhibit, the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation Research and Education Center is paying tribute to one of the most important men in the city’s history.
The exhibit, which runs through March, celebrates the life and work of former Mayor George Walker. Walker, who moved to the area with his wife, Mattie, in 1919, opened the Walker Electric Co. and Appliance Store at 26 W. Plant St. In 1933, when Mayor Thomas Mann resigned, Walker was appointed to the mayoral position; he was elected officially that October.
In his seven years as mayor, Walker mastered the art of securing federal funds for local projects. By the end of the decade, he had received more than a quarter of a million in money for the city ($4.4 million in today's value).
The Winter Garden projects included a new city hall, a fire station and a sports complex, along with improved streets and new sidewalks. Encourage by the popularity of bass fishing in Lake Apopka, Walker also constructed a substantial recreational park along the shores of Lake Apopka. The new 30-acre park included a municipal swimming pool, seawall, community hall, gymnasium/auditorium, fishing pier, trailer park and boat basins with covered boathouses.
“This exhibit is important because it shows what can be accomplished when the right person, with determination and persistence, works hard to provide something that was needed,” said Jim Crescitelli, program director. “We say in our Citizen Heroes presentations that ‘they saw a need and they worked to fill the need and make things better for their community.’”
Today, little is known about the man behind the Depression-era city amenities, many of which still exist and have been enjoyed for the past 80 years. Walker terminated his political career with the end of the country's deepest and longest-lasting economic downturn, returning his attention to his business, his orange grove and his family. He died at the age of 61 in 1955. The single site that currently bears his name is Walker Field, the sports complex that includes the baseball field and adjacent football field on Park Avenue.
“The architectural legacy bequeathed to us by Mayor Walker is still mostly intact,” Crescitelli said. “It testifies to Winter Garden’s dedication toward keeping these projects viable — either in their original intent or as repurposed structures. To better appreciate our heritage, we help people to know the history behind these projects and how they are still in use today.”
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected]