- January 14, 2016
With its recently obtained 501(c)3 and newly designed logo featuring pine trees, the Gotha Rural Settlement Association is looking for ways to merge its past with the future.
Members want to preserve the rich history of the community and retain its identity and individuality. One idea is to create an artists’ colony.
And to get people interested in the community’s future, they first need to know about its past, said Rita Schoeffler, a longtime Gotha resident who is involved with the Gotha Rural Settlement Association.
She sets up a booth at most of the community events in West Orange County, eager to share the history of Gotha with anyone who stops by.
“I couldn’t believe the number of people who stopped by and said, ‘My grandmother used to live there,’ ‘My pappy lived there,” Schoeffler said.
Many of the buildings and homes in Gotha are close to a century old, if not older. Schoeffler and the Gotha Rural Settlement Association are making it their goal to connect the past with the future through preservation.
This push really started when a 1930 Florida Vernacular lake estate was demolished.
“We missed out on buying (it),” Schoeffler said. “That's what got me involved. … It was right behind Maguire Road in the woods behind the veterinary clinic. There's no street; it's just in the woods.
“It was preserved; the whole thing was made out of wood, no drywall,” she said. “It was a mansion for its time. They had a grand piano inside. And they just took a wrecking ball to it. But that's not going to happen again. We all have our eyes open and will preserve them.”
The yellow dog eats restaurant, located at 1236 Hempel Ave. and owned by Chris “Fish” Morgan, operates out of a former home built around 1910. Besides a private residence and eating establishment, the building served as a country store for decades.
Morgan's eclectic eatery is an example of what an artists' colony could look like, Schoeffler said. Another artist bought a nearby home and created a shabby chic look that caught the eye of a French magazine.
“That's the future of Gotha,” she said. “(To see) the Craftsman houses that stay here fixed up. That's the goal of 2017: to fix them up. People want that little Craftsman house. … I don't want to see them torn down.”
The association has been moving forward with its historic preservation efforts. There have been conversations with Orange County Government, and Schoeffler has had phone conversations with Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, who put her in touch with foresters.
Gotha was a pine tree forest decades ago, and foresters offered to provide pines once the 501(c)3 was set up.
“We have people who want to be involved just for the instatement of our pine trees,” Schoeffler said.
She thinks Windermere's Arbor Day celebration would be the perfect time to start the planting, since Gotha and the town next door are “sister cities.”
About a dozen people have expressed interest in the pine tree project, and a few dozen more are needed. People who have an interest in Gotha can contact Schoeffler at (407) 739-4622 or [email protected].
There have been talks of organizing a founders day to recognize April 20, 1885.
Association members have talked to residents for feedback, and many have said they would like to see Gotha incorporate some of Winter Garden success with events and festivals.
An art fair was held last year in the front parking lot of yellow dog eats and two other buildings, and artists brought their creations to sell.
“There are certain people who want to buy little houses here and move here,” said Schoeffler, who has been a Realtor for 35 years and lives in Lake Nally Woods, a stone's throw from downtown Gotha. “I've had two artists call me and want to buy here. They are interested to live in a horticultural neighborhood, like Thornton Park.”
“Gotha certainly has the potential to accommodate an artist’s colony,” said newly elected County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey. “The residents of Gotha are very engaged and as such would have a strong voice in determining its future.”
Whether or not Gotha becomes an artists' colony, the preservation plan is still in the works.
Schoeffler said Gotha has already received a neighborhood improvement grant to make improvements to the streets. Orange County also has grants available for helping senior citizens fix up their homes' exterior, and her plan is to go street by street, interviewing the homeowners, documenting their stories and submitting grant applications.
“We have a lot of history,” she said. “We want to have that history flare with a bit of art. We don't want a lot of stores, a lot of restaurants.”
“Gotha’s identity is well established; people settle in the area for the unique charm it offers,” VanderLey said. “Any growth would be expected to fit into, preserve and respect the deep history and unique nature of the community.”
Contact Amy Quesinberry at [email protected]