To folks driving down County Road 535, the white house with the green shutters stood among grand oak trees and simply looked like a beautiful place to live.
But to the six Duppenthaler children and their children — and their children — this place in Winter Garden was the foundation for thousands of memories of togetherness and celebration. This chapter of the family legacy is closing this week as developers are demolishing the 91-year-old house at 721 Winter Garden-Vineland Road and replacing it with new homes.
The family made the tough decision to sell the property and the home, which was in need of major repairs and the cost to make it inhabitable was too much.
What can’t be destroyed, however, are the recollections of childhood games; of family dinner and holiday gatherings; of weddings, bridal showers and baby showers.
THIS OLD HOUSE
The sturdy bones of this house are more than nine decades old. Bert Hause and Charlotte Smizer Roper built the home of heart cypress in this once-rural area of Winter Garden in 1932. The original structure had four bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs and cost $10,000 to build. They raised their twins there, son Booker and daughter Elizabeth, whom they called “Betty.”
After Bert’s death in 1941, Charlotte remained in the house. She was joined by Betty and her new husband, Dallas “Dal” Duppenthaler, in 1948, followed by their six children: Ed, Jane, Ann, twins Dale and Diane, and Don. Charlotte lived in the home until she died in 1971; Betty and Dal called the place home until their deaths in 2014 and 2018, respectively.
It was a magical place in which the two Duppenthaler sons and four daughters grew up.
“Growing up in that home was definitely a blessing,” said Jane Duppenthaler Aycock, the oldest daughter. “I’d say it was a cross between ‘The Waltons’ and ‘Leave it to Beaver.’ We loved to play outside and loved to fish and catch pollywogs and minnows. Swinging on the swings, climbing trees, playing tag, and we always had ducks and chickens and other pets. We had horses and loved riding all over West Orange County. It was a different time, and you felt safe.”
Ann Duppenthaler Cross has fond recollections of gathering on Christmas morning, sliding down the stairs on a piece of cardboard, horseback riding through the many orange groves, riding in the homeplace grove with her father, and enjoying Thanksgiving dinners and family birthday parties.
Don Duppenthaler said his fondest memories include large family gatherings, fishing in the lake out back and learning how to drive in the groves.
“When my brother Don and I looked out the (upstairs) windows on the back of the house, we could see the small lake that we fished in, and beyond the lake was a large oak tree that we often played in,” Cross said. “And behind the oak tree were acres of orange groves. We could see the horse pasture and our horses from the windows looking north.”
“If you were upstairs and looked out the back windows you could see the lake and orange groves,” Aycock said. “At night you could hear the crickets and the frogs croaking so loud you could hardly go to sleep. There were lightning bugs everywhere. Out the front windows we could see Highway 535 and the sparse traffic that passed by. If you were up in the attic, you could see the fireworks at Disney after they came to town.”
The back porch was a favorite gathering spot, Cross and Aycock said, as this was where special events and family gatherings took place.
“That was always my parents’ favorite place to sit, and we always knew when we got there, that’s where they would be,” she said.
GATHERING AND CELEBRATING
Holidays at the home were special, not only for the Duppenthaler family but for Henry Birdsong and his family too. Birdsong worked for the family and was a lifelong friend of Charlotte Roper’s.
“He was the best cook and was always there to make sure we were all OK,” Aycock said. “Christmas was always special. We would all gather around the tree and open our gifts, then later Henry would bring his children over and they would gather around the table and sing Christmas carols.”
Many celebrations took place at the Duppenthalers.
“Many of us were married out there or had receptions out there,” Aycock said. “I had my wedding there with a reception, as did my daughter, Jenny, and her daughter, Whitney. When my mother … and my dad … married, they held the reception there. In fact, it was at a rehearsal dinner for my mom’s best friend and my dad’s best friend … held at the house … when my parents met. And it was love at first sight.”
Don Duppenthaler’s wedding reception was held in the home, too.
Family frequently gathered at the home, as did many of their friends.
“Weddings and wedding rehearsal dinners and receptions were always a fun time,” Cross said. “A favorite part of the preparations for these events was the making of cucumber sandwiches and chicken salad sandwiches and mints for these events.”
Once the surrounding land was cleared in recent weeks and the house stood alone without the cover of foliage, many folks — including family, friends and passersby who might have dreamed of living there — started commenting on Facebook, wishing the home could be saved or sharing their own memories.
Melissa Johnson Tressler’s rehearsal dinner was held at the house 35 years ago, and she said it was a special place because her parents’ rehearsal dinner was held there too.
Carol Cothern, Keisha Kennington Campbell and Rhonda Jean Davidson Dexter reminisced about their bridal showers being held at the house, and Danielle Duppenthaler recalled her wedding on the front steps of the home.
Betty Goodwin, who was best friends with the Duppenthaler daughters, recalled playing in the attic, sliding down the banister, riding horses on the property and eating the wonderful food cooked by Birdsong.
Dexter spent many nights at the house with her cousin and grandparents, and they learned to make their own fun.
“Mema and Papa would load up the station wagon … and go hunt for golf balls like an Easter egg hunt across the street from the West Orange Country Club,” Dexter recalled. “We would take them back home and put them in a cardboard box. Then we would take the golf balls to the top of the stair landing and pour them out. (My memories include) playing dress-up in the attic, (watching) Papa cutting and polishing rocks and gems and different stones on the back porch, picking wild blackberries beside the edge of the orange groves, riding Mema’s tricycle around that huge half circle driveway, riding ponies (and) tending bees.”
Before the property was sold, “treasures of the past” were divided between the six children and their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Aycock said.
“I took a few stones that my dad had faceted and a large amethyst vugg that they had on the shelf,” she said. “I also took an antique brass firewood box. There were lots of books that we all sorted through. … Some parts of the house were taken by family members, and they incorporated the parts into their own houses.”
Cross kept several pieces from her parents’ rock and mineral collection, a painting of the house by local artist Joe Burch, a small piece of concrete from the Roper Dairy with her grandfather’s name and a date of 1938, several of her grandmother’s favorite books and several items from her father’s days as a member of the University of Washington crew team.
Several of the siblings split up the china and crystal from their mother and grandmother, reminiscing about Thanksgiving dinners as they separated the pieces.
Don Duppenthaler kept some of the glass door knobs from interior doors, some cypress wood from walls and floors, and gemstones from their parents’ collection.
The Duppenthalers admit it’s bittersweet to dismantle a home with such a strong family foundation, but they also know the house was beyond repair and it was time to say goodbye.
“Once the people you loved are gone from the house, it’s never the same,” Aycock said.