A.B. Newton moved to the area from Mississippi with a history of poor health. It was in this area that his health improved and lived a long and healthy life. Newton gave credit to the city for his recovery, so he gave the city the name, Winter Garden. Records trace land titles of property in Winter Garden back to about 1880. Transportation during these years were by steamboat on Lake Apopka, but the steamship line went out of business when the first railroad was built in 1886. The railroad, or Orange Belt as it was called then, traveled from Sanford to St. Petersburg, Florida. The Orange Belt was later named the Atlantic Coast Line until it merged with the Seaboard Airline Cost Line. From this merger the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad was formed and provided freight service for the vast citrus industry from Winter Garden. Today, the Railroad Museum stands as a tribute to the vital form of transportation which enabled the citrus industry in the area to flourish. Downtown Winter Garden Incorporated in 1903 on the southern shores of Lake Apopka, Winter Garden was largely an agricultural community. Citrus and vegetables were the foundation of the area’s economy.
Change came in the 70’s and the 80’s when several back to back winter freezes combined with the opening of Disney World changed the local economy. Winter Garden adapted to the change and replaced the railroad tracks in the center of the town developing the West Orange Trail and Fowler’s Grove (luxurious retail center) bringing people from all over the area back to downtown. Today, the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation operates three museums in the downtown area. On any given day, a stroll down historic Plant Street in Winter Garden will uncover a slice of small-town life at its best. In the heart of this quaint Main Street community, one can see the successful efforts of redevelopment. Antique stores, ice cream shops and cafés line the downtown of this west Orange County community. My personal favorite is “Choctaw Willy’s” restaurant. The West Orange Trail provides a place to ride bicycles or jog through Winter Garden and enjoy the scenery. Winter Garden consists of approximately 17 square miles and is home to over 23,000 residents. The area that used to be known for its citrus industries is now home to many new families and businesses. Even with all the new growth in this historic city, Winter Garden has preserved its heritage while moving the community into the 21st century. The City will continue with its revitalization of the historic downtown area, including building a new City Hall and restoring the old theater and other buildings. In addition, the City is anticipating the 1.15 million square foot Winter Garden Village at Fowler Groves. The complex will include shopping, dining and banking options for West Orange County residents.
related post: Golf in Winter Garden