A Tale of Two Cities: Dickens It Is Not


Winter Park, Florida is an Orange County suburb of Orlando  and the best word I can think of to describe it is ritzy.  The main street is Park Avenue which lives up to my Monopoly board imagination of how a Park Avenue should look.  Swanky retail shops line both sides of the street and the entire town of approximately 30,000 people has a neatly planned appearance that made me feel glad to be driving a late-model rental car instead of our usual transportation in a 2004 Dodge Dakota pickup with Texas license plates.  This is definitely not a Yee Haw kind of town.

Winter Park was founded in 1882 by a group of northern business moguls who were undoubtedly looking for their place in the sun – a place where snow was best confined to a plastic toy scene that had flakes when shaken but never required being shoveled off a sidewalk.

The original residents of the area were the Seminoles who were Native Americans with no art galleries and no direct connection to their Florida State namesakes in Tallahassee that are playing for the National BCS Championship in the Rose Bowl on January 6th .Winter Park is a college town, however, with a small liberal arts school called Rollins College which apparently has no football team but has access to a country club golf course nearby.

The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art is located on North Park Avenue and is a museum that houses “the most comprehensive and the most interesting collection of Tiffany (Louis Comfort Tiffany) anywhere.”  Since I’ve never seen other Tiffany collections, I will take their word for it, but I visited the Morse Museum and was really moved by the awesome art collections of stained glass, pottery and paintings on display there.  I could have spent two days wandering through the exhibits trying to absorb the rich American history portrayed by the artists represented there, but alas, we were limited to two hours.

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The Morse Museum

Winter Park was the perfect home for the Tiffany collections.

Eatonville is a small town three miles west of Winter Park in Orange County and the differences between the two are as distinct as black and white.

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Display in Eatonville Town Hall

Established five years after Winter Park in 1887, Eatonville is the oldest black incorporated municipality in America.  Wow.  Thank goodness Teresa knew it was also the childhood home of the author Zora Neale Hurston or we wouldn’t have taken Lake Drive out of Winter Park and driven the short distance to Kennedy Boulevard in Eatonville.  This is a stop I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

The walking tour of the little town of Eatonville includes the current Town Hall which is a repository of memorabilia including newspaper clippings describing the town’s creation that was a result of the vision of a few African-Americans who wanted to have their own community.  After much effort, the land was bought from a group of white landowners that included a man named Eaton.  The rest, as they say, is history.

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Zora Neale Hurston spent her childhood in Eatonville in the home of her influential father who was the third mayor as well as the second minister of the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, one of two churches in the small town.  Hurston became one of the most controversial writers of the period in American literature known as the Harlem Renaissance and wrote novels, short stories, essays and plays during her lengthy literary career.  Much of her work includes fictional accounts of the town and people of Eatonville.   A museum celebrating her contribution to the arts is also on the walking tour of the town.

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Winter Park.  Eatonville.  Same county.  Same state.  Three miles and light years apart.  But what strikes me is the similarity of the American spirit that both towns reflect.  The dreamers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were very much alike in their fierce determination to build homes and businesses and communities that offered opportunities to pursue their ideas of happines for themselves and their children.

What a country.

About Sheila Morris

Sheila Morris is an essayist with humorist tendencies who periodically indulges her desires to write outside her genre by trying to write fiction and poetry. In December, 2017, the University of South Carolina Press is publishing her collection of first-person accounts of the people primarily responsible for the development of LGBT organizations in South Carolina. Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home will resonate with everyone interested in LGBT history in the South during the tumultuous times from the AIDS pandemic to marriage equality. She has published four nonfiction books including two memoirs, an essay compilation and a group of her favorite blogs from I'll Call It Like I See It. Her first book, Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing received a Golden Crown Literary Society Award in 2008. Her writings have been included in various anthologies - most recently the 2017 Saints and Sinners Literary Magazine. She is a displaced Texan living in South Carolina with her wife Teresa Williams and their dogs Spike and Charly. Her Texas roots are never too far from her thoughts.
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9 Responses to A Tale of Two Cities: Dickens It Is Not

  1. Pingback: A Tale of Two Cities: Dickens It Is Not | I'll Call It Like I See It

  2. EXCELLENT post, what a great read!

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  3. I’ve always wanted to see where ZNH grew up because the images in my mind from Their Eyes Were Watching God are vivid.

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    • Luanne, that is one of my all-time favorite books, too! Her museum is, sadly, very disappointing. Only about two dozen framed posters from the Festival hang on the walls in a small room. No memorabilia, old pictures, nothing. Even the early cemetery where her father and other key figures were buried has been covered up by a housing development. Tragic.
      Teresa tells me the house where she actually died in Fort Pierce, Florida has more information. She died in poverty since her work was out of favor during the Harlem Renaissance.
      You and I would’ve wanted to know more about her, of course.

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      • After I read that book I bought copies for ten women and passed them out to them! That is so tragic. I remember reading the piece Alice Walker wrote about discovering ZNH. I can’t remember now if it was an essay or book length but it was about her discovery of her unmarked grave, which is what started the resurgence of interest and in both the writer and her writings.

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  4. Sheila, I thought I left a comment on this, but as usual I’m forgetful.

    I wonder how often this story is told among a number of cities along the East Coast. I am familiar with a similar place to Eatonville, called Lincolnville, which is now part of St. Augustine, FL. It’s a colorful town where former slaves and household staff of the wealthy white upper class lived. Martin Luther King spent time there during the Civil Rights era. Again, up here, outside of Philadelphia along the Main Line (“Philadelphia Story”) in towns like Radnor, Devon, and Berwyn there are small African American settlements complete with tiny African Methodist Episcopal or Baptist congregations. Many are descendants of free blacks who fought in the Revolution, but served in the wealthy homes as butlers and housekeepers. Great article. I always enjoy your posts on your travels throughout the South.

    Ann

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  5. Ann,
    That’s a wonderful addition to my post. Yes, I wonder how much of these parallel universes began at the end of the Civil War because we certainly clearly see towns divided by race, ethnicity and economic levels today in our larger cities. They all began somewhere at some point in time.
    Thank you so much for the info on St. Augustine, too – would love to visit there as well.
    I appreciate your comments so very much!

    Sheila

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