Beneath the Chinaberry Tree

This building opened in 1915 as Winter Haven’s first K - 12 high school. By 1922 and again in 1926, growth saw the 8 - 12 grades moved into new facilities. This building then served as Central Grammar and later Central Junior High.

Our history is a colorful stream of events that began with the community’s platting in the early 1880s. Last week we detailed some historic “firsts” that occurred prior to the city’s incorporation in 1911. This week we’ll look at later milestones.

In 1915 the first K-12 high school opened on what is now the site of the downtown post office. Prior to that time students wanting to complete more than grades 1 - 8 had to go to other communities. This was also the year an ambitious group of private citizens formed the 20 Lakes Boat Club planning a project to create a system of canals connecting our lakes. Based on newspaper reports of the day, the purpose of the canals was to open more land for winter homes and agricultural pursuits. By 1917 the effort was bankrupt.

In 1919 Winter Haven residents voted 78 to 49 in favor of establishing the Winter Haven Lake Region Boat Course District with taxing powers to fund the maintenance of the canal system. Today it is more commonly called the Canal Commission.

During 1923 the village adopted the City Council form of government and the Board of Trade evolved to become the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce.

These were the years of the Florida Boom and Winter Haven, like many Florida communities, grew rapidly. Early 1924 welcomed the first Orange Festival. The agricultural exposition grew rapidly and was an annual community event until 2008.

On September 6, 1930, 22-year-old George Jenkins opened the first Publix Food Store on Fourth Street, NW in the space currently occupied by the Tempo 1930 Restaurant. A marker designating the historic site will be unveiled this coming week.

The first guests were officially welcomed to Cypress Gardens on January 2, 1936. Two other Garden’s firsts occurred during World War II. The first ski show took place when Mrs. Pope gathered her children and several friends out of school to perform for visiting servicemen. Also while Mr. Pope was serving in Europe a winter freeze damaged bright orange “flame vines” on either side of the Garden’s entrance. Mrs. Pope dressed two employees in what she called “old fashions” or the first Belle dresses and had them stand on either side of the entrance to hide the damaged vines.

Busy times for a growing town. Next week we’ll conclude with more recent “Firsts.”

The Museum of Winter Haven History is closed for the summer while we catalog materials and create new displays. Group tours for four or more people are available by appointment. Contact Bob Gernert at 863-206-6855 or bobgernert@gmail.com.

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