It was the mid 1950s and Winter Haven, like so many Florida locations, was experiencing a spurt of growth.
New housing was in short supply and enterprising developers were rising to the occasion. It was about this time that a citrus grove on the north side of Havendale Boulevard was platted for development into Biltmore Shores.
The area was bounded on the north by Lake Jessie, to the south by Havendale, to the east by 29th Street and the west by Jersey Road.
And the families came — names like Terry, Bray, Owen, Varner, Steinmetz, Stotz, Boucher, Pierce, Schoonover, Duncanson, Wing, Wulff, Nelson, McDowell, Williams, Wright, Ortagus, Irby and more.
Most were young parents with children who would be the first to attend Garner Elementary and later Westwood Junior High (now Middle).
Patti Rulli White started a Facebook group to share neighborhood recollections and the variety is interesting.
Some mentioned the fact each new home had a yard that featured grapefruit trees — a big selling point of the day. Others recall riding their bikes to Garner and passing a model fallout shelter on the way. Patti and friend Melissa McDowell remember playing “Yankees and Rebels” adjacent to their carports.
Melissa also remembers a family that was said to have a puma in their back yard. When asked their name she noted, “I didn’t know the adult, I was a young girl walking down the far side of the street…”
White remembers her parents paid $5300 for their new home in 1955. Another person recalled, “We never locked our doors.” Sandara Wing Hudson recalls riding her bicycle downtown to the Ritz adding, “something I wouldn’t think of letting my grandchildren do today!”
The neighborhood was home to a number of business folks, too.
The Wright family opened Wright’s Cleaners — first on Havendale Boulevard and later on Avenue G, NW. The Varners operated the first KFC franchise on Sixth St. NW, downtown. Shannon Steinmetz operated Standard TV Electronic Repair on Central Park downtown and Jane Pierce was a popular radio host of the day. Mrs. Schoonover, a seamstress, opened the popular Schoonover’s Costume Shop.
The neighborhood would know tragedy as well when, in 1962, Gordon Stotz became the first WHPD officer killed in the line of duty — leaving behind his wife, Hazel, and two young children, Gary and Cheryl.
Biltmore Shores was born and populated in a relatively short time span in the mid-1950s.
It seemed unique in the families it attracted — young families with children of very similar ages, many of whom have maintained life-long friendships.
Thanks to the “Biltmore Shores” Facebook group for sharing their recollections.
Next week: Ron Owen recalls the “Mayberry” that was Biltmore Shores.
The Museum of Winter Haven History is closed for the summer. Tours are available year round for groups of four or more by appointment. Contact Bob Gernert (863) 206-6855 or firstname.lastname@example.org.