It was the mid-1950s and Winter Haven, like so many Florida locations, was experiencing a spurt of growth.
Less than a decade after the end of World War II, many of the service men and women who trained in Florida were returning to raise their families. The bustling Bartow Air Base had served to train many of the veterans and they were returning in droves.
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, on the east by 29th Street and west by Jersey Road. The location was adjacent to Inwood, in the city’s northwest quadrant.
Bryan Owen (now 96 years young) was among the first 10 to purchase a lot in the subdivision. Others included the Bray and Patton families.
Owens purchased a lot fronting Lake Jessie for $3,400 in 1954. Ray Leis sold him the lot and based on a mention in “The History of Winter Haven” by Josephine Burr it appears that George and Ray Leis were the developers of Biltmore Shores. Owen’s home was constructed by Tucker Brothers Chester and Wallace. The family moved in 1955. Tucker built several homes in the neighborhood as did Bill Read.
Bobby Bray remembers moving to Biltmore Shores in the first grade. One strong marketing point for the new subdivision was the brand new Garner Elementary School that had just been constructed. Bray remembers the neighborhood as secluded and self-contained. Wynn Ostrander, another former resident, recalls that heavy rains in summer would flood the intersection of Hickory Street and 29th Street with about three-to-four inches of water.
It seems a number of kids would take their skim boards down to do a little hydroplaning. He remembers the only problem was when you fell. It was asphalt under the water and most of the kids had raw knees for the duration.
Popular destinations included the Dog and Suds Drive-In (now Dino’s) for hot dogs and ice cold root beer — and where some remember buying their first pack of cigarettes to experiment.
In the early 1960s a trampoline center craze swept the nation. At the corner of 29th St. NW and Havendale there was a “Jumpin’ Gymany” center that many recall.
Another popular destination was the “Jiffy Food Store,” (now Trader’s Pawn) and the long gone Remnant Shop.
The neighborhood emerged as described — a self-contained and close-knit community where children were disciplined by the parent where they were misbehaving, a common recollection of the day.
Our next two installments will detail more recollections from many of the first families to live in Biltmore Shores.
Our thanks to Patti Rulli White, Bob Bray, Tom Patton, Wynn Ostrander and Ron Owen and others for sharing their recollections.
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.