The past two columns have shared memories of a small neighborhood off Havendale Boulevard near Lake Jessie. Born in the mid-1950s, the developers named the area Biltmore Shores.
Ronnie Owen and his family were one of the first to build a home there. Their home, pictured with this segment, overlooked Lake Jessie. Before long Owen had aunts, uncles and grandparents that also lived in the neighborhood.
Moving there in 1955, he remembers learning to waterski by the age of 8. There was also a conveniently located Bay tree in the vacant lot next door, home to his “private fort.” BAC (Before Air Conditioning) was added to the home in 1962 he recalls being awakened by the sound of loud piston-driven Air Force planes being flown from Bartow to Winter Haven’s Gilbert Field.
Owen also remembers a neighbor five or so houses down that would water his lawn before taking his airboat out on Lake Jessie and then drive his airboat from the lake to the house to save steps.
After Christmases he and brother Steve would take their bikes and ropes around the neighborhood to “rescue” discarded Christmas trees dragging them back to the vacant side lot where they would eventually “light of the night sky” with a huge bonfire. (Steve’s son “Jake Owen” is a popular country western singer.)
Owen says it was a place where kids would ride their bikes into the neighborhood in early morning, play all day, returning home for dinner. By the age of 12, he used the family boat to travel the Chain of Lakes visiting friends like Mary Helyn Begley, Richard Parks, Steve Vines and Bo James to ski.
A five-gallon tank of fuel for the boat cost $1.50! He earned spending money mowing lawns, selling greeting cards to neighbors (who he feels probably bought out of pity) and sold Grit newspapers at the Winn Dixie near Auburndale.
Lake Jessie was a focal point for activity.
About one-third of the lakeshore was airport property and undeveloped. Owen’s father bought a sailboat from the Jaycees and Ronnie “sailed the seas” with his transistor radio, a jug of iced tea and his faithful dog, Nicky — returning home when his mother rang a farm bell from his father’s family farm in Kentucky.
Owen notes, “Growing up then was an idyllic experience that cannot today be replicated. All in all the folks in the neighborhood were ‘Mayberry’ folks. They cared about each other and were genuinely nice.”
This segment was adapted from a conversation with Father Ron Owens, an Episcopal Priest who resides in Orlando.
Two final recollections: Mike Sloan shared that Helen Patton used to make the children a treat of biscuits and chocolate gravy! Jeffrey Barnes recalls when Red Sox star Rico Petrocelli rented the house next door and after games would bring his children along to swim in the Barnes family pool — Mayberry indeed!
Also, a correction: Officer Gordon Stotz of the Winter Haven Police Department was killed in the line of duty in March of 1956. We regret the incorrect date published previously.
Finally, thank you to all the Biltmore Shores Alumni who contributed heartfelt recollections to this series.