A Visual History of Winter Park

Sydney Marshall ’15 and Danielle Johnson ’16 are on their way to authoring two books on Winter Park, including one launching this week.

It’s rare that an undergraduate college student publishes even one book with a mainstream company that has a national reach. Much less two.

But thanks to a Student-Faculty Collaborative Scholarship project, Sydney Marshall ’15 and Danielle Johnson ’16 will do just that. Their first book, Images of America: Winter Park, launched on February 16. Written in conjunction with two Rollins professors, the book is the result of many hours spent researching over the summer.

Under the guidance of Rollins College history professors Claire Strom and Jim Norris, the two history majors dug through local photo archives, including those from Rollins College Archives & Special Collections, Winter Park Library, Winter Park Historical Society, Hannibal Square Heritage Center, and numerous local private collections. Then they sought out the historic context for the images that span from the1880s to 1960. Many of the photos were not dated, so Johnson and Marshall learned to use multiple sources to place those images in their proper timeframe. Their second book, due out later this year, covers the decades from 1960 to present-day Winter Park.

While digging through old photos—many of obscure places and events—may not seem like everyone’s ideal way to spend the summer, the two students said they loved the chance to learn how to work as historians while facing strict deadlines with professional publishers whose business depends on keeping to a schedule. “We got to experience what historians do,” says Marshall, who hopes to pursue a graduate degree in the field.

Johnson said the work reaffirmed her commitment to become a historian. “I’m now a history major, largely because of this project.”

As they scoured files, the student researchers became fascinated with the idea that our interpretation of history so often is strongly influenced by the artifacts and documents available to review. Moreover, that evidence of earlier days may be largely confined to what people of a certain era deemed worth saving for the future.

Norris, who is a visiting assistant professor of history, noted that many of the old town’s cultural and artistic events revolved around Rollins College, which was founded just a few years after the city.

Strom, who is Rapetti-Trunzo Professor of History, brought the book project to the table. She had done a similar book for Arcadia Publishing on Fargo, North Dakota, before coming to the Sunshine State. The project, she said, helps prepare students for employment in their professional careers. “They had to be professional. And they had to follow through and make a final product.”

During a recent Winter With the Writers and Book-a-Year reception, Johnson and Marshall shared some of their findings, as well as some of the side stories they learned while investigating issues large and small.

On the humorous side, Johnson told how in the 1890s the Orlando-Winter Park Railroad operated a six-mile track that ran through Rollins property. Students used it to commute to school. Because of the train’s size, noise, and occasional problems, it came to be known as the Dinky Line, and was the target of collegiate pranksters. Students soaped the tracks so the locomotives wheels lost friction and spun in place on the rails until the crew got out and shoveled sand on the tracks to get the engine moving again.

On the ironic side, Marshall noted that Rollins College, founded in 1885, began with a $50,000 donation from Alonzo Rollins, which is just slightly more than the cost of one year’s tuition at the college today. “So there we are.”

Images of America: Winter Park is available through Arcadia Publishing, online booksellers, and local bookstores.