Winter Garden Heritage Foundation Background
WGHF originated in 1991 when a group of citizens organized and applied to the state to make Winter Garden a Florida Main Street town, to assist with economic development. The organization evolved into the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation when plans arose to demolish the Edgewater Hotel. At the eleventh hour, an investor purchased the hotel to restore it. In rallying to save the 1927 building—and all endangered historic sites in Winter Garden—the organization saw the need to become a 501(c)(3) to fund historic preservation projects. In 1997 the historic downtown and residential districts achieved recognition from the Department of the Interior on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2004, WGHF took on the effort to restore the Garden Theatre, which is now a thriving non-profit organization.
Significant milestones in the Foundation’s history:
1991 A committee of citizens and City of Winter Garden officials applies to and is accepted as a Main Street Florida Community, to help revitalize the historic downtown district.
1994 Winter Garden Heritage Foundation is established as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
1994 The City and WGHF participate jointly in securing the services of Historic Property Associates, Inc. to survey historically significant buildings
1997 Two separate areas of historic Winter Garden are added to the National Register of Historic Places: historic downtown is added as a business district and the neighborhood along North Highland and Lakeview Avenues is added as a residential district.
1997 The first book by WGHF is published, entitled All Aboard! A Journey Through Historic Winter Garden—a collection of vintage photographs and historic narratives
1998 The Winter Garden Heritage Museum opens in the historic Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot, with Rod Reeves as director.
2001 The History Research Center opens to the public, making available archives of historic photographs, records, oral histories and artifacts from Winter Garden, Ocoee, Oakland, Windermere, Killarney and Tildenville.
2002 WGHF begins offering educational field trips for visiting school groups.
2003 WGHF begins operation of the the Central Florida Railroad Museum, in partnership with the Central Florida Chapter of the National Railway Society, located in the historic Tavares and Gulf Railroad Depot.
2004 The Winter Garden Heritage Foundation acquires the historic Garden theatre and launches a capital campaign to raise funds to rebuild it.
2006 WGHF releases its first film on DVD entitled Tales from Winter Garden—a nostalgic film that looks at the history of Winter Garden
2006 WGHF hosts the first annual Music Fest—a three day outdoor festival featuring local musicians
2007 The lobby of the historic Edgewater Hotel is renovated to become a gallery space for WGHF exhibitions.
2008 The fully restored Garden Theatre is opened to the public as a performing arts center.
2009 WGHF releases its second book, Sundays in the South, a 112-page touring guide illustrated by Rod Reeves and outlining sites of historic and architectural interest in west Orange County.
2010 The Garden Theatre, Inc. is created as a non-profit organization and takes over theater operations.
2011 WGHF purchases the parking lot next to the Heritage Museum in order to construct a building in which to host school education programs, provide administrative offices, serve as a welcome center, and house the extensive collection of photographs, objects, documents and books of historic significance.
2012 WGHF launches a capital campaign to construct the History Research & Education Center. Learn more about our Capital Campaign.
2013 Thanks in large part to grants from Orange County Cultural Facilities, and generous donations from local families, foundations, and businesses, WGHF begins construction on the History Research & Education Center.
2014 A second Orange County Cultural Facilities grant enables the WGHF to begin construction the interior of the History Research & Education Center