A Century-Long Witness
|Written for the 2023 Winter Edition
of the Windermere Gazette
By Executive Assistant,
|Windermere’s Historic Town Hall turned 100 years old in 2022. It’s hard to believe this symbol of Windermere has seen a century of history! Many of us attend Town Council meetings, weddings, or parties at Town Hall, but have you ever stopped to think about all the things those historic walls have witnessed over the past 100 years?
In 1922, the Windermere Women’s Club built most of what we see today. There were a few differences: a large, enclosed rear porch, no front porch, the restroom wing behind the fireplace did not exist, and interestingly, there was an interior balcony! The biggest difference was location – the original rectangular building was located at Fernwood Park, NOT Town Square Park!
In December of 1930, Town Council approved the purchase of property for a future Town Hall site. This property was located along Main Street between W 5th and 6th Avenues; you know this location today as Town Square Park. The site sat empty until 1938 when the Works Progress Administration moved the Women’s Club building from Fernwood Park to its present site. How was this large building moved? It was pulled by a truck and log rollers, which must have been an incredible sight. Notably, the large enclosed porch did not make the move to Town Square Park.
The following year, 1939, the Women’s Club offered the building to the Town; however, the Town could not afford the associated expenses, so the Women’s Club continued to utilize the space, and in 1940, Cal Palmer even opened an office inside.
Our next change comes in 1945 when Town Hall began to be used for Town Council meetings. Beginning in February of 1947, Town Council begins to co-manage the building with the Civic Club (formerly the Community Club, which was itself formerly the Women’s Club).
|By the 1950s, the Post-War Boom was in full swing, and Windermere was no exception. Population had grown from approximately 250 in the ‘20s to 317 by 1950, and would exceed 450 by the end of the decade.
The 50s were a time of exciting change for Windermere, and Town Hall witnessed much of it; including the first female Town Council member, Nell Schlessinger (1951-1960), the first zoning regulations in 1952, in 1956 the outlawing of outhouses by the Town Council, and by 1960, Town Council had assumed all expenses related to Town Hall. In 1964, the Town Clerk officially moved her office into Town Hall. Staff offices were located in the vestibule behind the fireplace; which was built after the move from Fernwood Park.
Town Hall remained relatively unchanged until 1985 when a wheelchair accessible ramp was built by Sean McGrath as part of his Eagle Scout Project.
|If the 60s, 70s, and 80s were a period of relative calm for the Town Hall, that was all about to change in the 90s. In 1992, the Historic Preservation Board was formed. In the 70s years since Town Hall had been built, it had fallen into disrepair: the wiring and plumbing were in poor condition, there was no insulation, the kitchen lacked fire safety equipment, and electrical components needed upgrading. A large portion of the funds needed to restore Town Hall would come from fundraising and grants.
The 1992 4th of July Pancake Breakfast raised $420 for restoration. Accounting for inflation, that equates to approximately $892 today. Later that summer, at the August 11 Town Council Meeting, Town Council placed the Town Hall on the local historic register. At the end of the year, Town Council Member, Karen Ruenheck, along with a number of resident volunteers, organized a “Christmas Tour” of homes, the Don Dizney office building, and the Parramore House to further fundraise.
|In 1994, Town Hall became Windermere’s first structure to be placed on the National Historic Register. A Florida Historic marker would be authorized by Council and was placed in 1996.
By July of 1995, a fire inspection had been completed, and many ADA-compliant renovations had taken place: the restrooms were made wheelchair-accessible, doors were widened, the vestibule wing floor had been raised to match the main floor elevation, an HVAC system had been installed, and there was new plumbing, new walls, and a new ceiling for a grand total of $61,411 ($120,086 in 2022).
In addition to fundraisers to help pay these costs, the Town applied for many grants, including a Special Category Grant Request from the State of Florida for matching funds in the amount of $147,654. Town residents came together in true Windermere fashion and lobbied Tallahassee – writing letters, sending faxes, and calling the Governor’s office in favor of this grant. Those efforts paid off in May of 1995, when then-Governor Lawton Chiles signed the state budget, Windermere’s grant included.
Renovations were finally complete by September of 1997, including a reroof. The final cost for all renovations was $385,612 – which would be $715,993 in 2022.
Over the past 100 years, Town Hall served as a clubhouse, a post office, office space, meetinghouse, and event center. Couples have exchanged vows, graduations have been celebrated, elections held, Council has debated decisions, and through it all, Town Hall has stood as a silent witness. Public Works is developing a plan to further restore and preserve Town Hall so that it can continue to serve as the heart of our community’s civic and recreational space for another 100 years.