Historian left legacy of knowledge about beloved town by the lakes

Joy Wallace Dickinson

Sentinel Staff Writer

June 17, 2007


My holiday is over now,

I'm leaving in a day,

For the north where home is calling,

Where there is work to do,

But Windermere, dear Windermere,

How I shall long for you.

Undated poem in 'Windermere Among the Lakes: The Story of a Small Town'

'It is an inexpressible joy to stand in Windermere and look upon the clear water of the lakes," a 1911 brochure exclaimed about the small west Orange town that has inspired devotion from residents and visitors for more than a century.

Very probably, few have loved it as much as Carl Patterson, who gave me a copy of that brochure, the same way he generously shared so many things about Orange County history.

Regularly, letters from Carl would appear with translations from the German of early articles about Gotha, facts about famed horticulturist Henry Nehrling, even background on what may be the area's most historic outhouse -- a survivor from a Works Progress Administration program that Carl researched as thoroughly as if it were a Greek temple.

A Realtor, former Windermere mayor, town planner and head of the town's Historic Preservation Board, Carl was also one of the fathers of Orange County history, and Father's Day is a great time to remember him.

A retired Army lieutenant colonel, in his 80s he retained a military man's attention to detail, but in phone messages to me and to many others, he would sign off as simply "Carl."

About this time last year, as he did every year, he'd call folks on his list of history buddies and invite us to visit Windermere for an inspiring small-town Fourth of July.

Come for the town's pancake breakfast, he would say, and visit the table where he would be camped out with displays about Windermere's history and copies of his book -- for years an amalgam of Carl's writings and a plethora of Xeroxed photos and documents that grew bigger each year.

Land of the lakes

If you stopped by for pancakes and history, Carl might tell you how the town got its start in the mid-1880s, about the time an influx of English settlers hit Orange County.

Around 1885, the Rev. Joseph Hill Scott -- an Englishman -- bought about 150 acres on the shore of Lake Butler.

His son, Oxford grad Dr. Stanley Scott, homesteaded the property and "bestowed the name Windermere, many believe after the famous Lake Windermere in England," according to Carl.

By the way, "mere" means "lake," from the same root as "marine."

Soon the railroad came through, linking Windermere to Kissimmee by 1889, the same year the town's plat was officially recorded.

But the Great Freeze of 1894-95 knocked settlers for a loop, and the town's development really got its start in 1910, when two Ohioans visited Windermere and knew they had found something special.

The pair, Dr. J.H. Johnson and J. Calvin Palmer, called Cal, bought "all the land in the old town and some acreage outside and formed the Windermere Improvement Company," Carl wrote several years ago in his homemade history.

The town of the lakes was incorporated in 1925, a couple of years after the Windermere Union Church Chapel was built.

A historian's legacy

"Carl and Jane were members of that church," Mary Hayes of Windermere said last week. She is on the committee collecting donations of money and volunteer labor to preserve and move the church.

And if you know much about Windermere, you already know why she used the past tense, why Carl and his Janey, his wife for 60 years, won't be at the pancake breakfast this year on the Fourth of July.

Late last October, Carl and Janey were killed in an automobile accident on State Road 50 near Brooksville.

It's hard to find words to say how sad that is for their family and friends, and a small part of the sadness is that Carl didn't live to see the final form of his beloved history of Windermere -- the transformation of all those pages into a printed book.

About two years ago, he began working with editor Peggy Sias Lantz to transform his whopping photocopied binder into a hardcover volume.

It was tough work -- so many pictures, so many facts to look up and check, so many details to pin down.

But Carl knew it was almost final. He had seen and corrected the page proofs before his death. And his history of a small town would have a format as large as Carl's heart.

In April, the publisher, developer Kevin Azzouz, gave away about 2,000 copies of Windermere Among the Lakes: The Story of a Small Town. The idea was for each household in town to have a copy.

If your family lives in Windermere and you haven't received a book, check in with the Suzi Karr Realty Office (527 Main St., 407-876-3688).

The office also has a limited number of copies for purchase for $29 each for Windermere folks who would like extra copies or for others who would like to add them to their library.

Windermere's Web site, town.windermere.fl.us, also has information about the effort to preserve the old Union Church Chapel as a community center.

Joy Wallace Dickinson can be reached at jdickinson@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-6082, or by good old- fashioned letter at the Sentinel, 633 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, FL 32801.