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What is Winter Park?

Ben Steelman

This venerable Wilmington neighborhood grew up along the “beach car” (trolley) line from downtown Wilmington to Wrightsville Beach and was largely developed, at least at first, by Hugh MacRae, who owned the controlling interest in the Consolidated Railways Light & Power Co. (after 1907, the Tide Water Power Co.) The first lots were laid out north and south of the railway line.

In 1907 further lots were laid out farther east, in a tract that became known as Winter Park Gardens — in all, eventually 124 residential lots and 62 “garden tracts,” in sizes ranging from 1.3 acres to 6.7 acres. Winter Park Gardens was bordered by Meares Road to the north, MacMillan Avenue (then known as “MacMillan Street”) to the north, Lake Avenue to the south and 7th Street to the west. (At first, north-south streets in the development were numbered, going west from MacMillan.)

Other principal streets included Cedar Avenue, Maple Avenue, Wrightsville Avenue, Park Avenue, Peachtree Street and Strawberry Street.

By July 1910, Winter Park Gardens was controlled, and being developed, by the Carolina Trucking Development Co. Lewis Philip Hall’s “Land of the Golden River” reproduces a November 1910 street plan which seems to project Winter Park Gardens as a separate town.

The artist Henry Jay MacMillan (1908-1991) claimed to be first baby born in Winter Park.

“The land was covered with pinte trees, broom straw, low marshy ground, small ponds and cypress trees,” wrote Lewis Philip Hall, “with only the piping of frogs, or the hoot of an owl, to break the night-time silence.” That changed, Hall suggested, when Oleander Drive was cut nearby in 1925. Later College Road cut through much of the area, crossing Oleander, yet Winter Park stayed predominantly residential. Today, the neighborhood is generally considered to extend from Audubon Boulevard to Cape Fear Memorial College, Spirea Drive and Wilshire Boulevard.

Community institutions sprang up rapidly, once the subdivision was founded. Winter Park Baptist Church, 4700 Wrightsville Ave., Wilmington [Map this], began in 1911 as a Sunday school sponsored by First Baptist Church downtown. It was established as a separate congregation in 1913 with 37 members. Rapid growth led to building expansions in 1927, 1957, 1968 and 1986 (the latter costing more than $1.25 million). Winter Park Baptist was insttrumental in the founding of College Acres Baptist Church.

Winter Park Presbyterian Church, 4501 Wrightsville Ave., Wilmington [Map this], erected its first building (present-day Chadbourn Hall) in 1910. Its main sanctuary — a gift by cotton broker James Sprunt in memory of his sister, Mrs. B.F. Hall — was dedicated March 5, 1916; the Rev. Alexander Sprunt of Charleston, S.C., delivered the sermon at the dedication ceremony. This sanctuary was destroyed by fire on Jan. 15, 1939, but an exact replica was quickly built in its place. The Rev. Andrew J. Howell, a noted local author and historian, was pastor of Winter Park Presbyterian from 1913 to 1918 and again from 1925 to 1937.

Winter Park School was formally organized in 1911 with 25 students, who originally met at Winter Park Baptist Church. A a two-room schoolhouse was built in 1912 (on land donated by Hugh MacRae), but its campus quickly grew at 204 S. MacMillan Ave., Wilmington [Map this]. In the 1940s, it served eight grades, although it was later reorganized as an elementary school. Despite increasingly aged buildings — Winter Park is the oldest public school currently active in New Hanover County — the school built an almost fanatic following among alumni and parents (who did more than 10,000 hours of volunteer work on the campus in the 1993-1994 school year). In 1995, it was named one of the best elementary schools in the country by Redbook magazine, and parents bitterly resisted efforts to close the school or move it in the 1990s. In 1997, when Holly Tree Elementary School opened, and most faculty were transferred to the new facility. Overcrowding in the system, however, forced New Hanover County school officials to keep Winter Park open.

Winter Park Volunteer Fire Department, organized in 1951, disbanded in 2005. It was one of the oldest volunteer fire units in New Hanover County.

The City of Wilmington annexed Winter Park in two stages, in 1966 and 1983.

User-contributed question by:
Michael Lane

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One Response to “ What is Winter Park?”

  1. On November 2, 2009 at 4:41 pm SuAnn Beal Brown wrote:

    Thank for your article on Winter Park. I grew up on Wrightsville ave. My parents built their house piece by piece and moved into it in Febuary 1946. Wrightsville Ave.
    was then still called the old Shell Rd. by people for quiet a while into the 50’s. My mother told me when we first moved there there were actually wild dogs running in packs. I appreciate the mentioning of Winter Park Elem. I remember Miss Colletts 1st grade class climbing up those high metal steps on my way to learn to read and write. My father built most of the houses on Park ave. between McMillan and Wallace Ave. He was the supertenient for Hugh McCray. I have lived out of the area for 43 years and when I go back to visit it has changed so much. Thank you again
    SuAnn Brown

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