Remaking Place and Asserting Space:  The Land Trust Experience in Winter Park, Florida

The story of Winter Park’s Hannibal Square Community Land Trust sheds light on the complexity of the link between race, property, and the residential experience.

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Since joining the Department of History at Rollins College, a small liberal arts college in the city, my teaching and research has evolved to incorporate a consideration of local issues within a broader transnational structure. The story of Winter Park’s Hannibal Square Community Land Trust (HSCLT) sheds light on the complexity of the link between race, property, and the residential experience.

In 1991, concerned with “blighted” areas, Winter Park created a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). The CRA’s efforts have opened Hannibal Square, a historic African-American community to development. At the same time, the CRA supports the HSCLT, which has garnered national attention for it effort. Despite the current controversy, the municipality has in fact had inclusive programs promoting neighborhood revitalization since the 1970s. Indeed, from the beginning Winter Park has linked identity to the residential experience.

Shady Park sit in the center of Hannibal Square.  The historical marker in the park is one of the few reminders that you are in the midst of the historic black community | photo by Kelsey Von Wormer.

Established in 1887, Winter Park stands today purposefully in contrast to a Central Florida atmosphere defined by the Walt Disney World Resort. A 2010 AARP The Magazine article entitled, “Adventures Afoot from Coast to Coast” urged visitors to explore the “19th century resort town with its elegant houses, historic buildings, museums, lakes, and thousands of live oaks.” However, both perceptions distort the complex history that frames the region.

The first planned community in Central Florida, Winter Park began when Oliver Chapman and Loring Chase developed and advertised the community between 1881 and 1885. Their plan included “lot for Negroes in Hannibal Square” and they embraced an African-Americans workforce that would support the vacation resorts and citrus groves central to their vision. Hannibal Square became the center of a striving community and black agency played a vital role in the town’s incorporation.

City of Winter Park’s street placard for the “revitalized” Hannibal Square. The wording, “Shop, Dine, Indulge” is jarring contrast to the community’s historical identity | photo by Julian Chambliss

In 1887 Gus C. Henderson, the African-American owner of a local print and publishing company rallied black voters to support incorporation. A staunch Republican, Henderson and the other registered black voters were crucial. With only forty-seven registered white voters, the year round black population outnumbered white residents. The newly incorporated town integrated Hannibal Square and the first town council included two African-American aldermen.

Such cooperation did not last; Hannibal Square was detached from the city in 1893. In an ironic twist, the city annexed Hannibal Square in 1925 when officials realized they needed a larger population to qualify for state funded municipal projects. Despite racial discrimination, Hannibal Square continued to support community and provide opportunity for African-American residents.

In the aftermath of mid-century desegregation efforts, Hannibal Square, like many African-American communities struggled as property value lagged behind the rest of the city. The contemporary revitalization efforts come as developers, unable to cheaply build in predominately white areas, look to extend Winter Park’s elegant consumptive aesthetic of upscale boutiques, restaurants, and condos into the comparatively cheaper Hannibal Square community.

City of Winter Park’s signage for the HSCLT Canton Park development | photo by Julian Chambliss

Reacting to gentrification concerns, the city supported the establishment of the HSCLT in 2004. At the time, long-term residents (often elderly) faced displacement created by rising real estate values and aggressive development activity. The community land trust model (CLT), which grew out of 1960s social activism, offered an alternative by promoting long-term community centered growth. Encouraging low and moderate-income home ownership, CLTs offer options to those overlooked and underserved by more traditional low-income housing programs.

With fewer than 200 CLTs nationwide, Winter Park’s HSCLT represent a unique prospect for teaching and research into urban development. Over the last three years, I have integrated HSCLT into class projects while also serving on the organization’s advisory board. Recently, as part of the Rollins College Student-Faculty Collaborative Scholarship Program, Allison England, my collaborator and I began a research project exploring the HSCLT experience. Our research demonstrates how an intersection of history, culture, and policy challenge the HSCLT’s mission.

Established with the intention of maintaining Hannibal Square’s residential character, the HSCLT’s operating philosophy contests the property holding identity of the community. In addition, as a development body the HSCLT’s goal of promoting the entry of low and moderate-income individuals into the housing market struggles in the face of private developers challenges and municipal government expectations. Developers continue to push for changes to city codes to allow for business development, even as residents hope to maintain the neighborhood’s residential character. In the midst of a prolonged economic downturn, financial support for housing programs is under scrutiny as a cash strapped government seeks ways to promote support revenue generating investment.

It is clear that the future success of the HSCLT is intimately connected to how the organization will evolve to adjust to the new realities redefining the residential experience in the new millennium.

Julian Chambliss is associate professor of history and coordinator of the Africa and African-American Studies Program at Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. His teaching and research areas focus on urban history and culture in the United States.

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