WINTER HAVEN – If people want to learn about the history of their city or town, the perfect place to start would be a local institution that stores and maintains so much of the community’s past: the local library.
it’s not surprising, then, that the Winter Haven Library now has a wall devoted to black and white photos of different landmarks and buildings in the city – but not all of them reflect Winter Haven’s distant past.
“These are photos of historic landmarks in the city,” said Jennifer Kovac, the head librarian at the library on Avenue A in downtown Winter Haven.
As Kovac noted, some of the photos were taken decades ago, even before the world of giant theme parks transformed Central Florida. Other photos on the wall, she added, were shot recently and simply made to look old. The fun part is figuring out which are which, she added.
“We have a kind of then-and-now effect,” she said, “to see if you can pick out what was then and what is now.”
The photos also help serve as a reminder that this year, Winter Haven is celebrating 100 years as an incorporated city, part of the Chain of Lake City Centennial Celebration marking the years 1911 to 2011, and quite a bit of rich history in-between.
As part of the ongoing celebration, Winter Haven Library hosted Centennial Community Day this morning, offering family activities, demonstrations from city workers on what they do, and, of course, opportunities to spotlight local history.
“This is a part of our year-long celebration,” said Librarian Donna Sheehan. “It’s an opportunity for the children to learn about Winter Haven’s past and future. This city is 100 years old. Our first town council meeting was June 22, 1911, and we celebrated that day with a reenactment of that event.”
Of course, the city’s history includes the library itself – only, the current high tech building at 325 Avenue A doesn’t have that much history – yet.
“This library has been here since the summer of 2004,” Kovac said. “We came from a library off Central Avenue that was built in the 1950s. We needed the new building because of demand. We simply needed a new library. Since we opened, our visitation has almost tripled. We had in excess of 350,000 visits in our first year.”
Saturday’s centennial, then, was about both honoring the past, and focusing on the future. And a lot of that mix involves how libraries have changed over the years, Kovac noted.
“A lot of this is in celebration of how we’ve evolved over the years,” she said. “Here at our library, we have a lot more digital books. People can read a lot more online. We are continuing to expand that.”
The celebration included framed renderings of 12 historic buildings in the city, created by local artist Anne Rosenvald. In the main hallway, there was music provided by Dave Wiersema on guitar and Kyler Lanier on keyboards, two volunteers at the library who wanted to help out by entertaining the crowds.
“I am playing music with David, and entertaining people,” Lanier said. “We’re playing a variety of music, from original compositions to a lot of gospel songs.”
Attendance, they added, had been strong and steady throughout the morning.
“It’s been great,” Wiersema said.
History wasn’t the only thing drawing crowds to the library, though.
“There’s activities all over the place,” Kovac said, including a presentation by John Minson, a sign technician for the City of Winter Haven, on how street signs are made today compared to decades ago.
Pointing to a brand new one, Minson noted that “The signs like this are cut out by a giant printer. Probably about 15 years ago, the city got this giant printer, and it does it all by itself.”
That compares to decades ago, he said, when workers went through a longer and more laborious process.
“They would cut out each individual letter by hand,” Minson said.
Kim Hansell, the city’s utility services director, brought along containers of soil, dirt and seeds, to teach children about the local aquifer system and how it works. The kids got an opportunity to plant seeds, water them, and learn what would grow within that soil.
The concept is simple: create an aquifer by filling jars in layers with small rocks, sand, soil, and then seeds or plants on top. Spray it with water to see how rain water travels to the aquifer, then put a lid on the jar and place it in a sunny spot. That’s how the water cycle works.
“It teaches the kids about the water cycle,” Hansell said. “We start with rocks and soil. They water them and learn about water and soil and watch the seeds grow. It’s something they can take home and see the seeds actually growing.”
It’s also a project that’s right in step with the mood of the entire centennial celebration, she added.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Hansell said.
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