COLLEGE PARK – Jeanie Beasley can remember the rather unique way she got to school every morning when she was growing up.
“I rode my pony to school,” she said. “They finally told me I had to stop riding my pony to school because he was pooping all over the ground.”
Her older brother, Sandy Dann, had similar recollections, of the days when he walked to school on dirt roads, and went barefoot.
“It was all dirt roads here,” Dann said. “You didn’t have to wear shoes. Then when I was in the third grade, they passed a rule that we had to wear shoes to school, and we were all up in arms.”
What may surprise some people – particularly newcomers to Central Florida – is that the Dann family grew up in the College Park neighborhood of Orlando, attending Princeton Elementary School by way of pony or walking on dirt roads.
That may sound hard to believe today, considering how heavily developed and built up the entire Orlando metropolitan area is, but back then, Dann said, this area had a very quaint, small town feel.
“The wonderful part about this town is you really knew the people,” Dann said. “You could ride your horses and ponies all the way to Orlando.”
“I think we’re very fortunate to live here and have grown up here,” Beasley said. “In those days everything was so easy, and you didn’t even have to lock your doors.”
On Monday, the Dann family offered their recollections of what the College Park neighborhood was like back in the 1930s and 1940s, in the decades before Walt Disney World arrived and helped transform Orlando into one of the world’s leading tourist destinations.
They had been invited there by the College Park Neighborhood Association, which organized the speaking program on Oral Histories, held at the Infusion Tea café on Edgewater Drive, through its historical committee, noted member Tom Cook.
“We just started,” he said. “This is our first one. We’re hoping to compile information.”
That information is going to be used for a lot more than just speaking programs, noted his wife Deborah Cook.
“The acting motivation is we’re putting together a book on College Park,” she said. “It’s mostly a book of pictures, and we’re trying to encourage people to bring their photos to us.”
The Neighborhood Association already has a deal with Arcadia Publishing, which specializes in historical books, to publish it.
In the meantime, the historical committee hopes to use the speaking programs at Infusion Tea, which will be held every month, to generate interest in this project, she said.
“We have a very active and eager group” on the historical committee, Deborah Cook said. “One of the ways we wanted to start doing this was starting an oral history about College Park. I hope that you will encourage your friends, because this is going to be so much fun, to come out again because we will be doing this again next month.”
Anyone who has historic photos of College Park, she said, is encouraged to bring them to the next speaking program on Oral Histories.
“This book is about pictures, so we are equipped tonight to scan your pictures,” she said. “You will have a part in the College Park Historical Book.”
The first speakers were Dann and Beasley, who recalled the days when College Park had plenty of swamp land – property that would be purchased and developed by her father, Carl Dann, as the Historic Dubsdread Golf Club.
Today it’s an 18-hole golf course in College Park, owned by the City of Orlando, and it was business entrepreneur Carl Dann who built it in 1924, with a par 71 layout asccessible to golfers of all skill levels, complete with narrow fairways and heavily bunkered, “postage stamp”-style greens.
The golf course was completely renovated in 2008 as part of the Little Lake Fairview Restoration and Dubsdread Golf Course Renovation Project.
Beasley recalled her father’s great ambitions for this project.
“He said Orlando needed a second golf course because we were growing,” Beasley said. “His ambition was to build a golf course that would attract better golfers and bigger tournaments to Orlando. And he was going to build it out of this swamp. It was a huge success.”
Deborah Cook, who is also a Realtor in College Park, said she hopes these oral history presentations inspire others who grew up in this neighborhood to share their own memories of how the area grew and changed.
“There is no time like the present to capture the stories of the past,” she said, “because if you don’t, they are lost.”
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