The Hannibal Square Heritage Center represents a first-of-a-kind experience
in Central Florida where the history of a community is told by members of
the community itself through The Heritage Collection: Photographs and Oral
Histories of west Winter Park, The Hannibal Square Timeline, which
chronicles significant local and national events in civil rights and African-American history, and public art installations and educational programs that
explore the African-American experience, Southern folklore and cultural
preservation. The center also features a Visiting Exhibition Series. The
exhibitions and programs held at the center weave the stories of this unique
and proud neighborhood together with African-American history and
experience in general.
Visitors to the Heritage Center are moved by the immediate, personal stories
of the people of west Winter Park and the Hannibal Square community by
the beautiful and accessible presentation of the historical information and
artwork. Adults as well as children can experience the first-person accounts
and pictures collected from memories and shoe boxes stored for generations
under the beds of the people who share their stories. The
Hannibal Square Heritage Center inspires all visitors to become
more aware of, respect, explore, and participate in their own
community's history and heritage.
The History of Hannibal Square
Imagine a different time in the days so long ago . . . before
air conditioning . . . before easy travel by air or even road .
. . before "Juneteenth," and way
before the civil rights movement.
Winter Park was the first planned community in Central Florida, strategically
built around the railroad that served commerce and travel.
Hannibal Square (the "west side") was officially founded in 1881, only
40 years after Florida became the 27th state, and 14 years after the
state reentered the Union after seceding and co-founding the
Confederate States in 1861.
The free black families who lived here provided a ready source of labor for building a town to serve wealthy white winter residents and visitors. Although Florida and Winter Park were to stay deeply segregated into the 1960s, the non-agricultural railroad jobs and domestic service positions with Winter Park's wealthy white families resulted in educational opportunities and comparative prosperity and privilege for Winter Park's black residents.
On October 12, 1887, young Republican Gus Henderson lead a march of black registered voters across the railroad tracks to Ergood's Drugstore. The Oct 12, 1887 election was held during the day. This established the quorum, which then voted to incorporate the town of Winter Park, which included Hannibal Square, in its boundaries. In addition, two black men from Hannibal Square, Walter B. Simpson and Frank R. Israel, were elected Aldermen and served from 1887 to 1893.
From its beginnings, Hannibal Square was rooted in faith, family, and community. The west side was characterized by high levels of education, business and home ownership, and by professional standing among its black residents.
Today, the City of Winter Park, known worldwide for its wealth and quality of life, is one of the most desirable addresses in Florida. This prime location has fueled development and gentrification of Hannibal Square, with significant loss of cultural landmarks and native residents. Members of the community have rallied to preserve what is left of its heritage, and that is where the Hannibal Square Heritage Center story begins.
Establishment and Founding of the Hannibal Square Heritage Center
Since its inception in 1975, Crealdé School of Art, a community based, non-profit art school in Winter Park, has been led by a mission to ?provide extensive outreach and foster cultural diversity, understanding of pluralism, and preservation of our cultural heritage.?
At the time the center was born, the school had a decade-long presence at the Winter Park Community Center, serving the city's historic African-American community through free art classes for children and seniors.
In 2001, during an impromptu meeting in his Winter Park Community Center office, Community Center Director Ron Moore and Crealdé Executive Director and documentary photographer Peter Schreyer had the conversation that led to the establishment of The Heritage Collection. Peter shared an inspirational presentation that he had witnessed at a photographic conference. A representative from the Los Angeles County Library had shared their community research involving the collecting of family photographs and oral histories, to which Ron replied with the words that will go down in history,
"Our community's history is stored in shoe boxes under our beds." This comment and the conversation inspired Crealdé staff to write a successful grant application to the Community Foundation of Central Florida.
In March of 2002, the first of many Heritage Days was held. Over two dozen residents showed up with their treasured family photographs and histories. The resulting exhibition, The Heritage Collection: Photographs and Oral Histories of West Winter
Park, was displayed and temporarily housed at the Winter Park Community Center until it was expanded by additional Heritage Days and outgrew its space. Out of the popularity of the exhibition, a community movement was born by which local residents rallied to establish a permanent home to celebrate and honor historic Hannibal Square, also known as the west side of Winter Park.
After four years of persistence, research, dialogue and planning with community and civic leaders to find a suitable building for the collection in the historic Hannibal Square neighborhood, the City of Winter Park and Crealdé School of Art opened the new Hannibal Square Heritage Center on April 28, 2007. The center was built and is sustained, in part, through funding from the city's Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). It is primarily operated and staffed by Crealdé though a portion of the center is home to the Family History Research Library, a service of the Unity Heritage Festival Foundation and the City of Winter Park. The center has allowed Crealdé School of Art to expand its services to the west Winter Park community and to strengthen the organization's mission to use the arts as a vehicle to connect and celebrate individuals, neighborhoods, and cultural diversity. It is the organization's hope that the Hannibal Square Heritage Center will be a model for recording and celebrating the culture, history and heritage of threatened communities everywhere.