Winter Springs was almost called Semoran
A late bloomer relative to its neighbors, Winter Springs went through some growing pains including an intense debate over what its name should be.
Nestled peacefully along the marshy south shore of Lake Jesup, Winter Springs is regularly listed as one of the best places to live in Florida. Its beautiful well-manicured streets have limited commercialization; its town leaders have made it a point to shun big box stores.
Today it is a suburban town of 35,000 that has the feeling of just now hitting its stride. Perhaps that’s because it got off to a slow start. During the 1800s development was hampered by legally-tricky Spanish private land grants. Lack of major railroads and highways then continued to slow its pre-1950 advancement relative to its neighbors.
Prior to being incorporated as North Orlando in 1959, the area was variably known as Wagner, Clifton, Tuskawilla, Alluvia, Gee Hammock, Econtohatchee, White’s Landing, Solary’s Wharf, and Lake Jesup. It served as the southernmost terminus for steamboats from the St. Johns River before railroads became the dominant form of transport after 1880.
The modern town’s “founding fathers” (if you can call them that) were Ray Moss and William Edgemon, whose names locals recognize from prominent street names in “downtown” Winter Springs today. However, the duo never lived in the city at all. They were simply principals of the North Orlando Company, who kick-started development of the western end of town in the late fifties and early sixties.
Almost immediately residents became dissatisfied with the name “North Orlando.” Despite what the name might indicate, the village did not adjoin the northern end of the City Beautiful. There were actually several cities in between — and a county line.
In this era before mandatory zip codes, mail delivery was problematic with letters being misdirected to Orlando proper. Media reports often dropped the “North,” thinking it was simply the north part of Orlando. Others found it difficult to tell visitors how to find it, requiring them to explain that it is actually north of Casselberry and east of Longwood lest they end up in College Park or Formosa.
The movement for a new name first gained widespread traction in 1966 when the town council met to discuss it. 71 residents attended the meeting; 69% of them were in favor of changing the name. The problem was that the 49 people endorsing the switch came up with 23 separate opinions for what the new name should be!
In an attempt to gain a clear consensus, the council decided to pick what it felt were the top four suggestions and conduct a “post card poll” that would determine its municipal identity. Despite the clear appetite for a revision, townspeople apparently were not satisfied with their options.
There were 249 ballots returned, choosing from possible names: Ranch City, Norlando, Casanolo, Semino or to keep North Orlando. A slim majority but decisive victory of 51% opted to stay the course. The monicker would live on, at least for a while.
To the east of North Orlando was one of the largest tracts of undeveloped land in the region. Developer Bill Goodman sought to change that in 1970. His newly founded Winter Springs Development Corporation acquired 3,500 acres of land that today includes Tuscawilla Country Club.
Soon after ground was broken on the first homes, Goodman approached the North Orlando village council about annexing the vast property. The ambitious council was supportive of the measure, which would effectively double its size and potentially add another 13,000 residents once the development was built out.
By the time measure finally succeeded in early 1972, many began to refer to North Orlando as the “sleeping giant.” Though yet mostly undeveloped, it became Seminole County’s largest city by land area, once again surpassing Casselberry — despite its southern neighbor’s aggressive octopus-like annexation practices that past year.
The town’s boom continued with a seemingly endless supply of new development plans. The northwest end of the city welcomed the Sheoah Golf Course, backed by world-famous golfer Bruce Devlin. The large community known as The Highlands was also getting underway with its well-appointed clubhouse.
Growth presented a keen opportunity for the village to modernize the statutes of its antiquated charter that was first drafted by the North Orlando Company. Ripe with the ability to completely reinvent itself, there was a groundswell of support to finally exterminate its unpopular name.
This time around the council decided it would not leave the choice to indecisive townspeople. Instead they would, after taking opinions from residents, make the call and package it in with the rest of the new charter.
A volcano of suggestions once again erupted. The original list of names was joined by a spattering of others: Sunrise City, Norwood, Springland, Seminola, Highlands, Winter Highlands, Woodbury, Woodland, Palm Vista, Midway, Springberry, Spring Highlands, Highview, and Alta Vista. Others submitted in jest names like Paradise Lost, East Longwood, South Sanford, and even… wait for it… North Bithlo.
Sheoah was suggested by city councilman Herb Fox, to take advantage of the publicity around Devlin’s new course. Support for that brand evaporated after it was found that another councilman couldn’t pronounce the term, which gets its name from an Australian oak or “she-oak.”
The old favorite standby Norlando was popular among some including former mayor David Tilson. It would be an easy contraction of the town’s current name, but still distinctive.
In the end the name Semoran was the pick with a 3–2 council vote. The term was a combination of the two counties Seminole and Orange. It was said the name would better orient folks to its location in south Seminole. It was also already a familiar term given the monicker Semoran Boulevard being assigned to Route 436 through Casselberry.
Local newspapers announced the new charter would reassign the city’s name to Semoran. Outrage ensued.
A week later the council reconvened. Fearing their constituents’ repulsion for the name Semoran could sink the entire new charter, they quickly reversed their decision. Semoran was assuredly out!
After more spirited discussion, there was one suggestion that already had significant local recognition. No one in attendance had any objection. In fact it was said that all quite liked the name.
Suddenly the clouds had parted and like a rainbow after the storm, there it was — at last a name all could agree on!
The council unanimously voted and months later the townspeople affirmed. The new charter redubbed North Orlando as the area it had just absorbed: Winter Springs was born!
About the Author
Jason Byrne is a lifelong Floridian, originally from Sebring and now living in Winter Springs. He graduated of Florida Southern College in 2002 with a major in journalism and minor in history.
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