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Q&A with Hannibal Square Heritage Center

A tile mosaic depicting the Black community of Hannibal Square crossing the tracks to vote. Text reads, "Strength, Learning, Story, Faith, Family, Memory, Unity." "In 1887 the citizens of Hannibal Square joined together and crossed the tracks to vote, electing two African American men." "Winter Park Community Pride in Hannibal Square."

The fabric of Orange County’s history is interwoven with the stories, memories, struggles and victories of the Black community. The Orange County Library System is proud to welcome the Hannibal Square Heritage Center to Local Wanderer, a program that gives library holders access to historic, cultural and educational attractions. To celebrate our new partnership, we paid a visit to the Hannibal Square Heritage Center where manager Barbara Chandler gave us a tour and shared the history of the community and what the center does to preserve that legacy.

Hannibal Square was established in 1881. Could you tell us a little bit about the history of its founding?

Hannibal Square (the “west side”) was officially founded in 1881, only 40 years after Florida became the 27th state, and 14 years after Florida reentered the Union after seceding in 1861.

The free Black families who lived here provided labor for building a town to serve wealthy white winter residents and visitors. Although Florida and Winter Park remained deeply segregated into the 1960s, the 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 led a march of Black registered voters across the railroad tracks to Ergood’s Drugstore. The resulting election established a quorum that voted to incorporate the town of Winter Park including Hannibal Square. Two Black men from Hannibal Square, Walter B. Simpson and Frank R. Israel, were elected aldermen and served from 1887 to 1893.

The City of Winter Park’s prime location fueled the development and gentrification of Hannibal Square, with a significant loss of cultural landmarks and native residents. Members of the community rallied to preserve what is left of its heritage, and that is where the Hannibal Square Heritage Center story begins.

Hannibal Square Heritage Center manager, Barbara Chandler, explaining a painting hanging in the center's gallery space to library staff member Andrea Jackson

How did the Hannibal Square Heritage Center get its start?

The center was established in 2007 by Crealdé School of Art, in partnership with residents from the Hannibal Square community and the City of Winter Park.

How does the center promote the rich history of Hannibal Square and support the community today?

With The Heritage Collection: Photographs and Oral Histories of West Winter Park, a permanent exhibition of more than 200 framed, archival pieces that capture the lives of Winter Park’s African American community and The Hannibal Square Timeline which documents significant local and national events in African American history since the Emancipation Proclamation.

Orange County Library System cardholders are now able to check out passes to visit the Hannibal Square Heritage Center. What can visitors to the center expect?

Visitors receive a docent-led experience relating the history of a community as told by its residents. The exhibitions and programs weave the stories of this proud neighborhood together with art, family history and community experience.

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Presidential Preference Primary Election Early Voting at Select Library Locations

Ten OCLS Branch locations will host early voting for the 2024 Early Voting Primary Election from Monday, March 4 to Sunday, March 17 (10 a.m. – 6 p.m.): Alafaya, Chickasaw, Fairview Shores, Hiawassee, South Creek, Southeast, Southwest, Washington Park, West Oaks, and Winter Garden. Learn more about early voting at select library locations >