College Park Community Newspaper : CPCN 020117
FEBRUARY 2017 COLLEGEPARKPAPER.COM 18 Features “Fond memory brings the light of other days around me.” — Thomas Moore (1779 – 1852) Often now, as I approach the intersection of I-4 and Colonial Drive, I squint my eyes and try to see an imaginary place, a picture of Lake Concord’s eastern shore before the interstate wedged itself between what was and what I can only imagine ... a resi- dential, lakefront section of College Park once known as Glendonjo Park. To get there today, turn north onto Garland Avenue from Colonial Drive. On the east side of Garland — once officially known as Glendonjo Drive — stands the 1883 home of Judge John Moses Cheney. Cheney com- bined the names of his daughter Glenn and sons Donald and Joseph, calling the house Glendonjo. Now the former home of a bank, this lonesome, grand house lords over the “ultimate” I-4 across the street. In the era when John Cheney bought this property — with its breathtaking, western exposure overlooking the eastern shore of Lake Concord — it was considered out in the country. Traveling to town required a horse and buggy over sandy roads covered in pine straw. Of the spectacular home and the early Orlando society members who gathered there, page five of the (Orlando) Morning Sentinel reported May 8, 1914: “Last evening, between the hours of eight and eleven, throngs of guests gathered at ‘Glendonjo,’ the beautiful home of Judge and Mrs. J. M. Cheney ... The wide ve- randa was aglow with Japanese lanterns, and the entire house fragrant with flowers. ... A pretty musical pro- gram was given during the evening by an orchestra. The affair was delightful in every particular and will long be remembered as one of the most brilliant ever held in the city.” (Source: University of Florida Digital Collections, http://bit.ly/2joXkxA.) The Cheney family shed light on Orlando not only figuratively but literally as well. It was the Cheneys who first brought electric power and lights to the city of Orlando in 1901. Years earlier, when John Moses Cheney arrived in Orlando, he opened a law prac- tice with Arthur Odlin. Later, in 1889, Cheney served as an Orlando city attorney. In 1893, John Cheney took over the management of the failing Orlando Water Company. He restructured the utility and eventually expanded it to include not only water but also gas and ice. In 1901, beside Lake Highland, he built the first electricity generating plant in Orange County. With the early 1920s land boom in Florida, Orlando’s pop- ulation swelled to 10,000 resi- dents. John Cheney’s Orlando Water and Light Company could no longer meet the growing municipality’s increas- ing demands, so he convinced city leaders to issue bonds for purchasing the utilities. In 1922, Orlando paid $600,000 for the company that become today’s Orlando Utilities Commission. John Cheney had supervised the 1900 U.S. Census in Central Florida. Perhaps that spurred his political ambitions to run for public office on the Republican ticket. Republicans were not then popular in Florida; Cheney subsequently lost the 1900 and 1904 elections for U.S. House of Representatives. From 1906 to 1912, John Cheney served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District — until William Howard Taft named him to a federal judge seat during a recess appointment. However, when the Senate failed to confirm his permanent nomination, Judge Cheney left the bench and returned to private practice. He lost another election while running for the gov- ernorship in 1908 and yet another for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1920. That year, John Cheney co-founded the law firm of Cheney and Akerman (later known as Akerman Senterfitt), and he served on the board of trustees of Rollins College until his death in 1922. Judge John Cheney’s legacy extended beyond electric- ity and politics. He also promoted improved roads in and around Orlando. A trip from Orlando to the beach along dirt roads in the early days of automobiles might take eight hours — a full day’s trip — each way. New Year’s Eve 1924, Cheney Highway opened as the first paved route from Orlando to the Atlantic coast. The 40- mile, two-lane, entirely brick-laid road honored his ear- lier contributions by bearing his name, and though we now call most of the roadway State Road 50 or Colonial Drive, sections still go by Old Cheney Highway. The Cheney family’s contributions to Orlando did not end with the death of Judge John M. Cheney. His son, Donald Alexander Cheney (born in Orlando in 1889), attended local public schools and graduated from the preparatory Rollins College Academy. In a 1975 oral history interview recorded by Orlando Memory, Donald Cheney recalled catching the Dinky Line to travel to the Rollins campus from downtown Orlando. He fondly referred to the steam train as the “little wiggly” that often came off its tracks along the sandy route. (Visit Orlando Memory archives for the fascinating, four-part interview with Judge Donald A. Cheney: http://bit.ly/2j9Unyq.) After attending and graduating from Dartmouth College in 1911, Donald Cheney returned to Orlando, where he managed his father’s Orlando Water and Light company until its 1922 purchase by the city of Orlando. Donald Cheney’s influence in Central Florida, like his father’s, stretched beyond improving utilities and tending to professional duties. Also like John Cheney, Donald Cheney served on the board of trustees of Rollins College. He helped found the Orlando Rotary Club and the Park Lake Presbyterian Church. (See the Rollins College online library archives for more infor- mation: http://bit.ly/2iyNfKb.) Judge Donald Cheney prioritized the wellbeing of Orlando’s rising generation. In 1921, he became the first judge for Orange County’s juvenile court. Soon after, having already served as one of Orlando’s first Boy Scout leaders, Donald assisted in forming the Central Florida Council. Four years after his appointment to the juvenile court, he helped organize Orlando’s Board of Public Recreation and Playgrounds. As Judge John Cheney could be considered the father of Orlando’s electricity, his son, Judge Donald Cheney, could be considered the father of Orlando’s history. Donald Cheney was passionate about preserving Orlando’s past. He helped shape the 1957-found- ed Orange County Historical Commission toward becom- ing the modern Orange County Historical Society, and he contributed to it until the last few years of his life, which ended in 1983. The Orlando Sentinel’s Mark Andrews wrote that Donald Cheney “was the pio- neer ‘point of light,’” quoting Jean Yothers, the historical so- ciety director during the time Cheney served as its president (http://bit.ly/2jtRfNt). I hope, somehow, it pleases the Cheneys that the beauti- ful party they gave some 100 years ago on a veranda overlooking Lake Concord lives in Orlando’s memory as one of the most brilliant ever held in the city. After all, for the family who turned on the lights in Orlando, what other kind of party could it have been besides brilliant? ___ Teresa TL Bruce also contributed to this article. The Judges Cheney and the lighting of Orlando By Becky Dreisbach Photo courtesy of Historic Photos, a public group on Facebook This was the view looking northwest from Glendonjo Park in 1904, most likely taken from the roof of the Cheneys’ home. Lake Concord is visible in the foreground, Lake Ivanhoe in the background.