A Conversation with Hannibal Square’s Chief Historian

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Fairolyn Livingston has a lifelong connection to Winter Park’s west side, and a passion for preserving its history.

She serves as the chief historian for the Hannibal Square Heritage Center, maintaining a timeline of the community’s history and overseeing the ongoing expansion of its permanent collection.

Born in the historically Black community of Hannibal Square, her personal history includes growing up in the era of segregation.

“We were self-contained,” she said. “We had our churches, our schools, our day care centers. We stayed within our community, but we had what we needed.”

She attended Robert Hungerford Preparatory High School in Eatonville, earning her associate degree in 1966 from Ocala’s Hampton Junior College – now Hampton College of Central Florida.

“All of my education, from kindergarten through community college, was in segregated schools,” she said.

“I find it not challenging, but I love it,” said Fairolyn Livingston of her job as chief historian for Hannibal Square Heritage Center.

She began working as a part-time nursing assistant in 1967, married in 1968, and landed a full-time job with the Florida Department of Children and Families in 1971. Working two jobs and raising a family consumed her time, but a personal void remained that could only be filled by education.

“For me, it was like unfinished business,” she said. “I needed to go beyond the associate degree that I had received in 1966. Some of my coworkers were in the evening program at Rollins and they would always encourage me.”

Livingston earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in humanities from Rollins’ Hamilton Holt School in 1983. In 1997 she would challenge herself again, for the benefit of her community.

“The home of the Ideal Woman’s Club, which was once an organization for African American women in the community, was going to be torn down in 1997,” she said. “There was an effort by some of the citizens to save the building and I attended a meeting, just to understand what was happening.”

Efforts to save the building were unsuccessful, but the loss inspired Livingston to preserve the city’s history through research and documentation. Her book, “A Window on Hannibal Square” focuses on Walter B. Simpson and Frank R. Israel, the only Black men to ever hold office in the City of Winter Park.

In 2001 she became a founding member of the Hannibal Square Heritage Collection Team, helping to build what would become The Heritage Collection: Photographs and Oral Histories of West Winter Park.

The idea came from a meeting between Winter Park Community Center Director Ron Moore and Crealdé School of Art CEO and Executive Director Peter Schreyer regarding a similar collection by the Los Angeles County Library.

“Peter was trying to think of ways to find the history in our community and Ron’s response was, ‘The history is in the shoeboxes under the beds of the people,’” Livingston said.

A series of Community Heritage Days were scheduled when residents could bring their photographs to Crealdé to be copied and included in the collection. Flyers advertising the event were for sent in utility bills, and announcements were made during church services and community meetings.

“We had no idea what to expect that first day. We didn’t know whether or not people would show up,” said Livingston. “But we had a large crowd and we had it set up where people did not have to leave their photographs with us. We tracked the photograph from the time they walked in the door to when they left with it in their hand.”

Negatives were made from selected photographs and interviews were conducted to determine when and where the photos were taken. But the most important part of the project was determining who was photographed.

“We wanted everyone to know what these people did and who they were by name. That was important to us,” said Livingston.

The first stage of the project was unveiled in 2003 at the Winter Park Community Center with the ongoing collection housed at the Hannibal Square Heritage Center after its establishment in 2007. “Before we had the Heritage Center, we had the collection,” Livingston said.

In honor of her ongoing efforts to preserve the history of Hannibal Square, Livingston received numerous awards including the 2019 Donald A. Cheney Award from the Historical Society of Central Florida, and the 2021 Fred Rogers Global Citizenship Award from Rollins College.

She still receives photographs for consideration in the Heritage Collection, and social media has made her research efforts much easier. But for Livingston, the work has never been a chore.

“I find it not challenging, but I love it,” she said. “It’s finding out about this person or this place, when this church was established and who established it, and the fact that two Black men were elected to office in Winter Park in 1887, and who these men are. It all gets to be part of the story.”

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