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POSTCARDS FROM FLORIDA

On the road to the White House -- Old Winter Garden and the Presidents Hall of Fame in Clermont

Jim Abbott on Travel

Postcards from Florida

April 18, 2010

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It has been a roadside attraction in Clermont for 50 years, about a decade longer than Mickey Mouse has been in the neighborhood.

Yet somehow, I had never made the pilgrimage to the Presidents Hall of Fame, the "educational wonderland" that celebrates all things about the highest elected office in the land and the presidential home, the White House. Sometimes, the things you miss are right in your backyard.

Nor had I made it to the historic downtown district of Winter Garden, to take a gander at the Mayberry-esque stretch of shops and restaurants that has emerged around the cultural hub of the Winter Garden Theatre. It was time for the Postcards caravan to head west.

A Winter Garden pit stop offered options for an afternoon bite, including ice-cream (Scoops Old-fashioned Ice Cream, Sweet Traditions), pizza (Winter Garden Pizza Co.) or something more exotic (Thai Blossom).

The Winter Garden Theater hosts concerts, theatrical and dance performances. Upcoming events include the Garden Theatre's inaugural community theater production, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, opening on Friday. Visit wintergardentheatre.org for details.

Onward to the presidents.

If an attraction has been around for this long, it must be doing something right. The longevity is even more astounding considering the curb appeal of the place — a tiny, old-looking building on U.S. Highway 27, just north of State Road 50 right near the also very old and notable attraction, the Citrus Tower.

In the parking lot, there's a vintage presidential limo once used in the Carter administration and a mini-version of Mount Rushmore, with a sign that warns against climbing on it because of "sharp fiberglass." Inside, the gift shop is the place to find a White House-shaped cookie jar that plays "Hail to the Chief" or stuffed bears inscribed "Bush won! 2000."

Clunky scale models will inspire eye-rolling, but there is history here. A seat from Ford Theater. A chunk of sandstone from the original construction. Scads of historic photos. The room-sized scale-model of the White House spent time in the East Room in 1992 as part of that building's 200th anniversary.

Admission: $9.95 adults, $4.95 ages 6-12. Visit presidentshalloffame.com for details.