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Winter Park's Capen House sets sail

Preservation Capen organizers wave from their house boat as it floats across Lake Osceola Tuesday.

Preservation Capen organizers wave from their house boat as it floats across Lake Osceola Tuesday.

Tim Freed

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A historic home took to the high seas Tuesday, floating to its new home at the south end of Lake Osceola in Winter Park. Historic preservationists in Winter Park cheered from the shoreline at the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden as the city’s 128-year-old Capen House arrived by barge.

Movers pulled the first half of the house toward the shore of its old address on Interlachen Avenue via tractor-trailer last Saturday before finally steering it onto a large barge Tuesday afternoon.

Dozens of paddle boarders, kayakers and spectators on boats swarmed around the floating structure as it crossed the lake, cheering as it reached the shore of the Albin Polasek Museum grounds.

“It’s a very difficult thing to put into words,” said Debbie Komanski, executive director of the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden. “This has been a very concerted effort by a lot of people to make this happen in this short period of time.”

“To see it actually coming through is both very emotional as well as extremely rewarding and inspiring for the future in what we’ll be able to do with it.”

The house’s journey across Lake Osceola resembled a parade on water. Komanski, Executive Director Betsy Owens of Casa Feliz, and Executive Director Susan Skolfield of the Winter Park Historical Association waved to residents from the barge, which flew an American flag and a Czechoslovakian flag as a symbol of the Albin Polasek Museum.

“I think we really made history today,” said Owens, who played a significant role in the fundraising efforts.

“It was pretty exciting to be a part of it … we’ve worked very hard to make today a reality.”

It’s been six months since the historic home – built in 1885 for early Winter Park settler John S. Capen – faced the wrecking ball. Residents cried out for the protection of the house after property owners John and Betsy Pokorny planned to demolish it to make way for a new lakefront home.

But the Pokornys agreed to let it stay until fundraisers could find the house a new home. The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden stepped forward, proposing a plan to move the house to the museum grounds so it could be used for program space.

The Pokornys gave the community until the end of 2013 to raise at least $400,000 and move the house – a goal that’s now halfway to becoming a reality.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with how it’s gone today,” said Frank Roark, the general contractor for the project.

“There’s been a lot of uncertainty and challenges with this thing. To get it to this milestone was a big deal for us.”

But the Capen House isn’t home free just yet. Movers are now in the process of turning around the first half of the home 180 degrees so that the back faces Lake Osceola, while another group of movers prepares the second half for placement on the barge.

The second half of the house is set to float across the lake on Dec. 21, meeting the Dec. 31 deadline, Komanski said.

The museum still needs to raise between $120,000 and $130,000 to pay for the reassembling and furnishing of the historic home.

Komanski said it’s now up to Winter Park residents and historic preservationists to give new life to the Capen House.

“Many, many people came together in order to get this to this point,” she said. “I feel the majority of the citizens in our town feel strongly about preserving our history here in Winter Park and helping it cohabitate with things we need for the future.”