RIVERVIEW — When John and Kay Sullivan set out to transform a former dairy farm into a place where people could live, work, play and shop without firing up a motor vehicle, people talked about "new urbanism" models such as Celebration near Orlando and Seaside in the Panhandle.
It turns out the inspiration for the Sullivans' dream town goes back much further — almost 400 years — and the clue is in the name: Winthrop Town Centre. Kay Sullivan said the couple named it for a street in the Boston bedroom community where her husband grew up, and that street was named for Massachusetts founder John Winthrop of 1630s fame.
Friends and family gathered Saturday to hear the story and dedicate the newest aspect of the neotraditional neighborhood design: Winthrop Common, a patch of green space that will serve as the village square.
Local residents and nonprofit organizations have staged various events there during the past couple of years, Kay Sullivan said. But signs formally designating the spot — loosely modeled after John Winthrop's Boston Common — went up Saturday. Mulberry trees, which are associated with the Winthrop family in England, were planted at opposite corners of the park.
"We are trying to create a place to bring people together so they can unite as citizens of a community," Kay Sullivan said.
Early on, the couple remodeled the old dairy's fully enclosed hay barn and the open-air pole barn at the development's northeastern corner for community gatherings. But as a commercial district of shops, restaurants, offices and schools continued to grow on the western side, the grassy square took shape as another unifying public space, Kay Sullivan said.
"I think it will provide a higher level of civic engagement," she said. "It gives everybody an opportunity to come outside and know one another and rub shoulders with one another."
A modern-day John Winthrop, age 79 and a descendant of that early governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, trekked from his home in Charleston, S.C., to participate in the dedication. He and the Sullivans met about 10 years ago, after Kay had lunch with some of his relatives at a conference.
The guest discussed his famous family's history and gifted the nonprofit Winthrop Arts Inc. with a book he wrote and a $1,000 donation. He also helped plant a mulberry tree before he set off on a walking tour of the village.
"I planted one in Boston Common," he recalled. "The dogs liked it a lot, and unfortunately it died. I hope this one will live."
Winthrop said after the ceremony he was impressed with the Florida development that bears his family's name.
"It's been tastefully done," he said. "I think it's a source of real pride for me."
Kay Sullivan describes Winthrop Village as "slowly evolving," with housing options for singles, families and retirees. Hundreds of homes have gone up around the shopping mecca anchored by Publix, which opened in 2003 at Providence Road and Bloomingdale Avenue. The Sullivans bought the 148-acre Hobbs Dairy site in 2000.
Contact Susan Marschalk Green at [email protected]