Not much is known about Gertrude Sweet, namesake of Gertrude’s Walk, as most of the historical data we could find at the Orange County Regional History Center, sadly had to do with the men in her life and not specifically her.
Many rumors have surfaced about the reasons behind the path being named after Miss Sweet – one of them pins it on a jealous and overbearing brother who wanted to watch his sister from afar to ensure she didn’t get into any trouble. Unfortunately, we found no evidence of that story being true, no matter how interesting that may have been.
Here’s what we managed to find out:
Gertrude Sweet was born on June 17, 1862 and died in 1945, at the age of 83.
Her family moved to Orlando in 1875, origins unknown.
Her brother, Charles D. Sweet was an engineer, and became the Mayor of Orlando in 1881. Charles Sweet was also a surveyor and laid out much of Orlando’s street network. One of the highlights of his time spent in City Hall was the construction of Orlando’s widest street (at 100 feet wide) Gertrude’s Avenue, which he named after his sister.
The auburn-haired, blue-eyed Sweet was voted (by whom, it’s not clear) as the prettiest woman in Orange County. The Orlando Sentinel once said, “Gertrude was a beauty and so was the big, wide street named after her.” Which is apt, as from what we could tell in the History Center’s archives, Sweet was not a small woman. Rather, she seemed rather tall, thick and broad, with a strong sturdy face and long limbs. She was the Brienne of Tarth of her time.
She met her husband, Henry Newell, in 1880 and they married in 1883 after a respectable three years of courting. Newell was a musician and the Court House’s “bell winder” for much of his life. In fact, he had the distinct honor of ringing the bell on November 11, 1918 to signal the end of WWI. The bell was heard for three miles from the Court House.
Gertrude Sweet, now Gertrude Newell, went on to have three children with Henry. Her daughter Agnes, married Malcolm Wade, the namesake of Lake Wade near Boone Highschool. One of Gertrude’s sons, McFadden, was noted to have once ridden his bicycle from Orlando to Miami for a job. Arguably making him one of Florida’s first long-distance cyclists.
Gertrude was noted to have been a proud woman who always kept her head high. When the rails were eventually installed on top of her “beautiful, wide street” she was said to have been notably upset and commented that it was now, “on the wrong side of the tracks.”
Gertrude’s Walk was commemorated in her honor on March 3, 1980 as part of a $220,000 beautification project of the corridor. It will eventually be joined up, almost as in a nod to her son McFadden, to the Orlando Urban Trail – a pedestrian and cycling trail that runs on the former Dinky Line rail tracks.