It was part of the lore of College Park, a cozy northwest Orlando neighborhood, that Jack Kerouac lived in the area in for a short time in 1957–58 when his classic work On The Road was published to much acclaim. It was also the place he typed the original manuscript of his sequel, Dharma Bums. Very few people knew exactly where in College Park he lived, and nobody seemed to be aware of the historical significance of such a place. In fact, none of Kerouac’s biographers had even mentioned the house.
In 1996 when Bob Kealing, a reporter with the Orlando area NBC affiliate and a freelance writer, learned that Jack Kerouac had lived in the area he began to investigate. Finally he learned from John Sampas, Jack Kerouac’s brother-in-law and executor of his estate, that the circa 1926 cottage was located at 1418½ Clouser Avenue, College Park. Kerouac and his mother had shared a two-room apartment at the back of the house from July 1957 until spring 1958. When Bob Kealing investigated he found the cottage still standing, though in a state of disrepair.
Kealing wrote a four-thousand-word article on his discovery of the cottage for the Orlando Sentinel in March 1997. After reading the article a number of local people decided to band together to buy the home, refurbish it, and establish it as a haven for up-and-coming writers as a tribute to the literary legacy of Jack Kerouac. The Kerouac Project, a non-profit corporation, was established and $10,000 was donated as down payment for the property. After some intense negotiating the house was put under contract.
To close the deal on the property, the Kerouac Project needed more than $100,000—money the project did not have. But that changed when USA Today ran a brief article about the undertaking to buy the house. Jeffrey Cole, Chairman and President of Cole National read the article. He had been a fan of Jack Kerouac and On The Road in his youth and he approached the Kerouac Project to ask what he could do to help. Jeffrey Cole agreed to send the balance of the money needed to purchase the house and the deal for the property was soon closed.
After some restoration and maintenance, the first writer-in-residence moved into the house for her three-month residency in the fall of 2000. Each writer is provided free lodging at the house, along with a food stipend so they can concentrate fully on their work. To date 51 writers-in-residence from the United States and several other countries have spent time at the Kerouac House working on their projects.
Since its founding, further grants have allowed the Kerouac Project to continue maintaining and restoring the house, pay off all debt, and purchase the adjoining house, which is used as a rental property to provide ongoing income.
Over the years, the work of the Kerouac Project has been reported on by USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, CNN, Orlando Sentinel, National Public Radio, Writer magazine and other media outlets from around the world. As well, a number of visitors have made their way to Orlando to visit the Kerouac House, among them the late actor and musician Steve Allen, David Amram, Jack Kerouac’s friend and musical collaborator, San Francisco’s poet laureate and owner of City Lights Bookshop, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, historian Douglas Brinkley, noted actor and author Michael York, and Carolyn Cassady, widow of Kerouac’s traveling partner Neal Cassady. Along with this notoriety has come an ever-increasing number of writers applying to become one of the four writers-in-residence chosen each year.