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History of Lake Placid, Florida

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Lake Placid, Florida, the Caladium capital of the world.

Town History

In early 1842 the area now known as Highlands County was set aside for the Seminole Indians. After the last Seminole War (1856-58) the Seminole people retreated southward into the Everglades. In 1909 Congress opened these lands for homesteading and by 1912 there were 75 homesteaders in the area! Over the ensuing years the settlement was known as Lake Buck, Lake June and Lake Stearns (after Marcellus Stearns, U.S. Government Surveyor General at the time). However, with the advent of the Atlantic Coastline railroad through the area, the name was changed again to Wicco because it was the railroad’s official name for the stop. In 1921, with housing in big demand and in short supply, it was a town of tents! By 1924 the area was once again called Lake Stearns (as was the lake west of town) and A.H. DeVane, E.C. Stuart and E. Morrow promoted citrus and land development here.

By 1926 the Florida building boom resulted in tourists flocking to the town and businesses sprang up everywhere. In 1927 Dr. Melvil Dewey, creator of the Dewey Decimal System for cataloging library books, arrived in the area. Finding the locale remarkably similar to his native Lake Placid, N.Y. due to the lakes, Dr. Dewey had visions of a resort town as the semitropical branch of the Lake Placid Club in the Adirondack Mountains, which he had formed in 1893. Dewey’s first move was to open a 100 room hotel in mid-town for wealthier tourists and then to build a three hotel complex collectively called the Lake Placid Loj - the spelling the result in Dewey’s simplified spelling approach. The Loj is the present site of the Lake Placid Conference Center. In 1927, at Dewey's urging, the town’s named was changed to Lake Placid by legislative act and has remained so to this day.

With the town thriving as a resort town, there were several large hotels, in addition to Dewey’s. Main Avenue was dressed up with a beautifully landscaped center mall and picturesque stone arches.

In the early 1940s work on Highway 27 was begun, but discontinued when World War II began. It was completed in the early 1950s.

The spontaneous growth that Dewey expected did not occur due to the Great Depression. However, a steady, more reliable growth did. The few hundred people in the area in 1928 has swelled to the present population of several thousand. With its rolling hills, beautiful lakes, and near perfect climate, it is popular for both vacation and retirement. With industry becoming aware of the advantages of climate, location, ample labor, and a steadily increasing southern market, Lake Placid’s future looks very promising!

Mr. Coachman was enthusiastic about the beauty of the Company’s lands in Highlands County in the area near the lakes then known as Lake Childs and Lake Stearns. In order to show off this area to others, he invited approximately 160 of the business and political leaders of Florida to accompany him on a special tour of central Florida in December 1920.

A little earlier in 1920, Consolidated organized the Lake Childs Company to develop lands adjacent to and near Lake Childs. Consolidated Land Company sold the Lake Childs Company 538 acres, additional purchases were made from others, bringing the total acreage owned by the company to 976 acres. W. N. Brown, an engineer from Washington, D.C., was employed to draw plans for the development - which included home sites along the lakefront and a club house on the lake with 10 acre lots back from the lake, on the east side of the highway. Each 10-acre lot was to have citrus trees of different varieties: Pineapple, Temple and Valencia Oranges, Tangerines and Grapefruit and it was thought that they would be attractive, especially to retired people coming to Florida. Accordingly, Albert DeVane was employed to prepare the land and set out the citrus groves for the 10-acre lots. Groves were established on 483 acres that is the basic portion of the Childs Grove now owned.

The plans for the Lake Childs Company property seemed promising and the citrus groves were planted, but before anything else was done, the organization of Lake Placid Land Company was developed.

Through the efforts of Mr. Fentress and Baker, Fentress & Company, Dr. Melvil Dewey, owner of the Lake Placid Club of New York (and also the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System) became interested in establishing a Lake Placid Club South at Lake Childs. On March 2, 1927, a committee of four, Calvin Fentress , W. J. Kelly, C. H. Worcester and W. F. Coachman, was the appointed to work out the problems in the negotiations. The negotiations were long and hard - not the least of the problems was that Dr. Dewey wrote extremely long and harsh letters in simplified spelling!

The agreements finally worked out included:

The name of the town, Lake Stearns, would be changed to Town of Lake Placid.

The name of Lakes Stearns and Childs, would be changed to Lake June-in-Winter and Lake Placid, respectively

Lake Placid Land Company was organized by an agreement dated May 7, 1927 between: Consolidated Land Company, Florida Industrial Company, Lake Childs Company, Lake groves Company, Polk County Trust Company, Trustee, Tropical Investment Company, W. W. Chase, C. W. Deen, A. H. DeVane, G. A DeVane, Jr., T. L. Hughes, T. U. Jackson, E. N. Morrow, L. C. Morrow and R. M. Stidham, each of whom agreed to give to the Lake Placid Land Company the property, including groves, owned in that area in exchange for stock of that Company.

The Town of Lake Placid would pave streets, put in improvements, such as water system, purchase approximately 129 acres from Consolidated Land Company on which it would construct a golf course and club house, on the shore of Lake June-in-Winter.

Lake Placid Land Company agreed to give approximately 3,000 acres to the Lake Placid Club. This tract extended from Lake Placid to Lake June-in-Winter with frontage on both lakes. (Part of this tract is now Placid Lakes Development and the Presbyterian Conference Center.)

In addition, Consolidated Naval Stores Company guaranteed $50,000 in club memberships to Dr. Dewey.

Dr. Dewey agreed to construct buildings and other improvements and open Lake Placid Club South.

The levels of the lakes in the area were of extreme importance to the proposed development and an engineer, Gilbert A. Youngberg, of Jacksonville, was employed by Consolidated to make an in-depth survey of this situation, which he did.

The plans were ambitious and as might be expected, with the break of the Florida Land boom, the collapse of the stock market leading into a depression, there were many problems along the way.

History of the Lake Placid Camp and Conference Center

The Lake Placid Camp and Conference Center property was part of 3,000 acres owned by Dr. Melvil Dewey, originator of the Dewey Decimal System used by libraries for more than a century. Dr. Dewey built his winter home and guest lodges on the site in the 1920's. Many famous people traveled to this beautiful resort to get out of winter weather and to enjoy Dewey's spectacular hospitality. The list of famous guests includes the Churchills, Fords, Hughes, Duponts and several movie stars and politicians. The two mansions, called Litl Loj and Live Oak, remain today as the center of this exciting resort. After Dewey's death in 1935, the site became a resort known as Southwinds and continued on for several years. In 1997 the Southern Florida District Church of the Nazarene acquired the center. Over the past years many new buildings have been built to host over 17 thousand guests per year. The center is open all year and can host up to 600 at a time. LPCCC is honored to continue Dr. Dewey's grand dream and vision for this jewel called Lake Placid Camp & Conference Center.

The History of the Lake Placid Caladium Festival
By Anne Reynolds

Lake Placid is “The Caladium Capital of The World.” For any industry that makes such a mark on an area, there should be a festival celebrating it. The idea was first broached by Doris Gentry and a few years later growers were prodded and helped by Ann Bond and Audrey Vickers with the Convention and Visitors Bureau. They suggested September as the caladiums were in full bloom and it was a slow month for merchants. Unfortunately, the written history and a large historical exhibit of the caladium industry were lost in the 2004 hurricane, but enough survived in family files to tell the story and continue the festival.

In 1990, two competing caladium grower families decided to work together to make the festival possible. Carolyn Phypers of Happiness Farms and Dot Bates of Bates Sons and Daughters Caladiums took on the job. The first location of the festival was at Happiness Farms. In preparation, Bates and Phypers drove a pick-up truck and walked door to door offering free caladium bulbs (tubers) by the bagful to anyone from Hwy. 621 to Lake Blue who would plant them. Bus tours could see the fields and then be shown how beautifully caladiums could be incorporated into a landscape. Two years later, they added the WatersEdge neighborhood and left trays of bulbs in the cul-de-sac for anyone who wanted to plant them.

The festival had one bus and two runs the first year, with the number increasing to as many as 41 tours in a year with one bus doing four or five runs since. Sun Bank, now Sun Trust, donated $3,000 the first year to start the effort and continued support for several years. Vera, Rose and Julia Sapp entertained festival crowds as cloggers, and guests also viewed a video about the industry in a barn. Norma Stokes and the ladies of the local Farm Bureau provided the lunch for everyone. All the growers were assigned a task and had a display table. Other growers besides Bates and Phypers who participated the first year were D & L Bulb Farm, Cooper’s Farm, Joiners, Lake Huntley, Lake Placid Bulb, Parker Island, Hendry Caladiums, Sapp Caladiums, Scarboroughs from Lake Placid and Caladium World and Buddy’s from Sebring.

One important commitment was to recognize the living, first generation caladium pioneers, Emmett and Mildred Bates, Paul Phypers, Sr., Boots Holmes, and Zena Hendry. Some of the older growers would sit in rocking chairs at the Caladium Co-Op and talk. All the men took turns standing under the shade cloth to talk to visitors and answer questions. It was moved into the Co-Op building two years ago, with Dot and Maxine Kelley overseeing the historical aspect. Maxine’s family was involved in the industry for many years, and her granddaughter, Heidi (Head) Davis, was the first Caladium Queen.

Although the number of growers has decreased over the last few years, the second generations of growers are making their mark. The Bates’ family has had a grower’s exhibit each year. Their daughter, Teri, grows out the pots of new varieties and those left in the industry. All members of the Bates and Phypers families can be seen in action throughout the festival.

The festival has something for everyone. All food vendors are local and the Caladium Committee ensures there are no duplicates. They only have room for a hundred booths so there’s a long waiting list for arts and crafts, with an attempt to keep at least half of the booths caladium-related. The vendors love the venue because they are welcomed and given coffee, donuts, and orange juice when they set up. They also receive water throughout the day and a bag of caladiums at the end. Vendors are visited, treated well and apply for the following year immediately. Lake Placid is usually the first venue of their season.

The festival has required the support of numerous community volunteers. Marge Callas, under the auspices of the Caladium Arts and Crafts Co-Op, has done the books through the years and the money they take in is divided equally between the two entities. Debbie Rutledge has worked hard on getting entertainment for the weekend. Hector Hernandez was the first treasurer. The town and the county have been very supportive by blocking off the streets and giving free garbage pick-up.

Carolyn stated, “We wanted to help the town and businesses, so the second year we held it in town.” Every year since, the festival has been held in Stuart Park on Interlake Boulevard. The festival month was later changed to August because of hurricane season.

“What sustained the festival have been the profits from selling the potted plants which Bates grows, and the caladium bulbs which Happiness Farms bags up and sells,” said Dot.

“All of that money went back into the festival to keep it going,” Carolyn added. The festival has grown and become popular with locals and vendors. All proceeds from the festivals, which included large, personal donations were used for expenses, saved for future festivals and have supported many worthwhile community projects. One year donations included a $2,000 scholarship and donations to the police department, schools, the Chamber of Commerce, Educational Foundation, Woman’s Club, Last Chance Ranch, Masons, Beautification of Stuart Park, Town of Lake Placid and Bradenton Research Center for a total of $8,200 festival dollars given back to the area. The success of the festival over the years has been a commitment of grower participation, volunteers, returning vendors, and the people who come from everywhere to enjoy the unique flavor of a small town. Some have decided to come back and make it their home.

The festival was turned over to the Chamber of Commerce in 2007. We are indebted to the Phypers and Bates families for their investments, perseverance, hard work, and dedication to use their finances, time and expertise to make our community a better place.

Highlands County Courthouse History

Highlands County (the name reflects the sand hills of the Mid-Florida Ridge, which dominates the topography) was one of several carved from the huge expanses of DeSoto County in 1921. The county seat is Sebring, whose city plan is said to have been modeled after the ancient Syrian city of Heliopolis. George Sebring, the developer, made his fortune in pottery. More famous than Sebring’s pots are the annual auto races that, for a weekend, swell Highlands County’s population to several times its normal size. The courthouse, designed in the Classical Revival style by Fred Bishop, dates from 1927.