Local News

Former Melvil Dewey resort primed for big expansion

LAKE PLACID -At a facility founded in the 1920s by Melvil Dewey on the north side of Lake Mirror, the Lake Placid Camp and Conference Center will continue the innovator's dream with a major expansion project.

A $1 million endowment from a longtime visitor of the property will fund the construction of a 152-bed lodge, two 300-seat multipurpose buildings and a 200-seat addition to the original Dewey lodge dining room, said Anthony Haney, the conference center's executive director.

Currently, the center sleeps about 525, and with the 152-bed addition, it will be one of the largest faith-based retreat centers, not only in Florida, but in this region, he said.

Construction is scheduled to begin in May with completion expected around April 1, 2015.

The property features the two original lodges/mansions that Dewey built, Haney said. Many of the same recreational activities are still in place, including the beach.

Haney offered some background on the property, which dates back to the 1920s, when Dewey, the inventer of the Dewey Decimal System, purchased 3,000 acres on the north shore of then Lake Childs.

After establishing Lake Placid, N.Y., Dewey aimed to make this spot in central Florida a warm weather resort and community.

The two mansions - Litl Loj and Live Oak - that are still on the 100-acre camp and conference center property today.

Haney explained that one of the mansions was primarily for aristocrats and high society customers while the other served as a hotel for families.

"There were all kinds of activities here, there was horseback riding, there was boating, fishing, of course," he said. "It was a summer winter wonderland for people mainly from the northeast.

"Dewey entertained Mrs. Churchill, the Fords, the Wrigleys, the Duponts, Thomas Edison, Babe Ruth, Howard Hughes, Al Capone, in these buildings we have today."

Dewey didn't like the name Lake Childs so he commissioned the Florida Legislature to rename it Lake Placid. Dewey also did not like the town's name, Lake Stearns, so he proposed the change to Lake Placid.

Dewey envisioned that this location, near the north shore of Lake Placid, would be the hub of the Town of Lake Placid, Haney said.

"He felt like with the lake being right here he could entice business owners and motels to join along with his 3,000 acres," he said.

Dewey was never able to get a buy-in for this idea and his health deteriorated after a massive stroke, Haney said.

After Dewey died in 1935, a corporation took over the property and called it Southwinds resort, which catered to the general public until the late 1960s.

After closing for a time, two different ministry groups purchased the property and operated it as a retreat center in the 1970s and 1980s, Haney said.

The property was sold to the Baker family and Mr. Baker was going to divide the 100 acres into 5-acre ranchettes, Haney said. But he passed away and his widow did not share the same vision for the property.

Mrs. Baker put the property up for sale and in 1997, and the Southern Florida District Church of the Nazarene acquired the center.

"Since then we have been very fortunate to revive the dream of Dr. Dewey," Haney said.

Over the past 10 years, the camp and conference center has averaged 40,000 guests a year, reaching out to a customer base up and down the East Coast, he said. It's a multipurpose facility serving as a site for retreats, conferences, corporate meetings, reunions banquets and summer camp.

A ground breaking for the project will be held at the Lake Placid Camp and Conference Center, 2665 Placid View Drive, at 1 p.m. Wednesday.


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