Local News

Lakes attracted early settlers, city founders to Highlands

SEBRING - About 128 years ago a couple from England, the Kings, built a log cabin on Lake Tiger, now known as Lake Tulane, making them the first permanent settlers of Avon Park, according to some sources.

Before the shopping centers, restaurants, golf courses and clubhouses, what lured the early settlers and founders of Avon Park, Sebring and Lake Placid to this area that would later be known as Highlands County?

Before the paved highways and the extension of the railroad to the area in the 1920s, the early settlers of the Heartland of Florida arrived by horse or horse and buggy.

Mr. and Mrs William A. King were attracted by the advertisements about Florida that had reached London, according to the writings of Oliver Martin Crosby, who is also noted as the first permanent settler and founder of Avon Park.

Crosby was in Jacksonville when he was informed about the area. After riding a train to the end of the rail line in Bartow, Crosby traveled by horse and buggy and then horseback until he reached Lake Tiger/Lake Tulane.

Crosby initially advertised the new settlement as "Lake Forest."

The rustic beauty of Florida reminded Mrs. King of her English homeland, Stratford-on-Avon, so she suggested a name change to "Avon Park," according to the book "The First 100 Years of Avon Park," by Leoma Bradshaw Maxwell.

The area may have been rustic, but the property prices were reasonable. A man named Dewey from Kansas bought 10 acres on the north shore of Lake Tulane for $1.

After living in a log cabin since 1886, a sawmill started turning out lumber allowing the Kings to build a large two-story home on the ease side of Lake Verona in 1892. William King planted a 20-acre grove and installed a windmill-operated irrigation system, according to Maxwell's book.

Incorporated in 1886, Avon Park was the first established town in what would become Highlands County, but a few years later and a few miles south another lake provided the attraction to lure a businessman from Ohio to establish a new community.

A clear lake, a vision and a man named Sebring

Due to health reason, George E. Sebring sold his fine china factory in Sebring, Ohio, around 1909. He made stops in Balm (Hillsborough County), Rockledge, Ormond Beach and Lake Alfred.

Sebring took a fishing trip in October 1911 and found a beautiful clear Lake Jackson and a few hardy homesteaders on the west side of the lake, Carole Goad, of the Sebring Historical Society noted in her book, "The One-Hundred Years of Sebring."

He purchased 10,000 acres of land and contacted his son, Orvel, about partnering with him to establish a town on the site.

Sebring was incorporated as a city in 1913.

A Feb. 6, 1925 letter from Hugh Pinnix, of the Pinnix Land Company, to R.N. Durrance, touted the benefits of the area in an effort to sell at auction 146 building sites with frontage on Lake Jackson.

"Sebring, Florida, located in the beautiful scenic highland section of Central Florida, has had an enormous growth," Pinnix said. "Seven years ago Sebring was 30 miles from a railroad, with no highways, one house and a town undreamed of.

"Today, located on two railroads, one the Seaboard, has just been completed connecting Tampa and Palm Beach, a forward step toward developing all of South Florida.

Pinnix noted that a main paved highway connecting the east and west coasts runs through Sebring with over 1,000 automobiles traveling on the highway every day.

"The growth of Sebring has been one of the outstanding features of Florida," he said. "And her growth has only started; new hotels, business houses, residences, paved streets, public utilities, beautiful boulevards are being built or have been financed."

From "Good Water" to 'Lake Stearns' to 'Lake Placid' and a man named Dewey

At the Sebring Historical Society, an undocumented account, apparently from around 1964, offers background and details of the early days of Lake Placid.

Lake Placid was shown as "Good Water" on a map created under the direction of General Zachary Taylor (who became the 12th U.S. president) during the period of the second Seminole War 1835-1842. It was named Okee-he-ti (Good Water) by the Seminole Indians due to its clear, beautiful, sparkling waters and sandy beach.

After the third and last Seminole War of 1856 to 1858, most of the Seminoles moved deep into the Everglades.

The first post office in the vicinity, in the 1910s, was located at the south end of Buck Lake about five miles south what would later be known as Lake Placid.

"The mail was brought first from Avon Park, later from Sebring on horseback, Reo and Model T by Bill Leonard," according the historical account. "Reo" apparently referred to a vehicle manufactured by the REO Motor Car Company.

In 1927, Melville Dewey, of Lake Placid, N.Y., "was getting old and was very appreciative of the Florida sunshine in winter. He decided to establish a summer-in-winter playground in Florida for his guests," according to the historical account.

Dewey, a librarian and educator, was know for creating the Dewey Decimal system of library classification.

Lake Stearns was charted on Dec. 1, 1925. But the name was not long-lived because Dewey proposed a name change in April 1927 to Lake Placid and the Florida Legislature made it official in June of 1927.

The Town of Lake Stearns and Lake Stearns, now Lake June-In-Winter, were named in honor of Marcellus Stearns, a U.S. government survey general.

The land area that would become Highlands County was once part of Manatee County, which in 1887 was divided into five counties - Citrus, DeSoto, Lake, Manatee and Pasco.

The highlands area was part of DeSoto County from 1887 until 1921 when DeSoto County was divided into five counties - Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee and Highlands.