Swimming in the four large fresh-water spring-lakes and the slightly saline salt springs within the Forest is increasingly popular as interest in this form of outdoor sport grows. The waters of these springs are precisely like those of the famous Silver Spring a few miles west of the Forest, the water pure and crystal clear with an average temperature of 76 degree the year around. One of them, juniper Springs, in the scrub, has been developed extensively as a swimming and recreational center, and in 1937 similar development was begun at Alexander Spring, the largest in the forest.
The development of juniper Springs recreation area covers 80 acres. The actual work was done by the C. C. C. under the direction of the Forest Supervisor and the District Rangers.
Picnic grounds, tourist cabins, a trailer camp and an extensive system of clay-gravel paths throughout the area have been provided by the Federal Government in addition to the equipment of juniper Spring itself with bath houses, diving platforms and other necessary accessories.
All of this Ocala National Forest is easily accessible by motor from any part of Florida. Three State Highways, Florida 19, Florida 45 and Florida 55, cross the Forest, within which more than 100 miles of motor roads in every direction have been built, and three other State highways take the motorist within a mile or two of the Forest boundaries.
Taking the southerly road at the Eastern edge of the Forest we find our way easily into the regions of lakes and hills which, in the flamboyant days of the real estate boom, used to be advertised on a huge bilboard at the south end of the Jacksonville bridge, inviting the motorist to “Visit the Florida Alps!” Lake County is not precisely alpine, but its hills offer a refreshing contrast to the generally flat and level landscape of the Florida peninsula, while its fourteen hundred fresh-water lakes, most of them big enough to have names, go far to justify its claim to provide the best black bass fishing in the world. Lake County people simply don’t mention any bass that weighs less than ten pounds. The walls of the dining room of the principal hotel at Eustis are lined with mounted specimens of bass weighing from 13 pounds upward, with the name of the captor and the date.
This is preeminently a county of homes and orange groves. A home in Lake County is hardly a home unless it is surrounded by its own citrus grove, from which the home-owner usually derives a large part of the income on which he lives. Like all Florida communities, the cities of Lake County spread out over wide enough areas to take in orange groves, vegetable and watermelon farms, vineyards, golf courses and whole lakes, including their yacht clubs. The communities are so thickly sprinkled over the county that the tourist travelling over the main highways can hardly tell where one city ends and the next begins except by reading the names on the Post Offices, which are usually on the main roads.
Tavares, the County seat, lies between Lake Eustis and Lake Dora, with the cities of Eustis and Mt. Dora hugging the shores of their namesake lakes. Leesburg, the largest city in the county, lies between Lake Griffin and Lake Harris. From Altoona and Umatilla in the North to Clermont and Groveland in the South there is hardly a spot in Lake County which is not practically surrounded by water. And in the upper part the town of Astor is a port on the St. Johns River.
This is great citrus country because of its hills and lakes, providing as they do protection against frost by the air-drainage down the slopes and the tempering effect of the warm lake waters. These are big lakes. Lake Harris, largest of them all, is forty miles from end to end. On the eastern edge of the county and extending into Orange County is Florida’s second largest lake, Apopka, half as large as Okeechobee. It is not surprising that among the most popular tourist resorts in Florida are the fourteen fishing camps of Lake County.
The cities of Lake County have a uniform air of cleanliness and sprightliness. They compete with each other for the tourist trade, but are united in their insistence that Lake County, any part of it, is the best place in Florida to live. It probably contains among its 28,000 permanent residents a higher proportion of northerners who have become Floridians than any other similar area in the state. Because there are no large cities, but a large number of small communities, the promotional efforts of Lake County for tourists and permanent home seekers are chiefly centered in the Lake County Chamber of Commerce, the oldest County organization of its kind in Florida and perhaps in the United States.
With the second largest citrus acreage of any Florida county, currently third in volume of production until the young groves set out in the 1930′s come into full bearing, Lake County tackled the citrus problem as a county unit from a different angle than the approach elsewhere. Discarding the notion that better prices for oranges and grapefruit can be obtained by talking about them, Lake County growers in the late 1920′s got together to see whether it might not have as good an effect upon their profits if they cut their cost of production. In ten years, through the efforts of the Lake County Horticultural Association and the cooperation of the County Agricultural agent, citrus production costs in the county have been reduced fifty percent. This has been brought about in part by studying and adopting improved methods of cultivation, fertilization, picking, etc., and in part by the cooperative buying of fertilizers and insecticides as well as equipment and supplies used by the growers. The result is that the shippers of Lake County’s $2,000,000 annual citrus crop average a higher proportion of cash that they can put in their bank accounts than is the case throughout most of the state.
Scientific citrus culture has possibly reached its highest stage so far in the largest orange and grapefruit development in the world, the Howey Groves at Howey-in-the-Hills. Here on 60,000 acres of beautiful rolling country grow half a million orange and grapefruit trees with annual plantings calculated to bring the number of trees up to an eventual 3,000,000. These Howey groves are individually owned tracts, mostly of from five to ten acres, cooperatively managed in every detail from planting to sales and shipment of fruit. Their owners live in all parts of the world. Many of them have never even seen their groves, which are income investments; many of them live in nearby Lake County homes.
Net returns of mature orange groves run from $175 to $200 per acre; young groves net incomes of from $50 to $100 per acre, while there is a record of one 47-acre grove which earned a net profit in one season of $40,000.
Within the limits of Lake County are grown more watermelons than in any other Florida county, more grapes than in all the rest of the state put together. These and the truck and staple crops, poultry, eggs, cattle and hogs add another million dollars a year to the county’s $2,000,000 citrus income. The Agricultural Experiment Station of the University of Florida maintains a special research station at Leesburg for the study and improvement of watermelons. One result is a disease-resisting melon known as the “Leesburg.”
Clermont, in Lake County, claims the highest altitude on the Florida peninsula, the lowest death rate of any city in the United States. An extremely interesting Florida mineral prod uct found near Clermont is kieselguhr, or diatomaceous earth. This, like the coquina rock, is composed of the microscopic remains, skeletons and shells, of infinitesimal sea creatures known as diatoms or infusoria. These tiny remains are so small that they are not visible to the naked eye; their presence can only be detected by the microscope. These microscopic skeletons, however, have retained such hardness that they form the basis of fine abrasives and polishing pastes and powders.
The most intriguing use of this material, however, is in the manufacture of moisture-proof salt-shakers. The use of diatomite in the cap of the salt-shaker prevents salt from be coming soggy, the moisture of the air being absorbed by the cap. Clermont salt-shakers are popular in seashore towns. Near Leesburg are deposits of kaolin, a white clay used in industry.
A unique institution at Clermont is the Postal Colony, founded by retired postal clerks. These pensioners of the Federal service own and operate about 2,000 acres of citrus groves and many of them have built cottages in the colony for their permanent homes.
Another unique and highly interesting Lake County institution is at Montverde, the Montverde School, where boys and girls not only obtain a well-rounded education but learn by do ing a great variety of work which most youngsters have no opportunity to practice until they have finished with schooling. The school has a farm of 150 acres besides a large citrus grove, and every student is required to earn a part of his or her school’. costs by work on farm or grove, in the wood-working and automobile repair shops or in the apiary. The preparation and serving of all the meals for the students is a part of the girls’ training in domestic science. Each boy works at these vocational tasks two hours and a half a day and each girl spends an hour and a half a day in the culinary department. A large part of the construction and maintenance work on the seventeen buildings which stand on the beautifully landscaped 50-acre campus, is done by the boys. Practically the entire construction of the newest building, D. A. R. Hall sponsored by the Florida chapters of the D. A. R. was done by the boy students of the school.
Individual communities in Lake County have their particular prides, as all Florida communities have. Umatilla’s is the crippled Children’s Home, established by the Elks of Florida through the cooperation and generosity of Mr. and Mrs. H. R. P. Miller, for the care and education of boys and girls afflicted with infantile paralysis and other crippling ailments. Leesburg’s pride in the illuminated fountain in its city park is perhaps somewhat overshadowed by its pride in the Venetian gardens, a water front park on Lake Harris. Tavares is pride-ful of its unique flagpole and base erected in front of the county courthouse for the 1937 semi-centennial of the county. The pedestal from which the flagpole rises is built of stones from every state and country, contributed by natives of those places who now live in Lake County. Eustis is the scene of the great southern shooting meet every January, the winter “Vandalia” tinder the auspices of the Eustis Gun Club, to which sportsmen come from all over the country. Eustis is also the site of the annual Lake County Fair, held in January.
Leesburg attracts numbers of fishing enthusiasts, with its National Fresh Water Fishing Tournament, held annually from January 10th to March 10th and open only to non-resi dent sportsmen. The small-mouthed black bass, infrequent in Florida waters, is occasionally found in the lakes of this region. The large-mounted black bass, Florida’s principal freshwater game fish, is displacing its small-mouthed cousin here as elsewhere in the state.
Tourists as well as permanent residents come to Lake County from all over the United States and add another estimated million dollars annually to its $3,000,000 agricultural income. It is claimed on behalf of Lake County that it attracts more permanent residents, in proportion to its tourist population, than does any other section of Florida. This is accounted for by the almost unlimited water-frontage of the county’s 1,400 lakes, making more water front homes possible.
It is hard to imagine a Lake County home without its own orange and grapefruit grove, its vegetable garden and its profuse ornamental planting.
How thriving, productive agricultural communities grow in Florida on the cut-over lands after the lumbermen have finished is demonstrated at Groveland. And south of Groveland is a development on which Lake County’s high hopes are pinned. They are drilling for oil.