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Lake Placid, Florida

Town of Murals is also Caladium Capital of the World

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Caladiums in Lake Placid, Florida
© Dawn Henthorn, licensed to About.com

Small towns in America take note. If you feel your downtown is a bit drab, you should take lessons from a little community in South Central Florida named Lake Placid.

A few years ago, in order to attract desirable businesses and residents, Lake Placid decided that beautification was its primary need. Of course, they started with the basics — new sidewalks, streetlights, curbs, oak trees, palm trees and shrubbery — but they didn't stop there. Parks were spruced up, pathways were paved with bricks, traffic islands were landscaped and murals began appearing on downtown buildings. Many of the murals reflect the historical significance of Lake Placid — preserving history while further beautifying the town. Now, with more than 40 murals adorning buildings in town, Lake Placid is known as the "Town of Murals."

Downtown Lake Placid, known as "uptown" to locals, is a paradise for shoppers with unique shops and boutiques that offer gifts, arts, crafts, clothing and antiques. Also situated downtown are places to sit and relax. Small parks and green spaces are punctuated with over 60 benches perfect for enjoying the beautiful surroundings./p>

Helping to keep the downtown beautiful are the one-of-a-kind sculptured trash containers scattered about town. A steam locomotive sitting on its own tracks, a larger than life turpentine bottle, a jail and beautiful butterflies are just a few of the creative trash containers that stand ready to take on your trash. You'll definitely want to try out the little yellow car... it lights up and has sound!

Other surprises include a fence with over 25 clowns. Most of the clowns are replicas of clowns that live in Lake Placid. Thanks to Toby's Clown School, Lake Placid claims to have more clowns per capita than any other town in Florida. Toby, a.k.a. Keith Stokes, founded the school in 1993 after he suffered a heart attack. Since then more than 500 clowns have graduated to carry on his work of "clown medicine" at nearby hospitals.

Caladium Capital of the World

When I told my husband that we were going to Lake Placid, Caladium Capital of the World, he said, "what are caladiums?" In case you're wondering too, they are pictured above. I grew up with a yard full of caladiums because my mother loved the simple growing requirements — they love shade, have no pests, don't require insecticide or fertilization and the leaves are odor free. The plants leaf in late summer and early fall and produce large mostly green and white or red and green leaves. When planted in large quantities in beds, the bright colors are often compared to the tulip fields of Holland for their beauty. Caladiums have been grown in the Lake Placid area since the early 1940s.

The last full weekend in August each year, Lake Placid hosts a Caladium Festival to celebrate the crop. Caladium displays are featured downtown and in nearby subdivisions, there are bus rides to the caladium fields and caladium crafts are plentiful. This is the perfect opportunity to purchase pots of the colorful plants for your landscape.

More Than Murals and Caladiums

Situated with 29 nearby freshwater lakes, Lake Placid is a wonderland of water related recreation. Boating, fishing and water skiing are favorites, but nearly perfect weather invites visitors and residents alike to enjoy hiking and picnicking as well.

History buffs will want to take in the Depot Historical Museum, which is housed in the refurbished and renovated railroad depot. Operated by the Lake Placid Historical Society, it features interesting exhibits of antique furnishing, turn-of-the-century clothing and items of historical significance. The museum is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Admission is free.

A few miles northwest of Lake Placid, you can experience a winery tour and u-pick berries at Henscratch Farms.

History

While what is now known as Highlands County was set aside for the Seminole Indians in early 1842, by the mid-1800s the Seminoles had retreated southward to the Everglades. Congress opened these lands for homesteading and by the early 1900s there were 75 homesteaders in the area. In the following years the area was known by several names — Lake Buck, Lake June and Lake Stearns.

By the mid-1920s, the Atlantic Coastline railroad brought a flock of tourists to the town and businesses sprang up everywhere. In 1927 Dr. Melvil Dewey, creator of the Dewey Decimal System used for cataloging library books, arrived in the area. Because of the lakes, Dewey found the area strikingly similar to his native Lake Placid, New York.

At Dewey's urging, in 1927, the town's name was changed to Lake Placid. Dewey had big plans for Lake Placid. He envisioned a resort town, sort of a semitropical branch of the Lake Placid Club in the Adirondack Mountains, which he had formed in the early 1890s. Dewey first opened a 100-room hotel in mid-town for wealthier tourists and built a three-hotel complex collectively called the Lake Placid Loj (pronounced lodge). Of course, the spelling was the result of Dewey's simplified spelling approach. The Loj today is the present site of the Lake Placid Conference Center.

While the town thrived for a while, because of the Great Depression, the spontaneous growth that Dewey expected did not occur. A steady, more reliable growth did occur over a number of years resulting in the current population of several thousand.

Today Lake Placid is popular for both vacation and retirement.

If you decide to go, there is a Ramada Inn just south of Lake Placid at Highways 27 & 70. Those traveling with a camping trailer or RV will find accommodations at Sunshine RV Resort on Highway 70 and Camp Florida Resort on Shoreline Drive in Lake Placid. Other accommodation choices are limited to hotels located in Sebring (about 15 miles north of Lake Placid) or lake cottage rentals, fish camps, inns and lodges in Lake Placid.

Location

Lake Placid is located in Highland County along Highway 27. It is 100 miles south of Orlando, approximately 100 miles southeast of Tampa or about 100 miles northwest of West Palm Beach.

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