Monday, August 18, 2008


Silver Lake – smooth as glass and glistening silver like its name – viewed through a natural garden of palmettos, fern, and live oaks draped with moss – it’s a perfect Florida lake scene I have been viewing every morning for a week while visiting in Frostproof, FL, a small town in central FL. My friend Vickie’s mother lives in a stone and wood home at the edge of Silver Lake, an idyllic setting for a migration of “snowbirds.” The town of Frostproof is center of a thriving citrus industry of which Vickie’s family is a part, having been citrus growers and cattlemen for four generations. Back porch conversation buzzes while family members and guests sit in wooden rockers and swings on a long back gallery facing the lake, and I’ve “taken my leisure” there for thirty years, listening to stories about family, citrus business and town talk.

Vickie’s family business of real estate and cattle is called Central Ridge, Inc. after a geological formation, a sand ridge that peaks in the central part of the State. The company can trace its interest in citrus back to Vickie’s great grandfather Matthew Sullivan who planted the first grove in the late 1800’s. Matthew also had a cattle operation and a fishing enterprise. His fishing business included four men who would use a long seine to catch fish in Lake Arbuckle, Walk-In-the-Water, and Reedy Lake near Frostproof. Walk-In-the-Water yielded the largest catch, and according to FROSTPROOF FIRSTS by Margaret Reeves, catfish were dressed at the lake but scale fish were shipped out as soon as they were taken from the water. They were iced and packed in barrels, and shipped to the Midwest. The citrus industry also burgeoned, and when the first train arrived in Frostproof in 1912, 32,000 boxes of fruit were shipped out that year.

In the 1880’s, cowboys near Lake Clinch, who herded the cattle of G. W. Hendry when the frost dried the grass and turned it brown, found that the temperatures were six to ten degrees warmer in the sand hills, and they named the area Frostproof. A freeze occurred in 1895 that made fruit growers change the name of the town to Lakemont, but the name change caused so much dissension that in 1906 the town regained its name of Frostproof.

Many freezes have occurred and destroyed groves since that time, but the town stubbornly clings to that name given to it by the cowboys long ago. During the past 30 years, I’ve experienced two freezes while visiting Frostproof, but most of my visits are made during the warmer months when luxuriant giant hibiscus plants and bromeliads flourish, when afternoon rainstorms turn the lake to a blue-green hue and whitecaps ice the waves. I sit and watch these storms, recalling the sometimes rocky waters of the Pacific near Carmel, California.

The area between Lake Clinch on the west, Lake Reedy on the east, and Silver Lake on the south form the official parameters of Frostproof. Clinch and Silver Lakes once had white sandy beaches, but the soil around Lake Reedy is heavier, and in the 19th century, it was a tangle of oaks, hickory, and cabbage palmettos (Vickie’s mother makes a wonderful swamp cabbage dish!) on the property where Vickie’s family settled. Panthers, foxes, wild cats, coons, possums, and bear roamed the woods nearby, and edible game – deer, turkey, quail, rabbits – were part of the animal life. The lakes yielded large quantities of fish, and food abounded in the area. Hunting and fishing are still popular pastimes, and yields are plentiful.

The lake area surrounding Frostproof draws many visitors, and further up the road, Winter Haven boasts of 100 lakes, while Lake Wales and Lakeland also tout an abundance of lakes. Central Florida is a restful place with startling sunsets at the lake horizon and balmy weather in the winters, marked by the powerful scent of orange blossoms in the Spring, but summers are hot and humid…however, what climate is perfect in all aspects? Judging from all the communities lining Hwy. 27 leading to Frostproof, a large population of warmth seekers believe it is Paradise.
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