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By Brian Ackley
Special to the News 

Lake Wales' "Garden City" Roots Run Deep

City Fathers, Olmsted Helped Put Our Planned City On the Map

Series: Olmsted and our Garden City | Story 1

Last updated 3/7/2022 at 8:16am

Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. created the original zoning codes and streetscapes for Lake Wales, making the city a unique southern example of his legendary work. The planting plan was never completed, and has been neglected until recently. The city is recognized for its many Olmsted designs by the National Association for Olmsted Parks.

Although most Lake Wales residents aren't even aware of it, Lake Wales is famous for thousands as the site of the largest group of landscape designs ever created by the legendary firm of Frederick Law Olmsted.

So how did it come to be that the firm responsible for creating New York City's Central Park and for designing the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. played such a vital role in the planning – and now future – of Lake Wales?

Our destiny as a "City in a Garden" was likely cemented on June 5, 1929.

A letter from the famed landscape architecture team of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. was penned that day and sent to city leaders, who were familiar with the now famous firm who a few years earlier helped plan Mountain Lake and design the landscape at nearby Bok Tower.

The proposal was for a "comprehensive city planning report" and was to include "a study of present conditions, of trends of development, of the principal requirements that are likely to face the city in the future and of the probable resources for meeting those requirements." Also part of the report: traffic studies, a street tree planting plan and, in a follow up letter from Olmsted's offices on Aug. 11, the "description of additional park lands and recreation areas."

In other words, for the price of $4,500 nine decades ago, the city was creating a roadmap to the future, a plan that stands as the underpinnings of the award-winning "Lake Wales Connected" document the city is using as its redevelopment blueprint today. Olmsted's 28-page draft document was completed and presented to the city in May, 1931, with the final report issued later that year.

Olmsted also created the plan to expand the city's existing residential neighborhoods by creating the Druid Hills addition, featuring curvilinear streets and landscaping. The streets were subsequently constructing in accordance with his plan, but the planting was never completed.

The plan built upon the original intent of the founders to create a "garden city" in keeping with the popular movement which had originated in Great Britain during the 1890s. That concept had been applied as a model for the planned city laid out by the Lake Wales Land Company's surveyor, Allen Carleton Nydegger. City leaders' continued faith in the concept led to the hiring of Olmsted some 20 years later.

Frederick Law Olmsted revolutionized the design of American cities and established the concepts that led to his son's indelible mark upon Lake Wales.

"Olmsted Jr. was at that time well established as the preeminent landscape architect in the world. He was the top of the mountain," noted Robert Connors, a former president and current secretary of Lake Wales Heritage Inc. That organization will host "Olmsted Day in the Park" April 30 in Lake Wailes Park, part of a nationwide celebration in honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted. Sr.

"Lake Wales went full circle," he added. "The city was inspired by Olmsted Sr., which also inspired the garden city movement, which inspired the city founders here to create the city this way. And then Olmsted's son was brought back into it. It's really an amazing loop."


Reader Comments(2)

LWCentrist writes:

This is some really amazing history, and most people who have lived their lives here never knew any of this. Please keep up the good work, and thanks to Lake Wales Heritage for replanting these trees!

LizaKenney writes:

Photo of Tilman Avenue. Grandma and Grandpa Author and Margaret Stanley lived and owed the Stanley Motel at the corner of First st and Tillman Ave. Uncle Ed and Aunt Peggy Stanley & cousins were down the Avenue on the left!


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