In early 1842 the area now known as Highlands County was set aside for the Seminole Indians. After the last Seminole War (1856-58) the Seminole people retreated southward into the Everglades. In 1909 Congress opened these lands for homesteading and by 1912 there were 75 homesteaders in the area!
Over the ensuing years, the settlement was known as Lake Buck, Lake June and Lake Stearns (after Marcellus Stearns, U.S. Government Surveyor General at the time). However, with the advent of the Atlantic Coastline railroad through the area, the name was changed to Lake Stearns because it was the railroad’s official name for the stop. In 1921, with housing in big demand and in short supply, it was a “town of tents”! By 1924 the area was once again called Lake Stearns (as was the lake west of town) and A. H. Devane, E. C. Stuart, and E. Morrow promoted citrus and land development here.
By 1926 the Florida building boom resulted in tourists flocking to the town and businesses sprang up everywhere. In 1927 Dr. Melvil Dewey, creator of the Dewey Decimal System for cataloging library books, arrived in the area. Finding the locale remarkably similar to his native Lake Placid, N.Y. due to the lakes, Dr. Dewey had visions of a resort town as the semitropical branch of the Lake Placid Club in the Adirondack Mountains, which he had formed in 1893. Dewey’s first move was to open a 100 room hotel in mid-town for wealthier tourists and then to build a three-hotel complex collectively called the Lake Placid Loj – the spelling the result in Dewey’s simplified spelling approach. The Loj is the present site of the Lake Placid Conference Center. In 1927, at Dewey’s urging, the town’s named was changed to Lake Placid by legislative act and has remained so to this day.
With the town thriving as a resort town, there were several large hotels, in addition to Dewey’s. Main Avenue was dressed up with a beautifully landscaped center mall and picturesque stone arches.
In the early 1940s work on Highway 27 was begun, but discontinued when World War II began. It was completed in the early 1950s.
The spontaneous growth that Dewey expected did not occur due to the Great Depression. However, a steady, more reliable growth did. The few hundred people in the area in 1928 has swelled to the present population of several thousand. With its rolling hills, beautiful lakes, and near perfect climate, it is popular for both vacation and retirement. With industry becoming aware of the advantages of climate, location, ample labor, and a steadily increasing southern market, Lake Placid’s future looks very promising!