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American Lives

City of Lake Mary (FL)

by Peter Kessler, 18 March 2023

 

City of Lake Mary, FL
Photo © Teresa Decio

The City of Lake Mary, FL, sits within the Greater Orlando metropolitan area in central-northern Florida. It lies to the north of central Orlando, with Sanford to its own north.

Its founding story begins in the nineteenth century, although it did not become incorporated as a city until 7 August 1973. It was named after the wife of a minister who settled on the northern shores of Lake Mary.

City of Lake Mary, FL
Photo © Teresa Decio

The city started as a village of two tiny settlements which were located along the former railroad which ran between Sanford and Orlando.

One of those settlements was Bent's Station. This was on the western side of the railroad, having been named for its owner, John S Bents, who received a land grant from the government in the 1870s.

City of Lake Mary, FL
Photo © Teresa Decio

The other settlement was Belle Fontaine, on the eastern side of the railroad. The origins of its name have been lost to history. When the railroad company requested a single mail stop in the area, the city fathers of the time renamed the combined settlements as Lake Mary, after the large lake on the area's southern flank.

The region was primarily one of a citrus-based agricultural community. Early settlers included lumbermen, turpentine workers, families who had received land grants, and Swedish families who mainly worked in Colonel Sanford's orange groves. Later came railroad workers and winter visitors from the north, chasing Florida's year-round warmth and sunshine.

City of Lake Mary, FL
Photo © Teresa Decio

In addition to the typical businesses, in its early years Lake Mary housed a dance casino, a bath house, a hotel, and a factory which produced starches, farina, and tapioca from the cassava plant, a tropical-looking plant with roots which were edible after boiling.

Following great freezes of 1894 and 1895 which devastated the citrus crops, it was the factory which saved Bent's Station and its growing population.

City of Lake Mary, FL
Photo © Teresa Decio

It was Frank Evans who probably had the greatest single influence on Lake Mary. In 1926 he built the structure which serves today as the museum. He also established the chamber of commerce in 1923, and became a county commissioner in 1926.

In the early 1970s, as Florida's Disney development pushed northwards on the other side of Orlando, Lake Mary began to transform into a semi-rural bedroom community which served Orlando itself.

City of Lake Mary, FL
Photo © Teresa Decio

During the late eighties and early nineties, the city experienced tremendous growth in terms of residential development, as well as an economic development center with hundreds of thousands of square feet (meters) of office, retail, and industrial uses.

The Lake Mary chamber of commerce was established in January 1923. The chamber has been continuously active since its inception and is said to be the oldest of its kind with this distinction within the entire state.

Main Sources

City of Lake Mary Official Site

Lake Mary Museum

 

Images and text copyright © Teresa Decio & P L Kessler except where stated. An original feature for the History Files: American Lives.