Saturday, January 18, 2014

LAKE HIGHLAND ... the most important lake in Orlando (part 2)


Lake Highland takes on more responsibilities to support the city.  But they have taken a toll on our beloved lake.

"Part 2" of the history of Lake Highland brings us up to the present day.

1937  The Atlantic Company in Atlanta built the Atlantic Brewery at 1171 North Orange Avenue to quench Orlando's thirst following the 1933 repeal of prohibition.  It was where Light Style (1155) and Workscapes (1173) are today. [2]  Ads for the beer proudly described the purity of the water from Lake Highland that was used in the brewing process. [3]  The prevailing winds from the north carried the aroma of freshly brewed beer across the lake and into our neighborhood.  Kinda makes you wanna grab a cold one right now!

1956-1959  Orlando changed its water supply from Lake Highland to deep water wells into the Floridan aquifer.  The Lake Highland plant was converted from processing lake water to processing deep well ground water.  It was the last time that OUC would rely on the single water plant at Lake Highland to supply all of the city's water needs. [5]

19??  The major lakes in Orlando were connected to equalize their levels and reduce flooding.  The union of Lake Highland and Lake Ivanhoe is on the northwest corner of Lake Highland.

Catch basins fill with storm water and trash from streets and yard before dumping into the lake.  They reduce turbulence and damage to the bottom of the lake where water from the storm drains is discharged [6]

Storm drains are identified by a blue sticker.  On your next walk around the lake, see how many storm sewers you can count.  Can you trace the path of the storm water from the openings at the curb to the discharge outlets into the lake?

1961  The old Atlantic brewery at 1171 North Orange closed.  It had been sold a couple of times.  The last owner was the National Brewing Company. [7]

1960s  Spellman Engineering, an aerospace contractor, is believed to have dumped used solvent called trichloroethene at its lot on Brookhaven Drive.  The contaminant wasn't discovered until 1992. [8]

c1980  The last stand of long leaf pine trees on the lake were cut to clear land for new buildings at Lake Highland Prep School.  Long leaf pines had been the primary trees on the lake and in most of Orlando. [9]

1992  Park Lake / Highland residents took major action to protect the integrity and life style or our neighborhood. 

Orlando proposed a high density housing development of 650 apartments on twenty-six acres on the north side of Lake Highland that OUC had owned for almost seventy years.  Zoning allowed as many as 1,200 apartments on the property.  The city owned utility company was to vacate the property in 1994 and was looking to sell or lease the land to a developer.  Park Lake / Highland residents hired attorneys and an urban planner to fight the city's plan. [11]  In answer to PLHN opposition, the city lowered the number of units to 450. [12]  The city eventually dropped the planned housing development.  Lake Highland Prep School purchased the land for the O'Meara Family Sports Center in 2008. [13]

The land itself was controversial.  Some of it was contaminated by chemicals from the defunct Spellman Engineering Company.  Read more about the property by clicking [HERE-1] and [HERE-2].

1998  The no longer used concrete water inlet for the Water Company was removed.  It was a block of concrete about eight feet square protruding above the water near the southwest shore of Lake Highland.  Spray painting "the block" became a rite of passage for Lake Highland Prep School seniors.  LHPS senior John Sorman expressed the dismay felt by his classmates ... "I wanted since kindergarten to paint the block and now it is gone." [14]

Olivia Swigart, who lived at 629 Terrace until recently, told of watching boys dive off of the inlet while their girlfriends watched.  While underwater, the boys would swim into the inlet and surface in the air space inside.  After a few minutes, their girlfriends would be screaming in panic.  When the boys surfaced, all would be forgiven. [15]


Over the years, the Orlando Utilities Commission developed and expanded the facilities on the five acres north of Weber Street, south of the railroad, east of Magnolia Ave. and west of Highland Avenue.  The original pumping station and holding tanks have been moved, but OUC continues to supply water and electricity to Orlando on the property today.

2013  Lake Highland water that was once described as "Orlando water is among the very best in the known world" is now rated as only "FAIR" by the Orange County Water Atlas. [16]

The grassy lawn of the four acre Lake Highland Park on the north shore of Lake Highland welcomes residents to relax and enjoy the beautiful view of downtown Orlando.  Few know that they are walking on land that James Gamble Speer tended when he was founding Orlando.  Nor that the turtles, fish, and ducks are frolicking in the spring fed water that sustained our residents for seventy-five years.  Nothing connects the park's visitors with the lake's profound influence on our city's history.

Do you have photos, stories, or documented facts about the Park Lake / Highland neighborhood?  I'm always looking for new information.  Contact me at -

Please bookmark Orlando Time Machine to return often.  Subscription by email should be up-and-running in a week or two.

Next time, Orlando Time Machine visits beautiful Park Lake.



[1]  Rick Kilby, Visual Ephermera blog, Aug 5, 2012,
[2]  Dave Paradine, Atlantic Brewing Company,
[3]  Atlantic Beer ad, date & source unknown
[4]  Ken Jones, personal collection
[5]  Rick Coleman, History of the OUC Water System, an internal report to the Orlando Utilities Company, 2009, pp. 13-15.
[6]  Ray Boyd, former OUC Board Member
[7]  David G. Moyer, American Breweries of the Past, AuthorHouse, 2009, p. 61.
[8]  EPA, Engaging Early in the Superfund Process, Enabling Cleanup and Reuse, November 2011,
[9]  Nancy Prine, conversation with Lonnie Cook, 2013.
[10]  State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,
[11]  Will Wellons, Orlando Sentinel, February 27, 1992, 
[12]  Will Wellons, Orlando Sentinel, April 28, 1992,
[13]  Kevin Spear and Mark Schlueb, Orlando Sentinel, October 4, 2008,
[14]  Realities, Lake Highland Preparatory School (yearbook) 1998, p. 35.
[15]  Olivia Swigart, conversation with Lonnie Cook
[16]  Orange County Wateratlas, 9/13/2009,

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