Lake Placid, a town with 29 named lakes has two big claims to fame — it’s the caladium capital of the world and the self-dubbed town of murals. Both are true and both are impressive.
Apparently the weather is just right for caladiums, plants native to the Amazon basin with colorful foliage. They took root in Lake Placid around 1940 after “Captain” T.W. Webb saw some growing in Tampa and took a fancy to them. He planted some bulbs on his 10 acres and now 95% of the caladiums grown in the US come from Lake Placid.
Fourteen local families raise a staggering variety of caladiums on 1200 acres just outside of town. Each year there is a Caladium Festival in late August when the 40+ varieties of red, pink, white and combinations put on a big show. Some compare the caladium fields to tulip fields in Holland.
The festivalfeatures bus tours of the caladium fields, bulbs and plants for sale, arts & crafts, a caladium competition, a smattering of history and an antique and classic car show. Add in refreshments, some other ornamental plants and an introduction to the expanding wine producing industry and you’ve got some fun.
There’s something going on almost every month from bass tournaments in March to golf tournaments, the county fair, a vintage car show and a second-Saturday market with produce, arts, crafts and more each month.
The other claim to fame, the 42 murals around town are worth visiting anytime. Many of them are clustered along Main Avenue and Interlake Blvd. The murals were commissioned by the Mural Society a local nonprofit that raises money through donations and by selling a book that has a map and backstory for the murals. The society is headquartered in the Chamber of Commerce. All the original renderings (canvas, not wall sized) are on display inside and there is a free 10-minute video and some very helpful ladies.
Each of the murals depicts some particular bit of Lake Placid history or memorable event. There is one for Capt. Webb of course and it features not only caladiums but the Thursday Night Fights he used to sponsor. The post office is remembered as are early doctors, bass fishing today, Native Americans stalking mammoths thousands of years ago, birdwatchers, basketball players (they played on a tennis court lit by car headlights in 1939), wildlife, the turpentine industry and so much more.
The largest is on the side of Winn Dixie out by US 27 showing the Cracker Trail Cattle Drive. It even has a sound track. Beef is big business in central Florida and has been for generations. Up and down the side roads the “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” signs stand proudly in fields proclaiming the name of the local ranch. To finish funding the extra large cattle drive mural the society approached local ranchers who “bought” cows that the muralist imprinted with each ranch’s brand.
The artists added hidden images into each mural and part of the fun is trying to find them. (The society’s book tells you what to look for in each mural, that doesn’t mean it’s easy!)
To add to the fun, trash containers around town are decorated in wild ways from a large turpentine bottle to an antique car, a butterfly garden, an old fish camp building and a jail just for starters.
If that’s not enough to look at, there are over four dozen circular paintings of birds scattered around town. Local artists have a co-op, Caladium Arts and Crafts Co-operative on Interlake Blvd.
The town has worked hard to restore its downtown area without making it precious. There are plenty of places to eat and stay including cottages on the nearby lakes.
Just for the record, the area was opened for homesteading in 1909 and went through several name changes before Dr. Melvil Dewey of Dewey Decimal fame came along. The area reminded him of Lake Placid, NY and he envisioned a tropical branch of a northern club of the same name. In 1927 he got the legislature to change the name to Lake Placid.
© Copyright 2012: text Sue Harrison; photos Sue Harrison & Lee Brock for MyOldFlorida.com.