Lake Eola Park Named Orlando’s Top Icon!
Orlandoans and visitors have been snapping pictures at Lake Eola Park for more than a century. So it’s not surprising that, when the Historic Icons of Orlando project released its top vote-getters earlier this year, the No. 1 spot went to the park and its Centennial fountain. The lake has been a focus of life in the city since Orlando’s beginnings.
The park still bustles on spring weekends. Swans glide among people-powered boats shaped in their image. Tall bamboo shoots wave where a wall of sweet peas once reigned near Rosalind Avenue — close to a spot where kids now perch in the giant stone hand of a sculpture as parents take their photos.
2 bits an acre
In 1854, William A. Lovell moved from Mellonville (later, Sanford) and built a steam sawmill on the northwest side of what’s now Lake Eola, according to Eve Bacon’s history of Orlando. Lovell also put a corral for 300 head of cattle on the site of the future Orlando Public Library.
Nearby, Robert Ivey built a log cabin on what’s now Central Boulevard, and his cattle “quenched their thirst in Lake Eola,” Bacon wrote.
But it was Jacob Summerlin, the cattle king, who really put the lake on the map, when he arrived in tiny Orlando in 1873 and bought the lake and 200 acres around it, reportedly for 25 cents an acre.
Eola the mysterious
Early settlers simply called Lake Eola “the lake,” but also referred to it as Sandy Beach for a stretch of sand that would appear along the east end during dry weather.
The source of the lake’s name remains mysterious. “Eola” isn’t common. There’s a town named Eola in Texas and an Eola Hills winery in Oregon and not much else outside of Orlando.
Historian Kena Fries wrote in 1938 that Robert Summerlin, one of Jacob’s sons, named the lake in the 1870s “in memory of the beautiful young girl, his bride-to-be, who died from typhoid fever two weeks before the appointed wedding day.”
Bacon’s history, written in the 1970s, says that’s a nice story but disputes the sweetheart part, noting a 1930s interview with Sam Summerlin, Robert’s brother, who said Eola was the name of a girl the brothers knew — “a friend, not a sweetheart.”
“He did not recall what had happened to Eola, for I specifically inquired,” noted the interviewer, Jacksonville historian Dena Snodgrass.
Not a sweetheart, but the brothers suggested her name for the lake that even in the 1870s was a focal point of the town.
Robert Summerlin became an attorney and was elected to Orlando’s City Council in 1876 and to a term as mayor in 1880, after which he moved to Bartow, as did his father and others in his family. In the 1890s, he apparently moved to San Antonio, Texas, taking the secret of Eola with him.
Top 10 in votes
Unveiled last year, the Historic Icons project sought to name the 100 top places, people, or events that folks remember from 1960 to 1985. The project is a collaboration of the Orange County Regional History Center and Orlando Remembered. For the full list, see the project’s website.
The top 10:
No. 1, Lake Eola Fountain and Park
No. 2, Gatorland
No. 3, Church Street Station
No. 4, Ronnie’s Restaurant
No. 6, the original Colonial Plaza
No. 7, Tinker Field
No. 8, Ben White Raceway
No. 9, Colonial Photo & Hobby
No. 10, Walt Disney World
Source: “Named Orlando’s top icon, Eola blooms at city’s heart,” Orlando Sentinel