Then and Now
A century-old gathering point for locals, the lake offers a draw for just about everyone
BY LAVERNE STEVENS
John Henry Hollingsworth, one of the first settlers in Lakeland, moved to Lakeland from Sampson County, North Carolina, in 1883. Hollingsworth was instrumental in establishing school systems and the beginnings of the Lakeland community. He had lived by the water most of his life and built a home on the south side of the Lakeland lake that now bears his name, Lake Hollingsworth. He was married to Ann Elizabeth Hooker and together they had eight children.
Evidence of Native American activity along the shores of Lake Hollingsworth exists. During a 1998 dredging project, two canoes possibly built by the Timucuaun Indians were found. Indian mounds near the lake were included in the first survey of the area in the 1840s. Lake Hollingsworth began as a sinkhole in what was originally a wilderness area.
What does Lake Hollingsworth offer residents of the City of Lakeland today? This lake is being used as a recreational area for people of all ages. It is a 2.8 mile walk around the lake that can be taken leisurely for relaxation or at a fast jog for health reasons. As I walked around the lake, I saw people boating on the water, fishing from the shore, and pushing baby strollers, roller skating and using skate boards. A deck on the college side offers bikini clad students a place to bask in sun rays. There are benches for resting along the way. Drinking fountains at people level and low at dog level, along with doggie bags for pet cleanup, are provided during the walk.
Zorayda Matute makes a daily walk with her 15-year-old dog from their home to the doggie drinking fountain and then back home again. “When he was younger we used to walk him all around the lake, but now that he is older we do this shorter walk; but I feel this has kept him in such great physical condition,” said Matute.
Handicapped people were traveling around the lake in motorized chairs just to enjoy the view, feel the lake breeze and enjoy the beauty of the day.
Heather Arnold rides her bike on the bike path around the lake daily. “How lucky we are that Polk County and the City of Lakeland spend so much money on parks,” said Arnold. “We appreciate these wonderful facilities.”
Buildings around the lake include the Florida Southern College Campus and the First Presbyterian Church on the north side of the lake. On the east side you will see residential homes and the Temple Emanuel . The Lakeland Yacht and Country Club sits on the south side of the lake. A high-end residential neighborhood stretches along the west side presenting a beautiful view of manicured, landscaped homes.
Lake Hollingsworth is also home to many species of wildlife. Alligators and otters frequent the lake. A variety of shore birds include the limpkin, white ibis, herons, egrets, coots and gallinules. A variety of duck species are always looking for hand-outs when people bring bread along to feed them.
The formerly controversial area known as “The Sump” on the shores of the lake in front of Florida Southern College has now been turned into The Lake Hollingsworth Watershed. A lovely boardwalk area has been built with four kiosks offering education about this project.
One reads as follows: “Lake Hollingsworth is a 352 acre natural lake with an approximate watershed area of 1600 acres. Lake Hollingsworth flows into Lake Bentley through Hollingsworth Creek. Water flows south into Wood Lake, eventually making its way to Banana Lake and then into Lake Hancock. Water flows from Lake Hancock to the Peace River, down Charlotte Harbor and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. This is a joint project between The Lakes Education/ Action Drive and Florida Southern College.”
Credits: Historical information for this article was found in the book “Lake Hollingsworth, Reflections and Studies on a Florida Landmark” (John Haldeman and Bernard Quetchenbach, Editors.) available at the Lakeland Public Library.