We moved to Highlands County, Florida in November 2004. It’s located 80 miles south of Orlando and is located dead center in the state.
Our gently rolling hills, orange groves and charming small towns make this a relaxing country getaway…
We first learned about this precious county in 1989, after Bill’s Aunt Posey and her husband, Norm, bought a “snow bird” home here. They became full time residents in the fall of 1995. All we heard about was the beautiful lake (Lake Jackson), great weather, friendly people and a low cost of living.
In February, 1996, Bill’s dad passed away. Posey and Norm invited his mom to come visit them for a month, so she did. Soon after, Bill got a phone call, “Bill, what would you think if I moved to Highlands County? Would you come visit me?” Bill’s dream before our marriage was to move back to Florida. He not only said “YES” he said he would help move her there. So within months, her home was sold in Pennsylvania and Bill drove her and her household belongings down here. I flew down here with our then 14 year old daughter to help her get settled in.
The area seemed pleasant enough, but we thought all the houses were trailers/mobile/manufactured homes. And, Jessica couldn’t believe EVERYONE in church had white hair. It was not love at first sight for us and our daughter was not really enthralled with Florida. But things got better for her when one of her childhood friends moved to Clearwater, Florida. Whenever we came to visit his mom, we arranged time for them to get together. We had a great relationship with her parents – he was the Pastor who performed our re-marriage ceremony.
As we began to visit here regularly, once or twice a year, we begin to find beautiful neighborhoods and our love affair began. Eventually, Jessica’s friend and family moved back up north. She then began to dread the visits other than special time with her grandma. We tried to do something fun with her each time she came. Bill’s dream to once again live in Florida became very strong and to make a long story short, we finally decided to move to Florida in November 2004. Actually, I was able to get a job transfer to Miami, but the real estate market wasn’t very good. Sadly, by now, Jessica had a good job and was in love….needless to say, she wouldn’t move with us. That was a very tough decision – to leave her but she was over 21 after all. We never knew how complicated it would make things eventually….
We ended up buying a home here in this county and I began a year long commute to and from Miami. Then I would retire and start my dream of being an early retiree. We had always wanted to become involved in our community, outside of church. We began to become more involved in the community. It was a great fit.
So now a little bit about Highlands County and from the Convention and Visitors Bureau website:
The Heart of Florida… Highlands County. Here in the center of the Sunshine State, you’ll find crystal clear lakes for fishing, boating, skiing and sailing, and more than a dozen golf courses. Our gently rolling hills, orange groves and charming small towns make this a relaxing country getaway – and our central location provides easy access to Florida’s best attractions without the hustle and high prices of the major tourist areas. It’s the best of both worlds – within two hours of most major attractions yet removed enough for that get-away-from-it-all feeling. Come discover Highlands County for yourself!
We took advantage of the central location to visit nearly every part of the state on our motorcycle. Our favorite trip was to Key West. Hopefully, I will write a post about it, but that was before we began blogging.
But a little more about the county. It is a rural county, population roughly around 100,000, so it doesn’t have all the shopping “shoppers” may enjoy. We are not shoppers – that never bothered us. When we first started visiting here, US Highway 27, a major north/south road (for truckers especially because it is free as opposed to the turnpike), was just a four lane highway with two or three stop lights. Now it has doubled in size and there are more stoplights than I can count.
The “gem” of the county is Highlands Hammock State Park. We had friends from Miami who camped there every January for years. We then got to see it from a campers standpoint. They loved it. We weren’t into camping then, but it sure seemed ideal. Our church had it’s annual picnic there for a few years and we really enjoyed it. We found out they have a trolley ride with a State Park Ranger as the tour guide. We’ve found the best tour guides are Rangers! Here is from the above website:
Home to a park system that wows with outdoor wonders, Highlands County naturally allures visitors. Otters, alligators and deer take shelter in our hardwood forests, pine flatwoods and cypress swamps, giving visitors a glimpse of wildlife along our nature trails. Boat ramps, fishing piers and swim centers provide easy access to our waterways from public parks. You’ll also find playgrounds, cycling paths and plenty of room for picnics within Highlands County parks.
Located in Central Florida, Highlands County occupies the southern end of the Lake Wales Ridge, a 100-mile-long range of sand hills, scrub and freshwater lakes.
Once a group of prehistoric islands, the County is home to dozens of rare species of plants and animals. (To learn more, visit www.archbold-station.org)
Wildlife, including alligators, deer and wild hogs, can be observed in different parts of the County.
Birds, including scrub jays, swallow-tailed kites, bald eagles, osprey and sandhill cranes, all in their native habitat, can be seen and heard.
The county has extensive bikeways, including several routes through the very beautiful and popular Highlands Hammock State Park, as well as routes from 10 to 100 miles long on other scenic roads.
There are hiking, canoe and equestrian trails in the State Park and on the grounds of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Archbold Biological Station, the Avon Park Air Force Range and the Royce Preserve – all large conservation management areas covering thousands of acres. (For more information: www.avonparkafr.com)
The County’s Blueways, Greenways, Trails and Bikeways Comprehensive Master Plan, completed in 2002, calls for expanding and connecting these trails, thus making all of them more accessible to County residents and tourists.
As I read this, I wonder why did we have to leave the county? Aside from the motorcycle, we could have just enjoyed all this county has to offer!
This county has three distinct municipalities. The county seat is Sebring and that was where our residence was from a post office viewpoint. We really lived in the county. To the north is Avon Park and that is where our motor home is currently parked. To the south is Lake Placid. I was so privileged to form relationships in each of the municipalities so I could always say I was a resident of the county….not Sebring. There is a High School in each one and that has created real sports loyalty to each “part” of town. It was always safe to say I just lived in the county.
I only remained “retired” for 1 1/2 years. I had met the Sheriff before I retired. She was a guest speaker in Miami. I couldn’t believe I could met “my” sheriff in Miami, so after her talk, I introduced myself. She said after I retired, if I ever wanted a job to come see her. So I did and I worked on a community project for four years. Needless to say, I was in each part of town on a regular basis so now you may better understand why I was just a county resident!
We really grew to love Sebring as that was our orientation. Everything was five minutes away and there was never rush hour (except when all the snow birds double the population from January to March). But we also bonded and felt the special “love” in Sebring. I will dedicate a future post to my official “hometown”.
A little about Avon Park:
Whether you enjoy fishing, boating or other water sports; golfing at one of the area courses; hiking, biking, or just relaxing; you are sure to find just what you’re looking for here in Avon Park our “City of Charm.” From its mile long mall highlighting the downtown, to the business and activity along US 27, Avon Park people always take the time to welcome visitors and to lend a helping hand. Ours is a growing city … one that grows on you!
Avon Park is really a low profile community (from my standpoint). It proudly houses South Florida State College. It’s highlights are to visit the Avon Park Depot Museum, 3 North Musuem Avenue 863-453-3525; The Museum of Florida Art and Culture at SFSC Website: mofac.org; and SFSC Theatre for the Performing Arts Website: performances.southflorida.edu.
Lake Placid on the other hand, has made a national name for itself as “America’s Most Interesting Town” in 2013. You can watch the video here that explains how this happened! This is a must see stop if you are in our county. We never really appreciated it until Bill’s brother and wife came for a visit. We had a blast taking Bill’s mom around to the larger than life murals. But to really appreciate them, one must start by visiting the Chamber of Commerce (info below). But it has bankers hours more or less, Monday – Friday, 9-4, except they are extended from January to March. Here is the list of “must sees” in this quaint small town:
Henscratch Farms and Winery
The Murals of Lake Placid
Toby’s Clown School Museum and Gift Shop
Caladium Arts & Crafts Co-op
Lake Placid Historical Society Depot Museum, Inc.
Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce
18 N. Oak Avenue
Lake Placid, Florida 33852
Phone: (863) 465-4331
Coming up next, our official hometown, Sebring, Florida!