Historic MacKay Gardens Preserved (FL)

August 2, 2005
Press release

Lake Alfred, FL, 8/2/2005 - The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit land conservation organization, announced late Friday that it has finalized a land deal that will preserve the 113-acre MacKay Estate on Lake Rochelle in the City of Lake Alfred. The property will become a passive recreational park and interpretive and environmental education center, providing a destination within a regional network of trails. The historic home and its surrounding gardens will provide a venue for civic and social events.

In April, TPL purchased the property from Central Suburban, Inc. for $2.5 million. The City of Lake Alfred purchased the site from TPL in a transaction that was completed today. Acquisition of the site prevents residential development on nearly a mile of shoreline on Lake Rochelle and about 750 feet of shoreline on Lake Haines.

A request by the developer-owner in 2001 for rezoning to increase the property's density set off a public reaction that resulted in turnover of the city council membership and withdrawal of the zoning request. The city approached the Trust for Public Land for help purchasing the property to lay the controversy to rest, establish growth management controls, and ensure public access to this spectacular piece of property.

"I have to say that the success of this project is a monumental miracle," said Nancy Daley, mayor of the City of Lake Alfred. "It is an awesome opportunity for the City of Lake Alfred. The economic, environmental and aesthetic benefits are phenomenal. It will define the character of our city for generations to come. We would not have been able to do this without the outpouring of support from the community or the help from the Trust for Public Land. We will be grateful forever."

Letters to TPL from government agencies, environmental groups, and private citizens in support of the project highlight its importance to the community. Eileen Castle, principal of Lake Alfred Elementary School, which is located less than half a mile from the property, wrote, "This would be a real benefit to the students of Lake Alfred Elementary. The property would be a great place for frequent field trips for our students, and the property is within walking distance of our school." Castle continued, "On these field trips our students would be able to learn about the history of the property, the flora and fauna on the property, and the property's ecosystem."

"This is a great example of how development and preservation of land can complement each other in a growing community," said Bob Guido, project manager for the Trust for Public Land.

The historic MacKay estate was built by Alexander MacKay, a Scottish entrepreneur and investor who bought the property on Lake Rochelle in 1915 and hired British botanist John Morley to relocate to Florida and begin construction of the MacKay family estate, called "La Rochelle". Morely planted citrus groves, beginning what would become MacKay Estates Limited, the family's citrus and cattle holdings in Florida.

The 7,000 square-foot residence is an outstanding example of Craftsman style architecture, with sleeping porches and large porch columns, open interior spaces and a staircase in the main room. The home has had only minor alterations over the years, and is eligible for listing on the National Register. A walled arbor with arched openings is located west of the residence and a sunken garden with a fountain is on the east. An experimental tropical plant garden is attributed to Dr. David Fairchild, a renowned botanist and plant explorer of the late 19th and early 20th century. To memorialize the loss of a son in World War I, the MacKay family planted parallel rows of Eucalyptus trees in a grove known as "the Cathedral" a short distance from the sunken garden. Beyond the Cathedral is a concrete arched bridge over a canal connecting the two lakes. The bridge was constructed in 1922, and reportedly served the historic road that connected Lake Alfred and Lake Wales.

Archeological artifacts found on the property suggest a long period of occupation, perhaps as early as 3000 BC to 1000 AD. Initial study of the site indicated a high potential for archeological sites, as the property along the shoreline has remained undisturbed by land clearing or development.

"The importance of the MacKay Gardens and Lakeside Preserve will continue to grow as the city of Lake Alfred continues to grow," said Guido. "This park has been the vision of the community for so long and now, with help from the Florida Communities Trust, the park is becoming a reality."

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, historic sites, rural lands, and other natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 2 million acres of land in 46 states. In Florida, TPL has protected more than 300 sites - over 200,000 acres at a market value of about $500 million. The Trust for Public Land depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve our land for people mission. For more information please contact us at 850-222-7911 or visit us on the web at www.tpl.org.