The Legend is in the “Lake”

Taller than the tale of the girl who allegedly drowned with her barren of mules in Lake Play[i] is the origin of what is not a lake at all, but a fairly sizable pond, leaving one to wonder if those who’ve been naming our pond “Lake” Whatever all these years have been little more than comics. Anyway, Lake Play has so far had four names in its brief history with humans: Park Lake, its original name; then Lake Nellie and also Lake Helen, depending what you believe was the real name of the girl who drowned; and its final moniker, Lake Play, its most enduring yet.

It’s where Jamestown had its beginnings, where twelve families “came to work at the Parrish still. They lived in shacks”[ii] and were eventually moved away to the north side of Davenport to make room for the new Scandinavian/Norwegian immigrants who had arrived, some with money, to encircle this apparently ancient pond in the early 20th century.

What it was before all these new inhabitants came along is anyone’s guess. Today, however, it’s full of natural wildlife, such as turtles, anhingas, Martha’s ducks, egrets, algae, and, of course, bass. It’s one of the few parks in the area refreshingly without a fence. (Doesn’t have a bathroom either; how alternative!)

Lake Play lies at the floor of several hills, which means you are always literally going down to the pond; no matter the street or building from where you start, you go down to Lake Play. It’s a telling feature.

It never empties. Even after the 2017, eight-month drought, for example, Lake Play stayed a pond. A little low but a pond nonetheless.

It never overflows either. For example, even after Hurricane Irma in September 2017, it reached a height I’d never seen before but it never breached its embankment.

So what’s holding all that water in even as Lake Play stays at a fairly consistent height during any storm? I have a hunch.

While Lake Play now serves as a natural pond, an uncompleted fitness track, and a dramatic retention pond during the rainy season, it is possible that Lake Play, along with many of Polk County’s other lakes, is what I would call a prehistoric “dissolution sinkhole.” That’s when a sinkhole becomes a pond after “the depression gets lined with debris, trapping water inside.” (That poor girl and her mules.)

Distinct from other bodies of water that are surrounded by land, where the water meets the top of the land surface, like a beach meets the shore — Lake Play has an extremely steep embankment, almost a cliff, leading to its water’s edge. That structure is similar to chimney sinkholes. Thus my hunch is that Lake Play is essentially a stuffed up sinkhole.

Is it really a pond or an ancient sinkhole? We may never know. With extreme budget cuts in the areas of science and research, studying sinkholes is not exactly the state’s priority.

What I do know, however, is that just after sunrise each day, I enjoy watching the ducks run through the park like Hell’s white-hot fires, seeing them slide down the embankment of Lake Play on their downy butts, and laughing as they splash into the water like Disney characters, because they can’t get away fast enough from my excitable dog. That’s what I like about Lake Play; and thank you, Martha, for the ducks that stay even as they run away.


Photo Credits

  1. Norwegian settlers – Davenport, Florida. 1912. Black & white photo-print, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida. 
  2. Scandinavian settlers – Davenport, Florida. 1913. Black & white photo-print, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida.
  3. Various images of Lake Play and the region by various artists, including George D. Gordon III.


[i] The tale was intended to scare children away from the once lily-covered pond.

[ii] The Davenport Story, Clarence Meyer & Phyllis McGill, pub 1986, pg 18.

4 thoughts on “The Legend is in the “Lake”

Add yours

  1. Lake Play or pond play had overflows back in hurricane Donna days overAllapaha at the bottom of Lemon into the yard of the house built by Peter Jordon. Also some storm water outflows were abandoned keeping that water from reaching the pond.
    In addition, the fitness track was completed just as you see it, although the pavers were missing, just a dirt path around. The rest of the track used the loop up Williams to Allapaha to Palmetto to Eascambia and back to the plaque starting point. This project was instituted by students and friends of Sandra Carter. She walked that area for her fitness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for that information. After I published The Lake article, people started asking me, “Who is Sandra Carter?” Do you happen to have a picture of her, Mr. Rust?

      As for the fitness track, there is a plan to finish the circle around the park, but the city appears to be waiting to complete funding for this project with a grant. (The last grant application didn’t work so I’m sure they’re planning to try again, maybe, with another grant option.) Joggers have told me that the ideal path to avoid cars and traffic in that area is to have the circle completed, so to those folks, the fitness track is “unfinished.”

      There appears to be a number of theories as to why Lake Play never breaches its banks. One theory I particular like from a fellow Davenportian is that Lake Play has a “SISTER SINKHOLE.” It is so big, you can see it with Google Maps. The theory is that Lake Play never floods the streets because, when it reaches a certain level, the sister sinkhole fills up, taking up the overflow. Is that interesting or what?


  2. I am sorry that I do not have photo of Sandra. The path around Lake Play was going to be financed by a developer prior to 2008 but alas the “Bust “in the housing boom arrived.

    Liked by 1 person

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