by Joey Vars
(St Petersburg, Florida)
Living in Land o’ Lakes my whole life, I thought I knew almost everything about it. However, the other night, I stumbled across something that excited me: there was once a large Botanical gardens just a mile or so away from my house, back during the wartime years before Land o’ Lakes was even conceived.
Created by William Dupree, Dupree Gardens was a lush, 25-acre “Garden of Eden” with over 500 species of exotic plants. There were glass-bottomed boats traversing the many lakes of the park, a lodge with tea room, gift shop, and lodging arrangements.
Wartime gasoline rationing caused the gardens to close “for the duration”, and briefly reopened in 1946. However, attendance was no where near the 30,000 reported in the 1940-41 season, and the attraction stopped regular operations in the early 1950’s.
Intermittent at best from there on, the land was sold to numerous companies in the late 50’s.
There are a few remnants of the gardens left over in the twenty-first century.
On Mary Jane Lane (Dupree’s daughter’s name), wild ferns, bamboo and plants run amok. The lodge is now a private residence. A few of the smaller lakes have been preserved by Beazer homes, the company who developed a subdivision on the northern part of the gardens. Most visibly, however, is the native-stone ticket booth that stands on the eastern side of Ehren Cutoff, just south of Parkway Boulevard.
I’ve seen this structure for years, but always assumed it as part of the subdivision nearby. It wasn’t until I heard about the gardens did I realize its true historical value. The next time I am home, I will take pictures of it and the historical marker erected earlier this year in front of it.
It’s exciting to me to know that Land o’ Lakes actually was something more than just nudists and old people. Everywhere I go, it’s always assumed that I’m from the place that makes butter. In reality, there are just subdivisions, country folk, and angsty teenagers dying to escape suburbia. To know that it was once a beautiful garden of Eden excites me, especially because it’s so close to my boyhood home.
The above pictures are postcards I found on the internet showcasing these beautiful gardens. It’s things like this that make me wish I had a time machine, and also excites me in the name of discovery.