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Spring Lake

Spring Lake is an unincorporated community and census-designated place (CDP) in Hernando County, Florida, United States. It was settled around the time of the Armed Occupation Act and is home to rich farmland on the Brooksville Ridge. The population was 458 at the 2010 census, up from 327 at the 2000 census. Spring Lake is approximately 3.4 square miles and is home to the first schoolhouse in Hernando County. The Spring Lake Community Center was built in 1939 and is considered to be one of the United States’ finest surviving examples of rubble stone architecture. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. The Spring Lake United Methodist Church was founded in 1884 and still holds services today. Boyett’s Grove Citrus Attraction and Papa Joe’s Restaurant are two prominent businesses in Spring Lake Florida.

As you drive to Spring Lake, a small community in Eastern Hernando County here in the Nature Coast region of west-central Florida, what you may be struck most by is the sense that you are no longer in Florida at all.

As if through some magical combination of temperature (such as when it’s 74 degrees and breezy on a Spring day), low humidity, high blue cloudless skies, and the beautiful rolling-hill topography here atop the Brooksville Ridge, it will be like you have left Florida behind.

The congested, flat, strip mall infested Florida of the U.S. 19 corridor through Pasco and Hernando Counties suddenly becomes a thing of the past, and for all you know you could be driving through the foothills of South Carolina into North Carolina and in a few hours the Blue Ridge Mountains will appear on the horizon in front of you.

Indeed, as you summit a hill just north of the Spring Lake town limits an entire vista opens up in front you and hundreds of rolling acres and the crest of a second ridge await on the horizon to the north.

View from Boyett’s Grove Citrus Attraction looking north. At first, you think you are in the highest point in Florida and then another ridge is seen on the horizon. Image by Barrett Hardy.

You may be moved to stop to take a picture.

If you stop at that very spot on the crest of that very hill, you won’t even have to pull onto the shoulder of the road. You can pull into the parking lot of Boyett’s Grove.

Boyett’s Grove Citrus Attraction is an old-school Florida roadside tourist stop in Spring Lake that dates back to the middle of the 20th Century. Here, despite the hills, you will know you’re in Florida.

Boyett’s Grove Citrus Attraction is located on the top of the hill. It’s a gift fruit shipper that has created an old-school Florida roadside tourist attraction. Image by Diane Bedard.

Originally a functioning citrus grove, Boyett’s Citrus attraction was born in the early 1960s when a hard freeze damaged many of the citrus trees that provided the family that owned them with a living. They were forced to find an innovative way to preserve the remaining trees and keep the business afloat.

Boyett’s Grove in the 1960s. Image courtesy of Kathy and Jim Oleson.

What they created is a surreal mixture of Florida roadside kitsch, bonafide animal park, and functioning citrus farm. In the attraction’s gift shop, you can buy wildflower honey by the gallon, chocolate alligators, oranges and grapefruit, and even Grape Nehi Soda if you’re so inclined.

As Florida gift fruit shippers, Boyett’s Grove has a great selection of Florida citrus that you can have shipped to friends and family, or pick some up for your table. Image by Diane Bedard.

Spring Lake, Florida Community

The community of Spring Lake was established in the middle of the 19th Century partly through Armed Occupation Act land grants. The Armed Occupation Act of 1842 was designed to encourage settlers to occupy Florida land seized during the Seminole Wars. Any man over the age of 18 could apply for up to 160 acres of land on the condition that he keep and bear arms and be prepared to man local militias in the event of any disturbances that may arise.

Many such grants were made of fertile land here along the high country of Florida’s Brooksville Ridge.

Some of Hernando County’s oldest and most prominent families called Spring Lake and the surrounding area home, including the Hope family, the Howell family, the Lykes family, the Lee family, and the Rogers family. Each of those family names ring out in discussions of Brooksville’s history. Many landmarks and roads are named for them today.

The Spring Lake United Methodist Church was founded in 1884. Image by Barrett Hardy.

Spring Lake United Methodist Church

By the late 19th Century, the community of Spring Lake had established the Spring Lake Methodist Church, which is still active today. By the late 1880s, a public school was established that met in the church until 1889 when an early settler to the Spring Lake area donated land on which a school was built. This three-room school welcomed students for thirty years before being torn down to make room for a larger school better able to serve the community.

Spring Lake Community Center National Historic Site

The community of Spring Lake is also home to a National Historic Site. The Spring Lake Community Center was built in 1939 as a joint venture between the Spring Lake Women’s Club and the Hernando County Board of County Commissioners. It was as constructed using labor supplied by FDR’s New Deal program called the Works Progress Administration.

Sylvia Dukes dresses up for the Spring Lake Community Center Open House in 2019. Image courtesy of Spring Lake Community Center.

The Spring Lake Community Center is considered to be one of the United States’ finest surviving examples of rubble stone architecture. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

When it was constructed, the Spring Lake Community Center not only provided a venue for events within the community itself, but also provided additional facilities to the school such as indoor plumbing, a lunchroom, and a library. The center continues to function to this day and is a center of community activity within Spring Lake. It is also available for event rentals.

Florida is flat. There’s no other way to describe it.

The Brooksville Ridge

In fact, nearly 30% of peninsular Florida’s land barely rises above sea level. That’s what makes the Brooksville Ridge, which runs from the very southern edge of Citrus County just north of Brooksville down the eastern third of Hernando County into the northeast quadrant of Pasco County, so remarkable.

It is formed by a layer of rich, fertile soil covering a layer of limerock underneath. This layer of soil prevented the dissolution and erosion of the limerock, preserving the elevation of the ridge, and making the area ideal for farming.

The Brooksville Ridge boasts large hammocks of live oaks, incredible views, acres of farmland, limerock caves north of the city of Brooksville, and areas of lower elevation that over time have become lakes and ponds. One such lake is the namesake of the community of Spring Lake itself.

Spring Lake is surrounded by hills, making it easy to forget you are in Florida at all. There is a beautiful cemetery where you can explore the lives and deaths of early residents through reading their gravestones. Image by Barrett Hardy.

Just east of Spring Lake Highway on Old Spring Lake road, the lake appears as you come down a gentle slope. The lake is flanked by native grasses and oak hammocks. Several houses with large rolling yards sit atop the surrounding hills. This is another example of the terrain in this region that’ll make you forget you’re in Florida at all.

The eclectic, almost hallucinatory hodgepodge of Boyett’s Grove Citrus Attraction notwithstanding, Spring Lake offers little to nothing for the day tourist to do, which is why the place itself is so absolutely charming.

It offers one-tank day-trippers an opportunity to free themselves of the relentless and typical get-up-and-go, endure-crowds, stand-in-line, and lay-like-sardines-on-a-crowded-beach offerings of most of Florida’s tourist attractions.

The gift shop at Boyett’s Grove and Citrus Attraction is an eclectic hodgepodge of Old Florida gifts and souvenirs. Image by Diane Bedard

When is the last time you just got in the car with a loved one for no other reason than to take a scenic drive to someplace offering nothing to do? When is the last time you hopped in the car, put on music you love, rolled down the windows and cranked back the sunroof just to drive and enjoy views that are available in very few places in Florida? When is the last time you stopped at a roadside grove stand and bought some fresh Florida citrus and a chocolate alligator?

Places like the community of Spring Lake and Boyett’s Grove Citrus Attraction are quickly becoming a thing of the past in Florida. Floridians and the visitors that come here seem to value the hustle and bustle of our state’s big-time tourist attractions more than the quiet, sleepy throwbacks of old Florida.

Some of us, though, still get chills when looking from the crest of one ridge across acres of rolling farmland towards the crest of a ridge in the distance. If you’re one of those people, fill the tank with gas, grab a paper straw for your bottle of Grape Nehi, and head to Spring Lake some morning when the sky is clear. It is a fulfilling and beautiful way to spend a day.