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A couple canoeing on the Dead River. The morning sun filters through the trees and the mist at the boat basin on the Dead River. A large RV sits behind vegetation in campsite #15. Pickerel weed, an aquatic plant with violet-blue flowers and dark green leaves grows along the shoreline of the Dead River.
Lake Griffin State Park
The road leaving the campground is shaded by large oaks.

History and Culture

Native Americans traveled and fished in this area for thousands of years. The first white settlers, Major Orlando and Josephine Rooks, built their home in 1877 and named the town Fruitland Park. From 1904 until 1910 J.D. Robertson used tracts of longleaf pine that is now the park entrance, shop and ranger residence for a turpentine still. The land was used for farming and citrus through the 1920s and 30s. In 1946 the state purchased 383 acres of land but the surrounding hills were covered with orange groves into the 1980s. Work began on park facilities in 1961 after the state purchased additional acreage and the city of Fruitland Park donated four acres. The park opened in 1968.

A hand-routed redwood entrance sign for Lake Griffin State Park, circa 1960s

Entrance Sign 1960s

Initial purchase of lands to create Lake Griffin State Park began in 1948. Construction of park facilities began in 1961 and the park opened to the public in 1963. This redwood park entrance sign was made at the Florida Park Service (FPS) sign shop located at Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park. Such signs were carefully hand-routed by sign shop craftsmen and served as signature symbols of Florida State Parks across the state. The Florida Park Service adapted its wood sign standards from the U.S. National Park Service. The hand-crafted wood signs have slowly vanished over time, being replaced with more economical and lower maintenance structures. There are still a few of these rare signs marking some of the state park entrances, so be on the lookout for a true Florida State Park historical treasure.

Flags fly high above the park entrance as a car tows a camper into the park.

Park Entrance, 1960s

Florida Park Service construction and design standards keep modern architectural design in mind when building park entrances. At Lake Griffin State Park, a series of six curving concrete block walls mirrored similar details found in typical 1960s recreational facility design. Lake Griffin's entrance was, and continues to be, divided by a small median allowing for the central placement of the traditional iron pipe flag poles. This particular design for flag poles, found in many Florida State Parks of the era, was most likely created by park staff welding together a series of galvanized pipes of different diameters resulting in the appearance of a tapered pole. As a testament to ingenuity and the use of available inexpensive hardware, what appear to be copper balls atop the poles are really copper toilet tank floats. Although replaced several times through the years, the floats continue to occupy the top of the staffs. The daily routine of raising and lowering the United States and State flags, and now the POW/MIA flag, is a ritual carried out at most Florida state parks and typically signifies the opening and closing of the park.

A small Ranger Station sits in the median island at the park entrance.

Ranger Station

Just past the park entrance is the ranger station. The hub of all activity within the park, visitors make their first contact with park staff at this location and entrance fees and camping fees are collected there. With the exception of a few hurricane days, Lake Griffin's ranger station has been continually staffed from 8 a.m. to sunset, 365 days a year since the park opened in 1963. The park was created to accommodate recreational fisherman who come to the area for the lake's renowned bass fishing. The park boat ramp provides access to Lake Griffin and the nearby campsites provide anglers with a place to stay while fishing.

A VW bug with tent and picnic table in the campground.

Tent Camping, 1960s

Camping sure has changed through the years. When the park opened in 1963 there was no campground and 10 to 15 interim camp sites were placed in the picnic area until the regular campground could be completed. Planners have adapted the campsites from accommodating just tents and pop-ups to allowing for large RVs and motor coaches with slides.

A person in a small motorboat approaches the wide boat ramp.

Boat Ramp, 1960s

The double-wide concrete boat ramp provided stable and improved boating access to Lake Griffin. This boat ramp has allowed thousands of anglers and recreational boaters to access Lake Griffin and the Harris Chain of Lakes. In this photograph, the ramp construction has been completed but the dock and bulkhead are still in the planning stage. The first superintendent of Lake Griffin State Park, Captain Zane DeLoach, was surveying the freshly poured concrete ramp when his pet dog jumped out of the park truck and proceeded to run through the wet mix. Today, a close look reveals paw prints embedded in the ramp and a few signatures of park staff and family members who witnessed that date in history.