State Road 17 is known as Scenic Highway, an interesting showcase of Florida. Some ‘Old Florida’ remains.
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Before the widening of US Highway 27 in Polk and Highlands County, 27 took a different route. As a two-lane road, it wound through the hills, lakes, and orange groves of the area.
The new highway configuration left behind the center of several small towns as the new highway passed just to the west.
Scenic Highway, aka Florida State Road 17, starts at its northern end in downtown Haines City, at the intersection of Hinson Avenue and 10th Street.
The scenery is mostly a mixture of small businesses and residential in the beginning.
Near the southern limits of Haines City, it briefly joins the east shore of Lake Eva.
It’s mostly the countryside when exiting the south end of Haines City. The landscape begins to get more hilly. A few distribution warehouses can be seen off in the distance.
In years past, this area was huge for orange trees. Citrus truly dominated. Most of the groves, fortunately, do still exist.
The next population center along the path is the Town of Lake Hamilton.
The namesake of this small town is Lake Hamilton, a large lake whose eastern shoreline is about a mile west of downtown.
Just two miles to the south of Lake Hamilton is the Town of Dundee.
Dundee was incorporated in 1925 and named after the Scotland city of Dundee.
The first turn on Scenic Highway is in the town center of Dundee, taking on a temporary eastbound trajectory.
The Rural Scenic Highway–Old Florida
It’s about an eight mile stretch between Dundee and Lake Wales, mainly what you’d expect–rolling hills, orange trees, houses, and lakes.
Coming up on Scenic Highway’s intersection with State Road 60 is the City of Lake Wales.
The small quaint town is home to pretty lakes, rolling hills, and beautiful bungalow style houses.
The city was incorporated in 1917, a number of its structures were built during the building boom of the Roaring 20s.
Scenic Highway passes through Lake Wales’ downtown, by the old train depot, and underneath an overpass carrying State Road 60.
Indicative of its stint as US Highway 27 during the travel craze of the 1950s, several motels still sit along this thoroughfare.
Southbound and down
Out of Lake Wales, orange groves become the common theme again.
A newly-built roundabout is at Scenic Highway’s intersection with Hunt Brothers Boulevard. Hunt Brothers Boulevard is a key road in getting fresh oranges from the Hunt Brothers’ plant west out to US Highway 27 for delivery.
The Town of Babson Park sits on the eastern shoreline of Crooked Lake and has a population of about 1,200.
The town is home to Webber International University, which was founded by Roger Babson, namesake of the town.
Immediately south of Babson Park is the town of Hillcrest Heights, which sits on the southeastern shore of Crooked Lake.
Like Babson Park, Hillcrest Heights is primarily a residential town with a number of the homes being either lakefront or adjacent to orange groves.
Into the Storm
By the time we left Hillcrest Heights, the afternoon thunderstorms that traditionally begin over the center of the state were starting to create rain.
Being right in the heart of the state, Scenic Highway gets its fair share of stormy activity as storms often start over this region in summertime pattern storms.
The City of Frostproof with a population of about 3,000 people, is nestled right between two lakes–Lake Clinch and Reedy Lake.
Frostproof was named in order to draw the citrus industry to the area. The reason being that the two surrounding lakes meant frost would never form, and therefore kill their crops. Most of the orange crops were not situated in a unique position between the lakes, though, and the oranges would later succumb to frozen temperatures.
Concurrency with US Highway 27
Just south of Frostproof, Scenic Highway joins with the current US Highway 27 for six miles.
Scenic Highway leaves Highway 27 at the western edge of Avon Park.
The City of Avon Park is the next stop along Scenic Highway.
Scenic Highway takes an east-west trek through much of downtown, before making a couple turns in town.
Avon Park was named after the English town of Stratford-upon-Avon, and was founded by Connecticut native Oliver Crosby who brought in settlers from England, who then named the town.
The southernmost city along Scenic Highway is the City of Sebring.
Scenic Highway winds into town between Dinner Lake and Lake Jackson through a residential area.
Soon after coming inthrough the north side of town, Scenic Highway enters the Sebring Downtown Historic District. The district features old storefronts and a circular park in the middle of downtown. Surrounding the park is a large roundabout where Scenic Highway, among several other city streets, feed into it.
Coming out of the town center, Scenic Highway passes by the historic, now-closed Kenilworth Lodge before finally ending at US Highway 27.
Our journey was a rainy one. Viewing this highway would be may more ideal in sunny conditions.
Nevertheless, Scenic Highway is a great look at vintage Florida, where lake views are still plenty and oranges are still growing in great abundance.
For bicyclists, this would be a fantastic if not grueling ride from start to finish. Most of the traffic is light, and there are shoulders on the vast majority of highway.
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