Behind the Scene: ‘Old’ Lake Nona – What Was Life Like?

Before we share stories of “old” Nona, we should pay homage to the first settlers who called Narcoossee home. Much of what we know today as Lake Nona began in Narcoossee/St. Cloud. In the early 19th century, settlers were drawn here looking for opportunities in the warm climate of Florida. Road names such as Tyson, Tindall, Jones, Jack Brack, Runnymede, Thompkins … all are named after early English settlers.

Jack Brack Road, located 10 minutes south of Lake Nona, was named after William Jackson Brack, the first mayor of Orlando (1875-1877). After leaving office, the Bracks settled on the north shore of East Lake Toho, where they operated a general store and sawmill. Brack also commandeered a 35-foot side wheel steamboat along canals that connected to the Kissimmee River. That’s right – steamboats on Lake Toho. 

Tyson Road, at the intersection of Lake Nona High School, was named after Joel T. Tyson. Tyson, his wife and 11 children settled in Narcoossee in 1849. The Tysons were cattle ranchers, citrus growers and farmers. Generations of Tysons married into many local families. One of the Tysons married Jack Brack, another married Arthur Roland Thompkins. 

Curious to know what life was like in the more recent early days of Lake Nona, I reached out to the community to ask residents, “What was ‘old’ Nona like?”

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Carolina Misle-Olivier | Lake Nona area resident since 2008

“We moved to Lake Nona from Miami in August 2008, straight to Moss Park Ridge. It was the perfect wildlife tranquility conservation area. The neighborhood had a few houses abandoned because when they were originally built, the prices were higher during the whole crisis, but it was still nice. 

“There was no traffic whatsoever on Narcoossee Road – it was still a working one-way street past 528. By Dowden, there was no Camden, Wawa, and in front of it only CVS. On Wycliff, we only had the Enclave and Moss Park Ridge, and of course the Police Range.

Moss Park was nice and quiet. We loved our neighborhood – it was secluded in the back, and we always had cute visitors [like] red foxes, bobcats, deer galore. It was perfect – back then we only had two schools fully built: Moss Park Elementary and NorthLake Park Elementary. The high and middle schools were being built. Most Lake Nona kids went to Odyssey Middle School.

“Coming from Miami, a lot of people told us that this will be too much tranquility and peace for us, but in reality, it was a perfect balance of lots of green areas and space for the children to be free, zero traffic and beautiful construction.”

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Laurie Holmes | VillageWalk at Lake Nona resident since 2006

“We were originally looking in the Lake Nona area to move my grandparents over from Clearwater. When we drove through the front gates of VillageWalk, we knew it wasn’t a good fit for them – but realized it may work for us! It was time for us to downsize as we had a big home along with the backyard and pool and a lot of work to go along with it. Additionally, our neighborhood was changing and not for the better. 

“We were too busy to maintain a larger home and were looking for a community that was committed to the aesthetics of the property and was all-inclusive. We were busy with our business in 2006, and we needed a residence that we could lock up and leave for a few weeks and not worry about any maintenance. Every single home in VillageWalk is maintained by our landscaping company. 

“YES, YES, YES to the all-inclusive lifestyle in VillageWalk! My husband, Chuck, and I are socially active and even though we moved from Chicagoland and spent 10 years in our other community, it never quite felt like home. It’s hard to leave your hometown and your family and all of your friends – but it was a great opportunity for Chuck to transfer to Orlando, and here we are! 

“In 2006, VillageWalk had the ‘A – G’ streets, as I call the original DiVosta homes, under construction with several ready to move into. Another reason for our purchase decision was living on the waterways that are connected throughout the community by walkways and bridges. Anyhow, socially we found out that we were not alone as everyone that we met was looking for the same lifestyle and a sense of community. There is something for everyone here whether it’s sports, exercise, games, social clubs and our favorite – an amazing resort pool! 

“Of course, it would be great if Lake Nona remained a sleepy little area. But honestly, in 2006, we had Publix and our go-to restaurant at the time was Sweet Mama’s at their original location down Narcoossee and Carriera’s, which is now Giovanni’s. Now it’s nice to have so many restaurant choices in the area. We don’t like the traffic, but it’s still a lot easier to navigate than the Winter Park/Altamonte area! So, yes, I am in favor of the growth in Lake Nona, and I also believe it’s advantageous for our real estate market. Today’s busy families need the convenience of close-by shopping, restaurants, entertainment, etc. Also, the housing options are abundant in Lake Nona – lots of choices!

“We knew that we were a master-planned community with Medical City moving in. However, I will say that we did not know about the Sports Corridor and had NO idea that KPMG was slated for a future site. I’m certain that happened as the economy changed and supply and demand, so to speak. 

“In 2006, Tavistock was in their makeshift home at the corner where the Chase bank is under construction. In the ‘old days,’ there were a few ladies that worked with Tavistock, and at that time they’d direct guests to look at homes here in VillageWalk, NorthLake Park and the Lake Nona Country Club. There were maps, diagrams, etc., available for anyone questioning the growth of Lake Nona. I used to write an article for VillageWalk Pathways, our community’s newsletter, with all the happenings in Lake Nona – from what restaurant was opening up to dry cleaners and doctors moving into the area. We were excited about the growth!

“Personally speaking, the recession did not visibly affect VillageWalk. The only exception is that Pulte changed their original plan for our community. Our homes were all poured concrete (no blocks/rebar), one-level homes, with the exception of the townhomes. Construction changed up from one-story, single-family homes to much larger, two-story homes. In this case, Pulte knew what they were doing! Many residents were concerned that our town center, fitness center, pools, etc., would not be finished. I knew that wouldn’t happen as Tavistock had far too many dollars invested in their master-planned community. The last thing they needed at the time was negative rumors around town!  

“Tavistock did decide to hold off construction on their Lake Nona Town Center/Mall, which was to be expected. We were originally slated for a million+ retail similar to Winter Park Village.  The mall was going to have two major anchor stores at each end. For obvious reasons, that construction was put on hold.

“There is definitely a difference in the sense of our community – Lake Nona is now a very lively, diverse, multicultural area. With our growth came professionals from around the world.” 

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Rene Rogers | NorthLake Park resident since 2002

“In 2002, the only section of Narcoossee that was four lane was from Beachline to 417, which was weird since there was nothing here except the YMCA/school, Lake Nona Estates and half of the original NorthLake Park (NLP) neighborhood, the NLP apartments and the townhouses across from them, too. Off Moss Park Road, Cru and Wycliffe were here and they were just starting to build the model homes for part of North Shore.

“There was no shopping or restaurants at all in this part of Narcoossee. Sweet Mama’s was in a rundown, old building about a half mile south of 417. And there was an old dive bar just north of Beachline on the right side. For groceries, we had to go to the Publix on Semoran, near Lake Frederica. There was also a Sack-n-Save-type place on Goldenrod about a mile north of Hoffner.

“When our Publix opened, it was a TRULY momentous occasion! There was a guy there who lived out near Lake Mary Jane. He wore a sign saying he had been waiting for this store for 18 years! The Lee Vista Publix opened first, and we were soooo jealous.

“Hubby is a pilot with Southwest, so we liked the idea of being in a relatively quiet area near the airport.  

“We were ‘told’ that some specialty grocery store (like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s) would probably be going in near the entrance to NLP (near where Panera is now). Closest real shopping/theaters was Waterford Lakes. Closest restaurants were Semoran near the airport.

“We didn’t expect things to develop the way they have. We were told that our area was going to have a special small town feel like Celebration ‒ instead it’s just a bunch of sprawl with no plan.

“We were homeschoolers when we moved in, and so we didn’t think to ask about local schools. My oldest kids were middle school age. The bad side to this was that they had very few friends in middle/high school. No one wanted to move into this area with older kids because we were zoned for Oak Ridge, which was a D/F school at the time.”  

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Erleen Villanueva Cooper | Eagle Creek resident since 2004

“In 2004, my husband and I were renting an apartment off of Goldenrod and Hoffner, near the other Walmart. We had moved from Destin, Fla., just before then. I went to UCF for my BS a few years prior and knew the east side of Orlando. We were actually looking at a few other places like Avalon Park and Stoneybrook in Winter Garden since the market was saturated with buyers but really liked the location and potential in Nona. I fell in love with the Morrison homes and the fact that there was a YMCA in the school so that when we decided to have children, we could walk to school and I could work out.  

“Shopping was mostly done at the Publix and the other Walmart. I also drove to Waterford Lakes. Dining was also in Waterford, or we just traveled to wherever had what we were craving that day. 

“We didn’t have our first child (daughter) until December of 2006, and at that time I had heard there were sports like soccer and T-ball at the Y. She ended up being a dancer, so we ended up going to a dance studio off of OBT from a neighbor who also had a daughter. 

“I remember loving living in the Enclave of NorthLake Park. We had so many friends in there because it had so many young families. There were about 8-10 families that would get together for holidays – Halloween, the 4th of July, New Year’s, birthday parties, baby showers … we did that for years. We would all take turns hosting. We moved to Eagle Creek when our second daughter was on the way and needed more room since our extended families would visit often. 

“Our NorthLake friends were of the same mindset and also ended up moving to other communities like Waters Edge, Laureate Park, North Shore. … The dynamics at Eagle Creek were different. Being a larger community, it wasn’t as intimate or social. The market had crashed, so there were also a lot of vacant homes. I liked my house there, but there were issues with the home builders and the HOA. My parents ended up moving in with us for a while after they sold their house near Destin, and since my dad is a social butterfly and loved being outside, he made lots of neighborhood friends. They all knew my dad – more then me, LOL! 

“Over the next several years, most of my family moved into the area, Laureate Park, St. Cloud and Beacon Park, so I was ready to downsize again and have less maintenance, so we moved into Laureate Park. I love Laureate because it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to the restaurants, pool, park, etc. I feel more active in the neighborhood because I can bike or walk most places. Ironically, my neighbor that lived right behind me in NorthLake just built in Laureate as well; we got back in touch via the Saturday morning yoga and realized our girls who are the same age would be going to the middle school together (we shared being pregnant together in NorthLake and hung out everyday when our girls were babies). The girls now bike to school in the mornings together. 

“I think the most exciting thing is just knowing that living in Nona, my daughters will know that from birth until they leave for college, they would have known the same friends, families, teachers, and familiar faces at the grocery stores, restaurants, schools and such.“

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Dana Standaland Hopper | Odyssey Middle School teacher since 2001

“I have to chuckle because yes, we are the school where ‘teaching is a blast,’ LOL. We were all over the news, even countrywide news back in the day, from editorials to political cartoons. We had robots scan the property looking for “munitions.” (We are not allowed to call them bombs.) We have had our track dug up a few times looking for “junk munitions” (they found an entire unarmed tank, though). So, yes, we are ‘the’ school. 😉

“Let’s not forget Casey Anthony – we were on lock down the entire day when they found her.”

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Richard Cueto | North Shore resident since 2003

“We were looking at Lee Vista because Lennar was also building there, but since North Shore had a golf course, we figured that it would have better resale value long term.

“School – there was only Moss Park, and traffic wasn’t an issue. Shopping-wise, we had to drive to Lake Fredrica Publix for a few weeks until our Publix was open. Anything in the way of food was a joke – we only had the McDonald’s at first, so that was the first ‘fine dining’ in the area until the Carrera’s next to Publix opened up.

“We never considered leaving Lake Nona. Ironically, many of neighbors during 2008 refinanced from their homes and took equity loans … for either cars or small businesses.  Most of our neighbors ended up losing their home. A lot of the homes became rental properties.

“Conveniences – more shopping and more options like restaurants, and Walmart is nice.   Usually had to drive quite a bit to get to a Walmart or Target. Less driving [now] for the essentials.

“However, with the growth came the boom in traffic, spending more time sitting on Narcoossee. Also, not thrilled with sheer amount of apartments that have sprung up. That adds to the traffic, and, I believe, brings down home values.

“Also, I remember during 2008 when we had the recession – a lot of homes in the area became section 8, which was horrible – Eagle Creek was really affected badly.”

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Tiffany Lembke | Former resident and one of the first to build in Eagle Creek

“What led us here initially was the excellent schools. Our boys were very young then. We lived in the Lee Vista area and were zoned for Three Point Elementary. We knew we needed to move to get the kids zoned in better schools. So we looked in Eagle Creek because it was the ‘up-and-coming’ community which we were told had so much to offer its residents.

“We built a beautiful home in there on Bramhall Run and stayed until 2012. We then moved (downsized) to a smaller home in The Enclave at Moss Park. My oldest son, who is now 23, graduated from LNHS in 2014. He started out at NorthLake Park. Back then, there were only two elementary schools. My youngest is 18 now and a senior at LNHS.

“We have seen a ton of changes in the community since then. Narcoossee Road was a one-lane road each way with orange trees on both sides. We had one gas station and Publix. Traffic was very light.

“The sense of community has definitely grown. Back then, there really wasn’t much of a community. I have watched the area grow and change each year. I don’t mind the change, actually. I am glad we live here. I just wish, like most everyone else, that the developers would have planned our roads better for the growth.”

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Keisha Lopez | Myrtle Creek resident since 2003

“In 2003, I lived in Myrtle Creek in North Shore. Then I got married and moved to the The Reserve at the Beachline (apartments by the 528). Now I live in Stratford Point on Kirby Smith. I have moved around a little. 

“I was a junior in high school when my family and I moved down here from New York. Back then, the zoned high school was Oak Ridge. We had to be at the bus stop by 6 a.m. It was the very first stop on the driver’s route.  

“I loved how quiet it was. My husband loves the growth. He has lots of food choices now.

“My parents still live in the area, so we will be here for a long time. My kids will grow up in the surrounding schools. 

 “We love the area. On the weekends, there is always something to do.”

*Originally Published: https://nonahoodnews.com/behind-scene-old-lake-nona-life-like/