Updated Villages Review!
America’s Friendliest Hometown, also known as The Villages Florida, began in the 1960’s as a mobile home park in Lake County. Harold Schwartz, a Michigan resident, and his partner, Al Tarrson, sold lots by mail until a 1968 Federal law banned mail order sales of real estate.
In 1983, Mr. Schwartz bought out his partner and brought his son, H. Gary Morse into the business. The mobile home park was named Orange Blossom Gardens and was the beginning of development renamed in 1992 to “The Villages”. The first golf course there opened in 1985. Today the area, east of highways 27/441, is sometimes referred to as “The Historical Side”.
The owners believed that in order to attract property buyers, they should provide amenities that had proved popular at other retirement communities. They took this belief to a new level that brought them unbelievable success. The first town center, Spanish Springs, was built around a square as an old town in the American southwest. There is musical entertainment and dancing provided in this square every night. It is now surrounded by stores, restaurants and other businesses that attract crowds both during the day and at night. The Rialto Theater is located there; Vendor Market nights are held on Mondays and Wednesdays. On Thursdays a Farmers Market, featuring locally grown produce, draws big crowds. During the year various festivals are held in this square as well as at the other two.
Lake Sumter Landing was the second town square added as the population grew and spread south and west. It is built in a Key West style with boardwalks and decks along Lake Sumter’s edge. There is a wide variety of restaurants and shops surrounding the square where entertainment is provided for residents and guests every night. The theater is known as the Old Mill Playhouse and a large sales office is located on the square.
On October 10, 2013, Paddock Square was opened in the Brownwood Town Center. This square serves the many new residents south of highway 466 where construction is ongoing. The theme is a 19th century cattle town and is named after the business the Morse family owned in Michigan. New shops and restaurants are still opening around the square. Features include covered bleachers around the dance floor and a cabin porch instead of the usual gazebo for the musicians. Bronze statues depicting a cattle drive are located at the entrance from highway 44 and are remarkably lifelike. The sales office appears to be straight from the set of Bonanza and the theater is called the Barnstorm. The lobby is filled with farm items and the seats inside are very comfortable.
The Villages has grown by leaps and bounds into parts of three counties but with meticulous planning. Marion County is home for 6 Villages, Lake County has 10 within its boundaries and Sumter County has 34 at this time. The developers were very careful to save as many trees as possible and the landscaping along streets and in parks is a source of pride for residents.
Villages are gated and most have been planned with a variety of housing types grouped within. This encourages the organization of groups and clubs for social purposes and offers a way for new residents and renters to make friends and be active in the community. Within these Villages there are 58 recreation centers. There are 9 regional recreation centers which offer enhanced services.
There are 3 types of pools available. Sports pools are available at regional centers and are for the use of residents only. Neighborhood pools are for adults over 30 and family pools are available for everyone, with visiting grandchildren the most frequent users. All feature heated water and comfortable lounge chairs in attractive settings.
This is a golf cart community. There are miles of designated multimodal paths shared by carts, walkers, runners and skaters. Tunnels have been provided under the county roads where needed. There is one overhead golf cart bridge between the Orange Blossom/Silver Lake Villages and Spanish Springs Town Square. Carts aren’t allowed on County roads and maximum lawful speed is 20 miles per hour. Grandchildren can drive the carts at age 14.
There are larger shopping areas in locations other than the squares and most Villagers find everything they need within easy golf cart or car distance including big box stores.
Villagers are very active. The Daily Sun recently reported that there are 2135 clubs and more forming as needed.
Golf is probably the most popular recreation here. There are 11 championship courses. Eight of these have 27 holes. The 32 executive courses are busy all the time as residents are offered a chance to play with no greens fees. Most buy a yearly golf trail fee in order to use golf carts but there is no charge for walking the courses.
There are 17 softball leagues available, both men’s and women’s. There are top notch facilities in 3 locations for the many games played during the season.
Polo is very popular during the fall and spring seasons and attracts a lot of Villagers who have learned to love the game.
Another popular spot is the Villages Woodshop. This is a very well equipped shop available to craftsmen who pay an initiation fee and yearly dues for its use.
There are many veterans among the retired here and they are honored on all patriotic holidays by ceremonies at Veterans’ Memorial Park. The American Legion Post in Lady Lake is the largest in the country. Flags are whipped in the breeze on many flagpoles along Village streets. Villagers are appreciative of the freedoms we enjoy.
We have several fitness centers, well stocked county and volunteer-run libraries, an adult learning center that last year enrolled 18,932 for a large array of classes, and fishing in local ponds.
The Villages has a Charter School for children of business owners and workers. Last year it served 2850 students and had a graduating class of 118 seniors.
Residents enjoy membership in 11 country clubs, most of which have fine restaurants where diners can enjoy food and drink after golf or during a lunch or night out.
Mr. Schwartz probably couldn't have imagined the changes in his original dream community. The 2000 census showed a population of 8,330. In 2010 the number had jumped to 51,442. A recent news article in The Daily Sun estimated 98,000 people now call The Villages "home".....and most are apparently very happy to be here.
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Disappointing steak dinner--Cattle Baron
Looked forward to a great steak dinner at Cattle Baron. Ordered well done steak. When it came, it was burned to a char. Worst steak ever.
Service not up to par. Asked server to take bread away from table. Her response was that she would have to throw them out so she left them on the table and refused to remove them.
Missed the mark-Lugino\'s Spanish Springs
1st time the pizza was great. This time not so great. Disappointed.
One Star because the wine was adequate....otherwise it would have bee ZERO stars.
Food was terrible, bathrooms were filthy.
First time - Last tie.
We left 80% on the plate and when asked if we would like a doggie bag I declined and explained that we love our dog.