These vintage postcards showcase Lake Eola through the years

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Lake Eola is a bit of a marvel.

In the dead center of Orlando, a big lake has been set aside as a common good. In spite of the massive expansion of the city, the cut-throat real estate market and a ravenous group of developers more than willing to pave over all available space in Central Florida, generations of leaders have held on to the notion that Orlando residents deserve a bit of beauty, a calm place to walk and enjoy the outdoors. With the city set to improve the park in coming years, it's high time to take a look back on Lake Eola the way it was.

First of all, it's not some lake formed in time out of mind. The lake is the result of a sinkhole on the land of cattle rancher Jacob Summerlin in 1873. When the hole filled with water from the aquifer under the ground, settlers took to calling in Sandy Beach. The Summerlins donated the land around the lake to the city of Orlando in 1883, with it being named a public park just five years later. Summerlin put clauses in his contract with the city that would snatch the land back if they did not keep the area beautiful.

Whether it was contract law or habit, the city kept up the park even as certain houses for certain mouses were built on surrounding swamp to usher in a population boom. It's popularity with locals and visitors has left us with plenty of evidence of what Lake Eola looked like during its 130-plus-year run as precious public space.

All photos via Florida State Archive.

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