Mackay Gardens and Lakeside Preserve comprises a 112-acre historic property situated on the north shore of Lake Rochelle in Lake Alfred, Polk County, Florida. Located at 945 Mackay Boulevard, it was once the estate and winter residence of the Alexander Mackay family.
Mackay was a Scottish entrepreneur and investor who bought the land in 1915 as a citrus-growing investment. In 1916, he hired John Morley, a botanist from York, England, to manage the property and to oversee the building of a house. Mackay had purchased building plans for his “bungalow” from the Craftsman Company and hired George Fowler, an architect working for the company, to make modifications to the plans and visit the building site to make further recommendations.
The site selected for the house was at the top of a slope that overlooks the lake. The first order of construction supplies was made in April of 1917. In May, an order of 16,000 bricks was received. The 8,000-square-foot home was completed on 10 November 1917. A local newspaper described it as “the finest private residence in Polk County.” Mr. Mackay imported plants from around the world to add to his gardens.
In 2004, the estate was purchased with funds rom the Florida Community Trust Florida Forever program. In 2006, the City of Lake Alfred procured grant funding from the Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation for renovation of the house. A grant from the Florida Recreational Development Assistance Program provided funding for adding a playground, picnic pavilion, rest rooms, a fishing pier, and nature trails. On 17 November 2017, a 100th anniversary celebration was held. Proceeds from this event are to be used for further restoration of the home and grounds. The house is available to rent as a venue for weddings, business meetings, reunions, and parties.
Outdoor recreation and nature education opportunities are available at the Mackay Preserve. Interpretive, guided nature walks along the preserve’s trails are offered on some weekends. On the first Thursday of every month, classes are given by Polk County’s Master Gardeners that present the most recent Florida-friendly gardening techniques endorsed by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. For example, a recent program entitled “Landscaping for Wildlife” discussed the value of creating habitat and gave “suggestions on native plants to use…that provide food, cover, and diversity to wildlife.” The property is being repopulated with native plants. A Florida-friendly Demo Garden has been planted near the playground.
Admission to Mackay Gardens and Lakeside Preserve is free and open to the public. Visiting hours are dawn to dusk, 7 days a week. To inquire about renting the house or picnic shelter, or to ask about upcoming events, call Lake Alfred Parks and Recreation Department at (863) 291-5272.