“Ages ago an Indian Town on Lake Wailes lake was plagued with raids by a huge gator. The town’s great warrior Chief and the gator were killed in a final battle that created the huge swampy depression nearby. The chief was buried on its north side. Later pioneer haulers coming from the old army trail atop the ridge above found their horses laboring here… at the foot of the ridge… and called it Spook hill. Is it the gator seeking revenge, or the chief protecting his land?”
Long before Orlando’s infamous amusement parks, Winter Haven was a popular destination for vacationers. Eager tourists would flock to Cypress Gardens, a botanical wonderland for floral enthusiasts. Unfortunately, like many beloved relics from forgotten eras, modern-day capitalism has turned over these former treasures to the highest bidder. Merlin Entertainments purchased the property several years ago. What was once a majestic natural conservatory is now “Legoland”— a sprawling city of monstrous plastic cubes. However, one quirky roadside attraction remains in a nearby town. Best of all: the admission is completely free!
Spook Hill sits atop the Lake Wales Ridge, an area composed of mainly sand and limestone. Originally the region was a chain of islands when sea levels were much higher three million years ago. Adjacent to the destination is Spook Elementary School which adopted Casper the friendly ghost as their official mascot. The location is what’s known as a gravity hill. When cars shift gears into neutral, they seemingly roll upwards. Some argue that it’s merely an optical illusion while others claim the territory is cursed by vengeful spirits.
In the early eighteenth century, rogue Native Americans abandoned their former Cherokee Nation and eventually settled throughout Central Florida. Chief Cufcowellax, revered his tribe, made homestead near a picturesque reservoir in what is now known as Lake Wales. As legend has it, the Calusa lived in peace for many years. Yet things quickly changed after a massive alligator entered the quaint community. Suddenly the fearsome beast began wreaking havoc on unsuspecting villagers. Each night the aggressive reptile would raid their homes and many victims lost their lives. Fear spread amongst inhabitants like wildfire.
Concerned and enraged, chief Cufcowellax set out to slay the cold-blooded perpetrator. During an epic battle, both were killed and the once pristine waters of the lake turned blood red. A new pond formed after the violent feud commenced and it was named Lake Ticowa. Although the mournful tribespeople were now free from one assailant, another enemy would soon follow. White settlers invaded and seized the native’s beloved encampment. Circuit riders used the established trail to deliver mail between both Floridian coasts. When their horses reached the mound near Ticowa, they labored feverishly when heading downhill. Travelers were perplexed and thoroughly perturbed. They aptly dubbed the spot ‘Spook Hill’.
When the citrus industry blossomed, orange groves covered much of Lake Wales. Farmers rode mule-drawn wagons to transport loads of succulent produce. Once again, strong plow animals struggled as they descended the slope. Florida’s temperate seasons created the perfect environment for crop yielding. Booming business eventually led to permanent infrastructure and the pathway being paved. Locals who drove on the road noticed vehicles would roll uphill without any assistance. Word of this bizarre anomaly quickly spread and visitors flocked from across the state to experience Spook Hill firsthand.
In April of 2019 Polk County’s unconventional landmark was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Such recognition will preserve the eerie and entertaining automobile experience for many generations to come. Whether Spook Hill is simply visual trickery or a genuine ghostly presence, it makes for the perfect Sunday afternoon outing. On your next visit to Lake Wales, be sure to check out the unusual site. Both skeptics and believers alike will enjoy this unique roadside excursion.
Address: N. Wales Drive, Lake Wales, FL 33853
Directions: Head north on N. Wales Drive/ 5th Street. You will reach Spook Elementary and the destination will be adjacent on the lefthand side.
Have you visited Spook Hill? Share your thoughts about this quirky location in the comment section!