For centuries prior to European conquest, Lake Lafayette was a favored settlement of Florida's native peoples.  At least 40 mounds and middens are still located around the lake's periphery, mute testimony to the connections humans have always had with these lovely and productive waters.

Photo of Engraving of Marquis de Lafayette
Florida Photo Archives
- photo of engraving of
Marquis de Lafayette

In 1825, the U.S. Congress gave the French Marquis de Lafayette a full township of land, including a portion of this lake's shoreline, in gratitude for his assistance during the American Revolution.  Lafayette established a colony of Norman peasants on the shores of the lake, intending to cultivate vineyards, olive groves, mulberry trees, and silkworms.  But the colony quickly failed "due to the ravages of the climate," and cotton and other agricultural production became the economic mainstay for these lands, and much of newly established Leon County.

For thousands of years, the interconnected wetlands of Lake Lafayette functioned as a single unit, drying and refilling in response to rainfall and drought.  In 1909, geologist Eli Sellards investigated what he dubbed the "disappearing lakes" north and east of Tallahassee: Iamonia, Jackson, Miccosukee, and Lafayette. Eventually, it was understood that all of the lakes were governed by seasonal rainfall and one or more sinkholes connected to the aquifer.  For example, during times of high water or flood, Lake Lafayette would flow east and spill into the St. Mark's River.  But in a dry spell, much of the lake water would drain west and disappear into the underground aquifer through Fallschase Sink, a large sinkhole in the northern reaches of the lake.

Lake Lafayette was so frequently dry and grassy, early settlers used it to graze their cattle, and knew it as the "Prairie Lake."  Many remnants of old fence lines can still be seen emerging from the water.  During these droughty periods, the lake bottom would be cleansed--that is, its plant matter would oxidize and be reduced. Lightning-ignited fires sometimes crept down from surrounding fields and pinewoods, burning the lake's organic, mucky soils. The lake would refill with clear water when the rains returned, and its hard, sandy bottom would once again offer good habit for aquatic plants and animals.  Such cycling was indispensable to the health of the lake.

photo railway through</br> Lake Lafayette
Florida Photo Archives
- photo railway through
Lake Lafayette

In the 1820s, the entire length of the lake's northern shore was separated from Alford Arm and stabilized so that the CSX railroad might be built close to the water's edge. In 1948, the owners of Piney Z Plantation built earthen dikes in the middle of the lake.  The lake was alternately farmed and flooded for duck hunting. Over time, the lake was further fragmented by numerous dikes into the artificial basins that exist today.  Stabilized water levels interrupted natural cycles of drought and reflooding.

In 1977, Louise Kirk Edwards donated 687.57 acres of the property to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The FWC purchased a 4.82-addition in 1984 and the 1,064 acre Wood Sink tract, located east of Chaires Crossroad, was added in 2009, bringing the total to 1,782 acres.

FWC Facts:
The $2.7 billion that people spend to view wildlife in Florida is more than double the value of the state’s annual orange harvest.

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