It all started with a love story. A young and ruggedly handsome Jim Hadley met a beautiful young lady named Lyda at a USO dance in Arkansas. They danced the night away together and Lyda made quite an impression. Unfortunately, they didn’t have much time together as Jim was off to England to serve with the US Eighth Army Air Corps during World War II.
Jim was released from duty in 1945 and he hadn’t stopped thinking about that girl back in Arkansas. He hitchhiked across the country determined to find her, not knowing what the future might bring. He showed up on her doorstep very early one morning. Her grandfather saw him there when he went to grab the paper and invited him in. Lyda, or as her girlfriends called her, “Pete,” came downstairs to find Jim sitting at the breakfast table.
Pete was actually engaged to another man at the time, but some things are just meant to be. After a brief courtship in Arkansas, Jim called his Georgia kin to tell them he was coming home and he was bringing someone special. Well, in those days unmarried couples didn’t travel together. That was scandalous. So while Jim & Pete enjoyed the train, Jim’s family set about to prepare a wedding.
Two years later, in Columbus, GA, a young Dean Hadley was born. In 1948 the family relocated to Miami, FL. Jim got a job as a linotype operator for the Miami News, but his real passion was photography. Jim got involved with the camera club movement that was going on in Miami at that time. He even photographed Betty Page!
One day while browsing a newsstand for photography magazines, Jim spotted a nudist magazine. Between his interest in photography and figure art, and a general annoyance with driving home from the beach in wet sandy bathing suits, the nudist lifestyle appealed to him. Pete agreed and in 1949, they became members of Sunny Palms Lodge in Homestead, FL.
They were very active at Sunny Palms for quite a few years. In the late 1950’s when the resident managers left, Jim headed an advisory committee to find a replacement. He continued to act as a liaison to the new managers. He helped them with management and zoning issues, and helped to arrange financing for a new pool. He and Pete helped to plan entertainment, conventions and special events. All of this was providing Jim with fantastic experience at park management.
Jim enjoyed it so much that he and Pete dreamed of opening their own club one day. In 1962, much sooner than they ever expected, that dream would become a reality.
They knew immediately this was something special and they hurried back to the real estate office with a down payment to lock up the property. Jim hired an attorney, the county attorney, to investigate the legalities of operating a nudist park in Osceola County. With that verified, he informed the Sherriff, and then finally the few neighbors. He was clearing away almost all of the hurdles to make sure there wasn’t much in the way of local resistance. With his due diligence satisfied, he arranged financing and bought the land.
After Dean finished school in 1963, they sold the boat and moved up to Kissimmee for good. Jim was able to transfer his job as a linotype operator to the Orlando Sentinel. He would toil away on the land every morning and drive up to the Sentinel in the afternoon. They had very good friends who would visit on the weekends and support them in their endeavors. They rallied together and built a wooden fence around about 3 acres of lakefront and erected a dock for fishing and swimming. Jim hired a contractor to build the first bathhouse.
After a few months, Dean enrolled in his junior year at Osceola High School and Pete also went to work as a linotype operator at the Orlando Sentinel. Money was tight and they were saving up to build a clubhouse.
Word spread among Central Florida nudists who read about us in the ASA Bulletin and Modern Sunbathing Magazine. In the Spring of 1964, the doors finally opened officially to the nudist public. Our facilities at the time were a bathhouse, a grass volleyball court, a trampoline, a tire swing, an aluminum rowboat, a windbreak, a few picnic tables and the lake with its dock and sand beach. The “clubhouse and restaurant” was the little screen room of the trailer on the lakefront. There were around 150 visitors for the Grand Opening.
Shortly after the opening, Jim, Pete & Dean moved into the farmhouse at the gate while their good friends Kyle & Brooks moved into the lakefront trailer. While Jim & Pete continued working, Kyle acted as an evening manager and Brooks prepared meals. Permanent campers began to arrive, like their friends George & Flo, who also helped run the club. Membership grew steadily.
By the end of 1965, they had over 100 members. There was enough money for Pete to quit her job and for the club to finally build its clubhouse. It was just a 30’ x 60’ concrete building with electricity but no plumbing. There was a small counter in one corner that served as the Office. There were also a few tables and chairs, a pool table, TV and two ping pong tables.
In 1966, they added plumbing with a dining room and kitchen on the north end of the building. They added two bathrooms and an outdoor shower. Three small bedrooms were partitioned off at the south end of the building which became overnight rentals.
The club started as a weekend operation. Activities centered on the lakefront, with a lot of swimming, fishing and boating. Teenagers water skied and volleyball was very popular. Every Labor Day they threw a big Luau Party with Hawaiian music and entertainment provided by the members. By then end of 1966 our membership had grown to 200!
By 1967, the club was finally earning enough for Jim to quit the Sentinel and devote himself to the Cove full time. The perimeter fence had to be moved and expanded several times as more and more travel trailers began to arrive. Hookups were added to accommodate more campers. Several used but clean mobile homes and travel trailers were purchased and used for overnight rentals.
In 1969, we built Bathhouse 2 and expanded the campground. We also hosted the ESA Convention that year. So many people had heard about this great new club that they flooded in from all across the east. 620 people attended! All of the members chipped in, working for days each to pull it off.
Up to this point, the county remained small and all of our construction was done with no zoning regulations or building codes. However, all of that changed with the announcement that Walt Disney World was coming. Suddenly there were building, zoning and environment regulations to contend with. Jim faced a crucial decision. To expand, he would have to retrofit the existing facilities to the new codes, which would be expensive. Or we could stay as we were and be “grandfathered” in.
Jim was never one to shy away from a challenge, so he arranged financing for a major expansion of the park. Cypress Cove was going to be ready for Disney. In 1970, we began our first real expansion; phase one of the mobile home park.
By the end of 1971, we had grown to 35 mobile home sites, 84 campsites, and 30 rental trailers. Utilities included our own water plant, sewer plant, a third bathhouse, paved streets and streetlights. Three families were already in residence, which included Dean, Julie and their new son, Ted.
Throughout the 1970s, the Cove began to grow. Disney, Circus World and Sea World were attracting record numbers of visitors to the area. Over the years, the smaller rental trailers were replaced with new 10’ x 50’ mobile home rentals. The residential park continued to grow with phases two and three being completed. By the end of the 1970s, we had a flourishing nudist community with over 100 families in residence.
In 1979, the American Nudist Research Library was conceived of by Read and Jayne Schuster and two of the sleeping rooms in the old clubhouse were converted into the library.
Through 1979, the lakefront and clubhouse were the sole focus of recreational activities, with the lake itself being the only swimming option. Jim knew that as our membership grew, so too must our facilities. So construction began on our first pool complex.
At the dawn of the new year in 1980, the new pool complex officially opened. It included a heated swimming pool and enclosed hot tub, a new clubhouse, a bathhouse, shuffleboard courts and a large deck full of lounge chairs. A new building was constructed for the library. The new pool quickly took over as the center of social activity in the club.
The office was moved into a new double wide across the street and the old clubhouse and snack bar were remodeled into a full service restaurant. We also obtained our first beer & wine license. Up to that point, all parties were BYOB.
During this time, Jim was very influential in the community as well as nudist politics. Jim was elected as ASA President. He was a charter member of the Osceola County Tourist Development Council. He and Pete were both charter members of the Osceola Center for the Arts. Cypress Cove was an early member of the Kissimmee-St. Cloud Chamber of Commerce.
In 1983, the restaurant was remodeled further adding the Terrace. We obtained a full liquor license and built a dance floor and stage for parties and shows. The old restaurant was more like Cheeks. You placed your order in a window and waited for them to call your name. Joe & Char were hired as full time restaurant managers and added waitresses and table service.
When Jim first opened the club, he inquired about the neighboring property around the lake, but it was being sold to the developers of Poinciana. In 1984, an investment group had acquired the property and was offering to sell it to us. After months of negotiation, Jim purchased an additional 200 acres, including 40 acres of dry, developable land and 160 acres of swamp. But that swamp included all the land around our lake. It would forever remain private.
Those 40 acres would be developed into the “new” section of the mobile home park, adding 125 residential sites. These new sites were more upscale, with large wooded lots, carports and driveways, brick skirting and shingled roofs. A five acre tract was left undeveloped as Oak Park. The water and waste water plants were moved and expanded to accommodate the added units.
In 1985, we got our first real hit of bad luck. The county announced that they would be building a landfill on the property adjacent to the Cove just across the lake. Our members, along with residents of other area communities, put up a fierce battle. They protested, spoke at county meetings, and gave interviews on the news. In the end, the county was determined and the landfill was indeed constructed right next door.
Over the years, that was a real mess. A creative minded manager attempted new techniques which weren’t EPA regulated. For many years, when the wind and temperatures were right, the smell of dumpster wafted over the Cove. Thankfully, the landfill finally closed permanently in 2004.
In 1986, the ASA started National Nude Weekend to help promote local nudist clubs. Clubs across the country would open their doors to outsiders, many for the first time, in a coordinated Open House. Press coverage was huge. There were stories on the news for weeks. Local talks shows discussed the merits of seeing behind the fence for the first time. We hired nude skydivers and a local ski show for entertainment. The turnout was unbelievable. We had approximately 850 visitors for the event!
Many reporters showed up with remote film crews. A news helicopter showed up to film all of the hoopla. There was no room on the lawn, so they landed on the tennis courts. The helicopter ended up leaving divots in the asphalt courts. Grandpa was not very happy.
The following year, Jim decided to make the Open House invitation only. I think he was overwhelmed by the huge crowds of the first year. We still ended up with around 300 visitors. Unfortunately, the news coverage grew sparse and future Open Houses never quite had those numbers again.
Sometime around 1987, we hired our first part-time Activities Director, Sharon Haggarty. Entertainment at the Cove had been varied over the years, with many residents helping plan parties and stage productions. Sharon spearheaded and directed the development of the “Cove Players,” a group whose lip-synced comedy show-stoppers have packed in audiences ever since.
In the meantime, with the growth of the mobile home park, it was becoming obvious that our existing facilities would no longer be enough. The pool area was filled to capacity almost every weekend with guests often have difficulty finding available lounge chairs. An ambitious and elaborate plan was hatched to expand our facilities and thus our capacity.
At that point, the land adjacent to the pool area was being used for mobile home rentals. That was our hotel at the time. But mobile homes took up too much space. To expand the pool area, we would have to free up that land. To free up that land, the 30 rental trailers would have to be replaced. A hotel would offer nicer accommodations and house more guests in less space.
There was more to it than that, though. In order to make room for the fifth and final Villa building, the Office had to be moved across the street into the old restaurant. In order to make room for the Office, a brand new restaurant had to be built. And so the process began.
Construction of the first Villa began in 1988 and completed in 1989. With the first building completed, we could afford to remove more trailers and 3 more buildings were completed the next year.
“Old Cheeks” was added in 1990. This was a small open air bar located by the pool. A bartender slung drinks and snacks such as hot dogs and popcorn. It quickly became a popular hangout spot in the evenings.
Around this time, we hired our first full-time Activities Director, Linda Krabill. Linda brought arranged fun group activities, like the Lady Godiva Show and the Medieval Fair. She also created Bar Trivia and our first Singles group, the Mingles.
We began construction of the new Lakeside Restaurant in 1991. This was a huge undertaking. The new restaurant was enormous with high ceilings, a dance floor and stage, seating for 200 and a large deck that overlooked the natural beauty of the lake. There was also a separate Lounge with a long bar for Happy Hours and such.
On April 4th, 1992, the Osceola County Board of County Commissioners voted to declare April 4th “Jim Hadley Day” in recognition of his years of public service on the County Planning Board and the Tourist Development Council, as well as Cypress Cove’s contribution to the economy. The commissioners presented Jim with the plaque in the Lakeside Restaurant.
Sadly, Jim Hadley succumbed to cancer in late May of that year. Dean, who had played a supportive role for many years, was now thrown fully into the management of club and the completion of our most ambitious project ever. Ivan, who was hired as a pool attendant in 1991, was promoted in 1992 to the position of General Manager to help Dean run the club.
With the restaurant now open, work began to convert the previous restaurant into the Front Desk and administrative offices. Once the conversion was complete, the office and store were relocated from their location across the street, a single wide mobile home. Then something really special happened. The members decided that since we were destroying the trailer anyway, why not send it out in style? Now empty and abandoned, dozens of members turned it into a spectacular haunted house. They built mazes and sets, donned makeup and costumes, and put on one heck of a Halloween event. It was the best of the Cove coming together, just for fun.
It was around this time that our first Activities Director, Linda Krabill, left to pursue another opportunity. Don Collins came on and took over as Activities Director. Don was a fixture here for many years, bringing new ideas like the Fitness Classic bodybuilding competition and a revised “Cypress Knee”. He also loved to sing Karaoke and was most comfortable with a mic in his hand.
The final Villa, Building 2, opened in 1993. The lot adjacent to the old pool was now empty of all trailers. All that was left of the plan was to build the new pool complex. Of course, there was still a lot to plan and that would end up taking some years.
It was June of 1993 when I returned to work full time at Cypress Cove. I had done some work here and there as a kid, to keep me busy I’m sure, and then worked in the office as a teenager. I was gone for a while when I went off to college and later got a job working for a hotel in Orlando. But my circumstances changed and I was looking for work. Not wanting to make things too easy, my Dad found a job for me - in landscaping. That’s where I met my boss, Mike Wax. I ended up having a lot of fun at that job.
My first day wasn’t very fun, however. We had built some cursory Petanque courts the year before, but the sand was too soft and it wasn’t good for play. Mike arranged for a shipment of coquina based sand, but it showed up clumpy and full of rocks and shells. Mike created a giant sieve out of a wooden pallet and mounted it to the front end loader. My job was to shovel piles of dirt onto the sieve, which he would raise up and shake. We would separate the larger pieces so the finer sand could be used for the courts. It was June in Florida and I went home that day hot, sweaty, and covered in about an inch of dirt.
We also built the golf course that summer. The lot was empty and some of the campers were taking turns putting into soup cans they’d buried in the ground. Mike came to us from a grass supplier and was very familiar with golf courses. He worked with a colleague to design a 9 hole chip n’ putt course. A few years later, very few people were using the course. Dean was talking about removing it and adding additional day parking. Well, a very passionate Cypress Cove Golf Association was formed to save the course. They built a shelter, threw tournaments and parties, and have been maintaining the course ever since.
In 1994, some of our members put together our first Nude Bike Rally which later went on to become a huge hit. Char & Jo retired in 1995 creating a hole in the food & beverage department that lasted for many hard and frustrating years. It was in 1996, when some members approached us about throwing a Jimmy Buffett themed party. They called it Parrothead Party Weekend.
We had a few other firsts in 1996 as well. For one, there was this new thing called the internet and we created our first webpage. And more importantly, Cheeks Bar & Grill opened, centering what would eventually become our expanded pool complex. The bar was created as an open air bar with sliding doors that could close when the weather was poor. We used an open beam construction that the builders had only ever used in churches. One of our members dubbed it St. Michelob’s Cathedral.
In 1998, we upgraded to our second website. This one actually had links. And doesn’t that just make you want to come to Cypress Cove? Isn’t it inviting? Okay, we were still learning.
Planning was now fully underway to complete the pool expansion. It took several years, but we proudly introduced our new West Pool area. It consisted of a playground for kids, a large free form heated swimming pool with seating along some of the edges, a second smaller outdoor hot tub, a new gameroom, a massage facility, a 1200 sq. ft. fitness center, the Nature Hair Salon, and the Figleaf Boutique.
Sadly, along with that great accomplishment came the sudden passing of our grand lady, Pete Hadley. She was suffering quietly from a blood disease and passed in August. She did get a chance to see their many years of planning come to fruition, and she got to meet two of her grandchildren, Colbey and Christopher.
In 2002, we upgraded our website again to the earlier version of our current website. We hired a design firm and created what I thought was the most beautiful website I had ever seen. Of course, time marches on and it’s looking more than a little dated now.
Regis, who had been hired the year before as a bartender, became our new Activities Director in 2004. Regis came from a music background, having toured internationally with a couple of major bands. He also DJ’ed and provided entertainment at a local bar near Old Town. Regis brought many great new innovations such as the Professional Body Painting contests, Nude-A-Palooza, and the Summer Pool Parties. He has filled out the calendar like we’ve never had before.
Regis was also the first Activities Director to realize what a gold mine the winter crowd was. Up to that point, winter was already busy, so our Activities efforts were concentrated on slower times to attract business. Regis realized that we had a huge built in crowd who was ready and waiting to be catered to. It took a little time to work the kinks out, but now almost every Saturday night in the winter is a packed affair.
2004 also brought good news and our second bout of really bad luck. The good news: The landfill finally closed up operations for good. No more smelly afternoons. The bad news: Hurricanes! After 40 years of near misses, we got hit directly by 3 hurricanes in about 6 weeks. It was awful.
Regis was living in a travel trailer on Blue Sky Lane at the time and asked to stay with me through the storm. He just didn’t know how his trailer would hold up. Hurricane Charley hit us hard, but we hadn’t realized how hard yet. Around 10 pm, the rain started to lighten up and we decided to go check on his trailer. Walking down the sidewalk on Pleasant Hill Road, there was debris everywhere and we noticed we were walking on downed power lines. We got to the entrance of the Cove which was completely blocked by a fallen oak. Matt came out with a chainsaw and several members helped us clear it. Then we walked further down to Blue Sky Lane where our stomachs sank. The first travel trailer on the end was almost cut in half by a fallen pine. Regis’s trailer turned out okay, but not so much for the rest of the club. Every single road was blocked by fallen trees. They were everywhere; it looked like a war zone.
Our insurance company told us not to remove trees from resident’s houses. They said it would add liability if we caused further damage. They also said it wasn’t our obligation and they wouldn’t pay for it. They said to let the resident’s home owners insurance cover the removal of trees. Well, the residents came out in force to help us put the park back together and we just couldn’t do that. They helped us put the old tin fence back together and clean up the debris, and we removed the trees. They were so amazing. It would take months before it was all cleaned up, and years before the vegetation around the lake fully recovered.
But that wasn’t all; we had 2 more hurricanes come right over our head before we finished cleaning up from the first. The third, Jean, brought tons of rain. The roof came off the terrace and flooded the office with rain. With each storm, we lost power for days. We had no fresh drinking water and had to give away our perishable food before it rotted. There were also no generators to operate the lift stations, so toilets were backing up. It was a hot, smelly and generally unpleasant time. After power returned, we ordered huge amounts of food only to lose it a few weeks later from the next hurricane.
But something good did come from all of that. That old tin fence that we had wanted to replace for decades was damaged beyond repair. We had to take out huge loans to cover the cleanup and construction, but we used the opportunity to finally build the brick wall we had always wanted. It took a while, but it was beautiful and we were happy.
We’re getting close to present and have just a few landmarks left. Regis started the weekly Saturday Summer Pool Parties in 2006. Also in 2006, we completed our first hotel remodel. The rooms were terribly dated but we didn’t have the money for a total renovation. We were still paying back loans from the hurricanes. So we kind of went half way. We repainted the rooms, installed new carpeting, and replaced the sofas and chairs (and introduced the Parlor Rooms). We didn’t, however, replace any of the counters, cabinets, fixtures, or lighting. We also left most of the furniture.
The new rooms actually turned out quite nice. They were certainly a welcome upgrade from what had been there before.
After the rooms, we set about remodeling the rest of our facilities. We upgraded electric in the RV park to 100 amp service. The Lakeside Restaurant was completely remodeled in 2007.
We installed aerators in the lake in the summer of 2008. The aerators simply pump air into the lake water like an aquarium pump. However, that jump starts the ecology of the lake in tremendous ways. Almost instantly the water began to cool as the deeper water was being better circulated. The muck began to recede from the edges of the lake. The bottom became much firmer. With added oxygen in the water, fish populations boomed while weeds declined. There are only 2 lakes in Osceola County licensed for public swimming and this is one of them. Our water is tested every two weeks. Prior to the aerators, the lake was closed due to high bacteria counts at least once per summer. Since, it has never closed once.
Regis introduced Nude-a-Palooza in 2008. This was an all-day outdoor concert to raise money for Rock Pink, a local breast cancer charity. Since its inception, Nude-A-Palooza has raised over $100,000 in donations.
The Lakeside Lounge was remodeled and re-branded as Scuttlebutts in 2009. AANR sponsored the Guinness World Record Skinny Dip attempt that Summer. The event brought in hundreds of visitors for the first time in years, and most of them took their clothes off and got in the water. It was a great promotion.
Utilities have been upgraded. All of the bathhouses were remodeled, one by one. That was a project that was on our to-do list for decades but just never quite high enough of a priority.
Regis introduced the Professional Body Painting contest in 2012 to go along with Open House. We have seen some spectacular work come out of that.
We finally constructed the brick entry sign in 2012. It completed a decades’s old dream of how the Cove should be represented to the outside world.
Last year we converted one of the tennis courts into 4 dedicated regulation Pickleball Courts.
And finally, last year we introduced the first of our completely renovated hotel buildings. We decided this time was going to be "do it once and do it right." So we completely gutted the rooms. Every bit of furniture was replaced, as well as all the lighting. We installed ceiling fans, granite counter tops and new cabinets. We finally added room safes.
Over the next few years, we will be renovating one new hotel building each year until they are all complete. That’s going to take up most of our resources for the near future. We will, however, be installing new doors with electronic door locks on all of the hotel rooms very soon. You will have an option of an RFID card or a waterproof bracelet.
I’ve also been working with our hotel software vendor to get our online Members Portal up and running. With this, residents and members will be able to book and manage real time reservations online, view newsletters, as well as review monthly statements and make payments by credit card.
We hired a professional photographer for a photo shoot last year and will be introducing a new brochure very soon. We will also need to update the website this year. Now it’s the most dated thing left.
We see great things down the road. Our improvements are always inspired by our members first. Let us know what you would like to see. There’s a good chance it might happen.
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