Third in the Series

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A Brief History of Mount Dora, Florida.

The Windsor Rose Tea Room & Restaurant (4).JPG

Ranking among Choice Awards’ “Top 50 Best Small Towns in America,” Mount Dora is a favorite vacation destination for Floridians and out-of-state tourists alike.  The town’s charming appeal extends well beyond its picturesque lakefront and canopy-oak tree-lined streets. This hospitable town offers a beautiful Historic Downtown with eclectic restaurants, antiques markets, boutiques, historic inns and Bed & Breakfasts, and no fewer than 30 festivals each year.

Historians believe that Mount Dora’s resource-rich land was once home to the Timucua Native Americans, who fished, hunted, and farmed native vegetables.  Fragments of pottery and of shell or stone ornaments date back hundreds of years. The Timucua’s disappearance in the 17th century is attributed to diseases brought into Florida by Europeans.

In 1874, the first American settlers arrived. In 1882, the first school was established. Ross C.Tremain established the first post office in 1883.  The town was first named Royellou after Tremain’s three children, Roy, Ella and Louis, and was later renamed Mount Dora.  Located on a plateau a mere 185 feet above sea level, Mount Dora was named to spotlight its rare geographical attribute in the otherwise flat state of Florida.

Flourishing flora and fauna, a warm climate, and a beautiful lakeside location quickly made Mount Dora a popular winter destination for hunters, fishermen and boaters.  This spurred development of the two-story Alexander House in 1883, which has hosted such dignitaries as President Calvin Coolidge, President Dwight Eisenhower and Henry Ford.  Renamed Lakeside Inn, the hotel is among the last of the grand Victorian Era hotels, and the oldest continuously operating hotel in the state.  

In 1886, Mount Dora had 174 residents, printed its first newspaper, The Mount Dora Voice. In 1887, the railroad brought industry and transformed the town into a small city. J.P. Donnelly built the Queen Anne-style Donnelly House in 1893 as a gift to his wife. In 1910, the town was incorporated, and Donnelly became the first mayor of Mount Dora.

Other notable historic buildings are Mount Zion Primitive Baptist Church, built by African-American homesteaders on the southern edge of town, and the William Watt House – now the Grandview Bed and Breakfast Inn – which irrigated local orange groves with its windmill. The Mount Dora Yacht Club, established in 1913, served as a USO for servicemen during World War II, and still holds an annual sailing regatta.  

At the turn of the century, a clay bicycle path was constructed to connect Eustis and Mount Dora with Altamonte Springs and Sanford. The very first fire station and jail have since been transformed into Mount Dora’s History Museum, which is home, among many other things, to the first ballot box and early land-promotion materials.

Despite economic challenges of the 1920s, Mount Dora’s residents wanted a central location for the arts, and united to raise enough funds to build the Mount Dora Community Building.  The Mediterranean-style structure opened with 800 seats — one for every town resident at that time — and continues to host concerts, private movie screenings, weddings, corporate events and theatrical performances.

A number of parks were created in Mount Dora so residents and visitors can enjoy the towns beautiful native ecosystem.  The 8-acre Palm Island Nature Preserve offers hiking trails under towering cypress trees and a boardwalk where you can see nesting ospreys, herons and egrets. 

In 1981, many of the city’s buildings were temporarily painted pink for the film Honky Tonk Freeway.  Since then, the controversial Starry Night House, painted after Vincent van Gogh’s famous masterpiece, has become a new monument to artistic freedom.

Today, Mount Dora with its charming Downtown and many festivals, including the Craft Fair, Renninger’s Antique Extravaganza, the Mount Dora Music Festival, the annual Christmas-Lighting Festival, and the Plant & Garden Fair, among others, draws thousands of visitors annually. Mount Dora is truly “Someplace Special”!

This brief history write up was based on sources around the web. View our sources here.

Culture to Color continues the Series

Find out how your town can be selected for the Color to Culture series.