History Happened Here

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Mount Dora

Lake County

Year Founded: 1910Previously known as: Royellou


This Central Florida area was settled in 1874 by David M. Simpson, his wife and two children. In 1880, the settlement was named “Royellou” by the postmaster, Ross Tremain, after his children Roy, Ella and Louis. In 1883, The Alexander House opened as a two-story hotel with ten rooms, and the community was renamed “Mount Dora.”

The city was named after Lake Dora which had been named by surveyors in 1846 for Dora Ann Drawdy, who lived with her husband two miles south of Mount Dora. The arrival of the railroad in 1887 stimulated the economy, carrying tourists and freight. A popular winter retreat for hunting, fishing and boating, The Alexander House would be renamed The Lake House in 1893 and became the city’s first hotel.

R.C. Tremain & Son built the first orange packing house in 1891, although surrounding groves would be destroyed by the great freezes of 1894 and 1895. In 1903, The Lake House was renamed Lakeside Inn, and remains in operation. Visitors included President Calvin Coolidge, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The city of Mount Dora was incorporated in 1910.

Two places have been granted Florida Historic Markers in Mount Dora: The Donnelly House and the Witherspoon Lodge at 1420 North Clayton.

The John P. Donnelly House, a Queen Anne style landmark built in 1893, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Donnelly, who moved to the area in 1879, was an early developer and entrepreneur. In 1884 he helped lay out the original plat of the city. In March 1911, Donnelly was elected Mount Dora’s first mayor. The Donnelly house is now home to the Mount Dora Lodge 238 of Free and Accepted Masons.

The Witherspoon Lodge building has been owned by the Witherspoon (Prince Hall) Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons No. 111 since 1903. It has served as a venue for African-American Masonic functions as well as other community functions. In the 1920s, after the city’s public school for African-American children was burned, the first floor of the Witherspoon Lodge was converted to a classroom until a replacement school was constructed.

In 1926, the Milner-Rosenwald Academy was built at 1560 Highland Street. It is named after Julius Rosenwald of Chicago who was the president of Sears and Roebuck. He befriended Booker T. Washington and made him aware of the deplorable conditions of black schools in the South. Rosenwald contributed funds to over 5,000 schools in eleven southern states, including Mount Dora’s Milner-Rosenwald. Rosenwald’s contributions established a foundation to build improved schools in the city. A substantial amount of funding was also given by a retired Mount Dora Presbyterian Minister, Rev. Duncan C. Milner.

Today, Mount Dora is widely known for its crafts and antique shops, historical buildings, and beautiful waterfront scenery.

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