Mount Dora is a beautiful lakefront town of about 12,000 people in the wooded hill and lake country some 45 minutes northwest of downtown Orlando.
The town has many antique shops in the downtown area, and a huge antique center called Renninger's on the outskirts of town.
Mount Dora overlooks beautiful Lake Dora, one of the prettiest lakes in the famous Harris Chain.
One of the most unusual attractions for this lakefront Central Florida town is its lighthouse. It is one of only three freshwater lighthouses in Florida.
The citizens of Mount Dora got together and financed it. It was built in 1988 and is owned and operated by the City of Mount Dora.
The lighthouse is a favorite photo backdrop for residents and tourists alike, and is a featured attraction on the local Segway tour.
A recently installed giant chair in the park near the lighthouse is another favorite photo spot.
Mount Dora always seems to have something interesting going on. The town hosts an annual art festival, craft fair, plant and garden show and many other special events including classic car shows.
Here are some examples of recurring events that will give you a reason to visit Mount Dora several times.
Annual Mount Dora Music Festival, held on the third weekend in February. Presentation of artistic music including classical, big band and jazz. For more information call 352-385-1010.
Annual Sail Boat Regatta, held on the first weekend of April. The oldest regatta in Florida is fun for the entire family and takes place on Lake Dora near the Mount Dora Yacht Club. For more information call 352-383-3188.
Annual Blueberry Festival, usually on the last weekend of April. The great freezes of the 1980s destroyed many citrus groves in Central Florida, and this festival celebrates the millions of blueberries now grown on former grove land.
Elizabeth Evans Park, 100 N. Donnelly Street. For information call Janet Gamache at 352-217-8390.
The Lakeside Inn is the centerpiece of downtown Mount Dora. Locals and visitors alike enjoy sitting in a rocker on the spacious veranda while watching the famous Mount Dora sunsets over Lake Dora. The hotel was built in 1883 and is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Annual Craft Fair, fourth weekend in October. This nationally ranked juried event continues to attract over 250,000 visitors and over 350 of the best craftspeople in the country. It is held on the streets of downtown Mount Dora. For more information call 352-735-1191
Lake and Hills Garden Club Annual Garden Tour, first weekend in November. The club will lead tours of several distinctive gardens. Club members will be on hand to describe each garden and answer questions.
Cost is $12 prior to the event and $15 day of event. Tours begin at the Country Club of Mount Dora. For more information go to lakesandhillsgardenclub.com.
Annual Scottish Highlands Festival, held in mid November. Scottish bands and musicians plus highland games on Friday and Saturday. Elizabeth Evans Park at the far south end of Donnelly Street.
Annual Light Up Mount Dora, is held the Saturday after Thanksgiving. There is a lighting ceremony between 5 and 9pm each year in downtown Mount Dora at Donnelly Park, with the lights actually being turned on at 630pm.
Close to 2 million sparkling lights are illuminated and Santa Claus makes a visit. & Santa! For more information call 352-383-2165
Annual Christmas Parade, first Saturday of December, held at 1pm on the streets of downtown Mount Dora. For more information call 352-735-9629.
Lighted Boat Parade, first Saturday of December, held each year on the Mount Dora waterfront near the Mount Dora Yacht Club. For more information call 352-735-9629.
The Donnelly House is on Donnelly Street, the main drag of Mount Dora. It was built by an early mayor and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is used today as a Masonic Lodge.
The vintage postcard below shows Donnelly Street looking north. If you stand on the corner of 4th Avenue and Donnelly today you will recognize most of the features on this card.
MOUNT DORA, FLORIDA HOTELS
Adora Inn, 610 N. Tremain St., Mount Dora, Florida 32757. Enjoy a gourmet breakfast in the dining room or peaceful front porch, relax in your beautifully appointed guest room or plan you next special event at Adora Inn.
Located in the heart of the historical district in charming Mount Dora, Adora Inn is walking distance to the towns restaurants, shops, festivals, parks and only a short thirty minute drive to the Orlando theme parks. Adora Inn is a comfortable retreat for the sophisticated traveler.
It is rated 3 diamonds by AAA, and was picked No. 1 for romantic weekend get-a-way by a Central Florida magazine.
Grandview Bed & Breakfast. 442 East 3rd Avenue, Mount Dora, FL 32757. Tel: 352-383-4440. This lovely inn is just two blocks from downtown Mount Dora. This was originally the William Watt house, built in the early 1900's, and has been restored with rooms having private baths, queen beds, central air conditioning and heat. Full breakfast is served.
Lakeside Inn. 100 North Alexander Street, Mount Dora, Florida 32757. Tel: 352-383-4101. The Inn is the centerpiece of downtown Mount Dora with cozy rooms and good dining right on the shores of Lake Dora. On the National Register of Historic Places, Lakeside Inn was established in 1883. In 2010 a new owner took over who is renovating many of the hotel rooms.
The Beauclair Room is the hotel's main dining room, open to the public, and right next door is Tremain's Lounge, a favorite hangout for locals. On cool evenings a fireplace crackles away in the corner of Tremain's.
The front porch of the hotel is a great place to sit and rock and people watch and gaze out over beautiful Lake Dora.
Mount Dora Historic Inn. 221 East 4th Avenue, Mount Dora, Florida 32757. Tel: 352-735-1212. This historic inn is just a block or two from downtown Mount Dora on a shady tree lined street. The inn was built in the 1880's and has been lovingly restored with beautifully appointed rooms with private baths.
MOUNT DORA, FLORIDA RESTAURANTS is a list of the restaurants that I've personally tried and enjoyed. If it isn't on my list, I either didn't try it or didn't enjoy it.
Many old houses in Mount Dora have been lovingly restored and maintained over the years.
The one in the photograph below always appeals to me. It is on Morningside Drive in the Sylvan Shores neighborhood and recently sold (2016).
Read the interesting story about the Unity in the Community Archway that you will see in Simpson Cove along Lake Dora.
This history of Mount Dora begins in 1846 when Lake Dora was named for Dora Ann Drawdy, a pioneer who settled with her husband about 2 miles south.
Here are some of the things that happened since then.
Mount Dora History Timeline
1846 Lake Dora is named for Dora Ann Drawdy. She and her husband homesteaded 2 miles south of Mount Dora.
1874 David M. Simpson, wife and 2 kids were the first to homestead in what is now Mount Dora.
1880 Original name was Royellou, after three kids of Postmaster R.C. Tremain: Roy, Ella and Louis.
1882 The first school in Mount Dora was established.
1883 The town was renamed Mount Dora.
1886 Mount Dora's first newspaper was published.
1886 Chautauqua Assembly comes to Mount Dora
1887 The first railroad service through Mount Dora began.
1893 The Donnelly House was built.
1910 The town of Mount Dora was incorporated.
1915 The railroad depot was built.
1924 Donnelly Park was created in the center of the city on land obtained from J.P. Donnelly.
1930 President Calvin Coolidge and his wife spent February at the Lakeside Inn.
1956 Locals convince State of Florida to route US-441 around Mount Dora.
1959 Pat Frank publishes apocalyptic novel Alas Babylon that takes place in a fictional town resembling Mount Dora.
1960 Some prominent citizens build the Catacombs, the nickname for an elaborate bomb shelter on Morningside Drive.
1979 Parts of the comedy movie Honky Tonk Freeway are filmed in Mount Dora and the town is painted pink.
Some Details of Mount Dora History Timeline
In 1880, Ross Tremain became the first postmaster, and the community was named "Royellou" after his three children, Roy, Ella and Louis. Some of his descendants are still prominent in the town.
In 1883, The Alexander House opened, a 2 story hotel with 10 rooms, and the community was renamed "Mount Dora".
It was named after Lake Dora, which had been named by surveyors in 1846 for Dora Ann Drawdy, an early settler. Dora is memorialized today in the name of Dora Drawdy Way, a cute little gentrified downtown alley. The history of Mount Dora is kept alive throughout the town in the names of streets and buildings.
The John P. Donnelly House, a Queen Anne style landmark built in 1893 by the first mayor, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. It is a popular photo-op for visitors to Mount Dora, Florida. It is shown in the photo above. It serves today as the local Masonic Lodge.
The railroad came to town in 1887, and it immediately sparked the economy. Many northern tourists discovered Mount Dora, Florida and it became a popular winter retreat for hunting, fishing and boating.
The history of Mount Dora included many steamers coming up the Harris chain of lakes from Jacksonville by way of the Ocklawaha River.
The Alexander House was renamed The Lake House in 1893. In 1903 it was renamed again, this time the Lakeside Inn. It is still in operation today.
It is now the oldest continuously operated hotel in Florida, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Guests have included President Calvin Coolidge, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Mount Dora, Florida was incorporated in 1910, and the railroad depot was built in 1915.
Citrus was the early industry in Mount Dora, with packing houses going back to 1891. Most of the groves were destroyed by the great freezes of 1894 and 1895, but many of them were replanted and thrived.
Other sites on the National Register of Historic Places in addition to the Lakeside Inn include the old Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot that today is headquarters for the local chamber of commerce.
The photo above is courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.
Chautauqua was a movement founded in New York state in 1874. It offered education, music and entertainment to early Americans in the days before radio and television.
Famous lecturers spoke on the subjects of their expertise, accomplished musicians performed and stage plays were presented to audiences hungry for culture.
This is a part of the history of Mount Dora that even many locals are not aware of.
The New York movement was so popular it inspired offshoots all over the country. Florida was targeted because of its mild winter climate, and the southern headquarters of Chautauqua was located in DeFuniak Springs, Florida.
Mount Dora was the site of a Chautauqua early in its history. There is nobody left alive who can remember the programs, but the descendants of many of the settlers who started the program in Mount Dora are still around.
Dr. W. F. Henry got the ball rolling in 1886 when he donated 10 acres of land immediately south of Lake Gertrude to the South Florida Sunday School Assembly of Mount Dora.
Other prominent citizens contributed to the assembly including Mount Dora men W. G. Wright, R. C. Tremain and J.P. Donnelly. E. L. Ferran of Eustis and E. S. Burleigh of Tavares were also involved.
The photo below is courtesy of The State Archives of Florida and shows the landing dock for Chautauqua as it looked in 1906.
The dock was on the shore of Lake Dora near the present day wooden railroad trestle on Old 441 just east of Lakeshore Drive.
The assembly subdivided the donated land into single lots and sold them to raise money to operate Chautauqua. The money was used to build a 1,500 seat auditorium with a dirt floor and a large stage. The seats were long wooden benches.
They also erected a large tent at Chautauqua Park located at 11th Avenue and Old US-441; this tent was used for smaller events.
The annual programs lasted 10 days and were patterned after the original events in New York state. Thousands of people came to the programs and stayed in tents or cottages on the Lake Gertrude property.
There was even a small hotel, the Hotel Chautauqua, in the park where people could stay and have their meals.
Here is another photo from The State Archives of Florida showing some of the tents and buildings at the Chautauqua campground about 1886.
The programs began to lose attendance after the great freezes of 1894 and 1895 when many people went broke and left the area. A fire burned down the auditorium. It was replaced by a large tent and the programs went on.
Finally after a few years of low attendance the Mount Dora Chautauqua closed forever in 1910. You can still see Chautauqua Park near the original site.
Local developers in the 1990's created a subdivision in south Mount Dora called "Chautauqua Overlooking Mount Dora".
So the history of Mount Dora is still alive in the names honoring Chautauqua.
An article about Chautauqua and the history of Mount Dora is in the archives of the Orlando Sentinel, August 27, 1997, in an article by Ormund Powers. Learn more about the history and current activities at the Chautauqua Website.
One of the best things that happened to Mount Dora was the bypassing of the town by US-441 in the late 1950's. Florida DOT originally planned to run the highway right through town.
Dick Edgerton, who owned the Lakeside Inn at the time, and other residents protested and convinced the state to put the road on the east and north side of town. This preserved Mount Dora's natural charm. The history of Mount Dora would be entirely different if it were not for this fortunate bypassing.
There are local rumors that Mr. Edgerton's close friendship with then Florida Governor Leroy Collins had a lot to do with the re-routing. Mr. Edgerton at the time was Chairman of the Florida Hotel and Restaurant Commission.
In more modern times, many people believe that the fictional Florida town of Fort Repose in the 1959 novel Alas Babylon was actually based on Mount Dora, Florida.
Its author, Pat Frank , lived in nearby Tangerine when he wrote the book.
The history of Mount Dora took a strange twist not long after "Alas Babylon" was making the best seller lists. A group of prominent Mount Dora citizens apparently built an underground bomb shelter in the neighborhood west of Lake Gertrude on Morningside Drive. Locals nicknamed it "The Catacombs".
It was reportedly a 5,000 square foot structure built behind an existing house. The shelter had its own kitchen, rec room, medical clinic, sewage system, air conditioning and water filtration system. It was designed to house 100 people and keep them fed and alive and safe for six months.
About 25 families financed the structure, paying about $2,000 each. The cover story was that all of the construction activity was for a tennis court or croquet court.
There are many Mount Dora locals that know where The Catacombs is located, but it is one of Mount Dora's best kept secrets.
Locals don't want the quiet Morningside neighborhood to become a tourist attraction.