Florida Guide > Miscellaneous
A HISTORY OF MOUNT DORA
On a recent visit to our beautiful villa in Orlando we discovered a new and interesting place which is off the beaten track. Mount Dora is a fascinating and historical town just north of Apopka. It was founded in the late 19th century, when it was settled in 1874 by David M Simpson and his wife and 2 children. Ross Tremain became its first postmaster, and the town was named ‘Royellou’ after his three children, Roy, Ella and Louis.
Many stories surround the naming of the town, but tradition says that in 1883 Lake Dora was named after a lady called Dora Ann Drawdy, who settled there with her husband, James Drawdy, two miles south of the town. The town grew up round this beautiful lake, and Dora Drawdy welcomed the government surveying party who were given permission to camp on the homestead. They were made so welcome that they later named the town for her, in appreciation of her courteous treatment of them. Dora and her husband, Jim, came from Irwin, GA, with their three small children, Daniel, Martha and Mary Ann. It is believed that her husband took part in the Civil War and died in Richmond VA, although not all historians agree on this. It is said that she then abandoned her home and moved to Seneca, where she married William Jackson Drawdy, a cousin of her first husband, with whom she had several more children. Whatever the truth of the matter, it is a good story. Mount Dora is actually built on a plateau 184 ft above sea-level, which is quite unusual in the mainly flat Florida.
The town continued to develop, and a two storey hotel, with just 10 rooms, called The Alexander House was opened in 1883. The town began to thrive, and with the arrival of the railroad in 1887 the economy grew rapidly, as tourists and freight were carried to and from the town. It became a busy port for the export of citrus fruit, which was loaded, in crates, onto boats waiting on Lake Dora. From here the fruit was transported via the Dora Canal along the St John’s River, and across to the eastern coast. The first orange packing house was built in 1891 by R C Tremain and Son, and box and fertilizer factories and a cannery were also established. Unfortunately, the orange groves were destroyed by the great freezes of 1894 and 1895.
In 1895 the Alexander House hotel was renamed the Lake House, and it was to be visited by numerous famous people, including President Dwight D Eisenhower and President Calvin Coolidge, as well as Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Mount Dora became a popular winter retreat which attracted those who wanted to hunt and fish, or who simply liked to boat. The town was granted a charter in 1910 when Capt John Philip Donnelly became its first mayor. There were but 371 residents, and the town boasted a hardware store, a drugstore, two general stores, two churches, a town hall and a newspaper the Mounht Dora Voice. By the early 1920s both residential and business properties had begun to develop, and during this time paved roads with curbs, street lighting and a water system were installed. Earl Gilbert and J P Donnelly donated two prime pieces of land which became two parks, one along the lake shore and one in the town itself. Capt Donnelly built himself a beautiful Queen Anne style house, which is now known as the John P Donnelly House, and which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
Mount Dora has established itself in recent years as a thriving little town with numerous shops selling antiques, handicrafts and collectibles. There is much to see and do, including trips on the lake to see the wildlife. The town is also full of restaurants which cater for all tastes. It found fame in 1981 when it was the location for the film ‘Honky Tonk Freeway. ’ It is peaceful and charming, and certainly a place with much to offer, so if you get the chance to visit it then take a drive up to this delightful town.
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