Lakeside Inn at Mount Dora, Florida
The Lakeside Inn is a 132-year old property in the historic town of Mount Dora, Florida. It was first built as a ten-room two-story wooden structure called the Alexander House by John Alexander, Annie Donnelly and her husband John P. Donnelly and Colonel John A. McDonald.
The first guests of the Alexander House were intrepid sports enthusiasts who arrived by a series of long boat trips from the cold north. For the most adventurous of the guests, snake hunts were organized, but most guests were content with the superb lake fishing. The ladies, attired in the long dresses of the day's fashion, enjoyed picnics with fresh orange juice, considered a delicacy at the time.
In 1893, the Inn was sold to Miss Emma Boone who changed its name to Lake House. Charles Edgerton, who would soon have a major influence on the Inn's growth, visited Mount Dora with his family from Philadelphia every year. They fell in love with Lake House and its new wrap-around verandah, everyone's favorite meeting spot, where guests relaxed "on tilted chairs and puffed their cigars." Eventually the railroad brought the Edgertons and other visitors right to the Inn's back door. In 1903, Lake House was named Lakeside Inn by Emma Boone and her new husband George D. Thayer.
During the 1920s, the Gatsby Era was in full swing and Lakeside Inn enjoyed its heyday despite Prohibition. A trap door at the base of the lobby's reception desk stirs speculation of the Inn's past as a speak-easy. Lake Dora's reputation as a boating mecca was no secret and drew many anglers and boaters from points north. The current annual sailing regatta and antique boat show are testament to the town's boating tradition.
In 1924, Charles Edgerton bought Lakeside Inn and remained its owner for the next 55 years. He and his partners built an Olympic-sized swimming pool and two new guest house buildings named The Gables and The Terrace. In 1930, President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the new buildings during his month of post-retirement relaxation at Lakeside Inn with his wife. The Edgertons entertained businessmen and politicians such as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Calvin Coolidge and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Charles' son Richard eventually took over ownership and the family continued to contribute both to the growth of the city and its anchor, Lakeside Inn.
After Richard Edgerton's retirement, rumors swirled that Lakeside Inn would be demolished. He came to its defense saying, "Mount Dora desperately needs the Inn to be open. It performed a vital function in bringing families of substance to live here and helped form Mount Dora's present quality of life." Lakeside Inn dodged the wrecking ball to survive as one of Florida's few historic wooden hotels and as the heart of its community. Here is Florida at its roots, a place where play and relaxation never went out of style.
The central Florida town of Mount Dora was settled in 1874 by David M. Simpson, his wife and two children. In 1880, it was named "Royellou" by the postmaster, Ross Tremain, after his children Roy, Ella and Louis. Later the community was renamed "Mount Dora." It took the name of 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, 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. Box and fertilizer factories were established, as well as a cannery.
The John P. Donnelly House, a Queen Anne-style landmark built in Mount Dora in 1893, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. In 1898, Witherspoon Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons was founded in Mount Dora, and is one of the oldest still active African-American Masonic Lodges in Florida. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1926, the Milner-Rosenwald Academy was built at 1560 Highland Street. It is named after Julius Rosenwald, Chicago (1862-1932), President of Sears and Roebuck. He befriended Booker T. Washington who made him aware of the deplorable conditions of black schools in the South. Rosenwald contributed money to over 5000 schools in eleven southern states including Mount Dora's Milner-Rosenwald Academy. A substantial amount of money was contributed by a retired Mount Dora Presbyterian Minister, Rev. Duncan C. Milner (1841-1928). A committed foe of racial discrimination, Milner was a Civil War veteran who fought in the Battle of Chickamauga. The town today is noted for its crafts and antique shops, historical buildings, and beautiful scenery.
The Lakeside Inn, listed on the National Historic Register, is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Florida. Mount Dora is the Antique Capital of Florida, where the Renniger's Twin Markets draw thousands to their Antique Mall and Flea Market, along with downtown Art Shows, Craft Fairs, Music Festivals, Theatre, Classic Wooden Boat Shows, Sailing Regattas, Holiday Lighting Ceremonies and Parades.
*excerpted from my book "Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi"