Day Trippin’: Mount Dora – Someplace Special

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Mount Dora: It’s one of those charming towns in Florida you can’t help but visit time and again. With a historic downtown, plenty of activities on the lake and numerous festivals throughout the year, there is something for just about everyone. Visitors see it as a destination, a place on the map to experience, but for those who live in Mount Dora or even in neighboring communities, the city is something special.

From the historic buildings to the quaint little shops, there is plenty to see in every direction.

Firehouse and Old City Jail

The firehouse was built in 1923 and included a siren on the roof that sounded when there was a fire and every day at noon. Five jail cells and a bathroom were added to the back of the firehouse to accommodate the locals who found themselves in need of “care” during Prohibition.

More cells were added to the front once the new firehouse was built in 1941. The firehouse continued as the jail until 1969. Now housing the Mount Dora History Museum, it is open from 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

The Train Depot

Built in 1915, the depot initially operated two trains a day, but, in 1922, that increased to four trains a day, including mail, freight and passenger trains. After 35 years, train service to Mount Dora was discontinued in 1950. The Chamber of Commerce occupies the old station and offers banquet and special-event space.

Donnelly House

Located at 535 N. Donnelly St., this Victorian charmer was built in 1893 by John P. Donnelly as a gift for his wife, Annie. The yellow and white house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 for its architectural and historical significance. It now serves as a Masonic Temple.

Lakeside Inn

The Lakeside Inn is one of the most historically significant buildings in Mount Dora, as it is one of only five Florida lodges named a Historic Hotel of America by the Trust for Historic Preservation. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built between 1882 and 1883 as the Alexander House, Lakeside Inn was only open in the winter and was comprised of two stories with 10 rooms.

In the 1920s and ‘30s, the inn was the site of most of the social functions of the town, including a visit by President Calvin Coolidge in 1930. After numerous ownership and name changes and a multi-million-dollar restoration, Lakeside Inn now houses 87 rooms and is considered a full-service luxury hotel with great views of Lake Dora.

Mount Dora Lighthouse

Photos courtesy of Doris Keeler

A trip to Mount Dora isn’t complete without a visit to the lighthouse on Grantham Point. Don’t go expecting to climb another Florida lighthouse, though. The red-and-white-striped Mount Dora Lighthouse is only 35 feet tall and is the only inland, freshwater lighthouse in the state. It uses a 750-watt photocell to power a blue pulsator to guide boaters into the Port of Mount Dora after dusk.

Shops and Restaurants

Specialty shops and boutiques line the streets of Downtown Mount Dora, each one with its own unique flair — you could spend a day just walking in and out of the shops.  According to the Mount Dora Chamber of Commerce, there are 25 restaurants and cafés in Mount Dora.

Getting Around Town

Walking is the best way to get around town. It’s made easier with an ample amount of free parking available. For the more adventurous, Segway tours are available. These one-hour tours take you along the waterfront, around to the lighthouse, through Palm Island Park and then through some of the area’s historic neighborhoods.

Mount Dora is located 45 minutes northwest of Downtown Orlando and is easily accessible from U.S.  441. Whether you are browsing for antiques, shopping in the quaint little stores or taking in some of the historic locations, take your time, take it all in, and plan your next visit because Mount Dora is truly someplace special.

About the Writer

Doris Keeler is a freelance writer and blogger from Orlando who travels the state on weekends searching for people and places that represent “old Florida.” If you’re looking for things to do or just want to see some of the unique things around the Sunshine State, visit her blog at

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