Visitors to Mount Dora’s Lakeside Inn relax in rocking chairs on the hotel’s 200 foot long veranda, enjoying warm Florida breezes.
People have been doing this since 1883.
“This hotel had been solidly operating for almost 20 years before Walt Disney was even born,” says Lakeside Inn’s current owner, Jim Gunderson.
Originally called the Alexander House, Lakeside Inn was built by Civil War veteran James Alexander and his business partners John Donnelly and John MacDonald. At the start of Florida’s tourism industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s, many hotels and inns were built throughout the state, but Lakeside Inn is one of just a few that have survived from that era.
At first, it wasn’t easy for tourists to get to the hotel.
“The typical way for northerners to come down would be either by train or ship to Jacksonville,” says Gunderson. “Then by lake steamer down the St. Johns River, eventually making their way through the Harris Chain of Lakes, through the Dora Canal, and here into Lake Dora. The trip from New York would take approximately a week, so they were a hearty group of tourists back in the day.”
By 1887, a railroad depot was constructed next to the hotel, bringing northern tourists within walking distance of the inn’s front door. This shortened travel time from New York to Mount Dora by several days.
In 1893, Alexander, Donnelly, and MacDonald sold the Alexander House to Emma Boone, who changed the name of the inn to Lake House. In 1903, Boone married George Thayer, and together they greatly expanded the facility into the group of buildings now known as Lakeside Inn.
Mr. and Mrs. Thayer doubled the size of the inn’s main building. They built the Gate House and the Sunset Cottage, adding larger rooms and suites. Under the Thayer’s management, the hotel thrived. During this period, the hotel was only open in the winter months, typically from December to April.
“For a number of years, the New York Chautauqua set up a winter experience down in the Mount Dora area,” says Gunderson. “In the month of March it brought in literally thousands of guests that would come down for a couple of weeks of education, knowledge building, and lectures. So things were hopping in this part of Florida tourism wise.”
The Edgerton family owned Lakeside Inn from 1924 to 1980. The hotel continued to be successful even as nearby competitors went out of business, burned down, or were torn down to make way for new development.
“As the coasts of Florida started to open up following the ‘Roaring 20s,’ it pulled a lot of tourism away from this area, but the inn continued to do well because people still had a love of Mount Dora,” Gunderson says.
President Calvin Coolidge was one of the people who enjoyed extended stays at Lakeside Inn. Following the end of his presidency in 1929, Coolidge and his wife spent a month at the hotel.
“It allowed Coolidge to just simply sit back in a rocking chair on the veranda as people do today, and just enjoy warm weather and perhaps meditative thought on life,” says Gunderson. “This was a very good place for him to be and he wrote very fondly of it in his memoirs and diaries.”
Photographs of Lakeside Inn through the decades are displayed on the lobby walls. Today, the hotel looks much as it did in the early twentieth century.
Maintaining an historic property is an ongoing effort that is never completely finished. Most days Gunderson’s wife Alexandra can be found working in the gardens around the grounds while he oversees various renovations. Both of the Gundersons are dedicated to restoring and maintaining the historic Lakeside Inn.
Lakeside Inn is the anchor of Mount Dora’s historic district which has many buildings from the early twentieth century now functioning as restaurants, bars, and specialty stores.
While the state of Florida is mostly flat, the gently rolling hills around Lakeside Inn are 184 feet above sea level, technically qualifying the town as a “mount.” Visitors who walk around the property of Lakeside Inn can boast that they have “climbed” Mount Dora.
Dr. Ben Brotemarkle is executive director of the Florida Historical Society and host of the radio program “Florida Frontiers,” broadcast locally on 90.7 WMFE Thursday evenings at 6:30 and Sunday afternoons at 4:00, and on 89.5 WFIT Sunday mornings at 7:00. The show can be heard online at myfloridahistory.org.