The History of Apopka and Mount Dora

A brief history

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Nestled between eclectic and artsy Mt. Dora in Lake County (to the north) and bustling Ocoee to the South, the City of Apopka is part rural and part suburb.  On one street you might see horses, cows, or citrus groves and on another you will see suburban developments that are an oasis from the hot Florida sun. 

Taking it's name from a Seminole Village on lake "Ahapopka" during the 19th century.  The Seminole Village on Lake Ahapopka was ruled by Coacoochee 'Wild Cat' (Chief of about 200 Indians) and he was one of the most famous and influential war chiefs of the time.  During the Second Seminole War in the mid 1830's the area was vacated and Coacoochee and his people took refuge in the swamps of the St. Johns River. 

The Armed Occupation Act of 1842 brought white settlers to the Apopka area.  And, in the 1850's a group of Masons' built Orange Lodge #36 and henceforth the area was known as 'The Lodge.'  The Masons' lodge became the center of town, and it became an important trading center in the 1850's.  You can still see The Lodge Building on it's original site at Alabama Ave. and Highway 441. 


Soon after incorporating as Apopka City in 1882, it was still an important hub of commerce, and became known as 'The Fern City' and later adopted 'The Indoor Foliage Capital of the World' as it's moniker.

Today it is one of the fastest growing cities in Orange County, and it's home base for more than 45,000 people. 

A brief History

The City of Mount Dora has a fascinating history. And today it is the local Mecca for Events and Festivals, shopping, dining ambience, water sports, and outdoor activities.

We always enjoy a night out in Mount Dora.  And, you will too.

Local legend suggests that The large, beautiful lake upon which the city grew is named for Ms. Dora Ann Drawdy (1819-1885), who homesteaded in the mid-1800s and befriended federal surveyors with her warm hospitality.

In 1846, the surveyors named Lake Dora for her, and years later, in 1883, the small but growing town was named for the lake. Today, Ms. Drawdy is buried in Umatilla.

More settlers came to the area after Ms. Drawdy, including Mr. Ross C. Tremain and Capt. John Philip Donnelly, and each proved crucial to the growing settlement’s vitality. 

Tremain became the town’s first official postmaster in 1880. The town was known as Royellou at the time, unofficially named for Tremain’s three children, Roy, Ella, and Louis. 

Three years later, the town’s name was officially changed to Mount Dora to reflect the fact that the settlement rests upon a plateau 184 feet above sea level – an unusual feature in Florida.

The city of Mount Dora has a total area of 5.8 miles. Overlooking lakes Dora, Gertrude, and Beauclair it is situated 184 (56m) above sea level. Be sure and get a "I scaled Mount Dora" T Shirt when you visit.

John P. Donnelly, a native of Pittsburgh, came to Mount Dora in 1879. In 1881, he married Annie McDonald Stone, a prominent landholder in the community. 

Successful in a number of real estate and business ventures, Donnelly built this imposing Queen Anne style house in 1893.  He was among the founders of the local yacht club, and served as Mount Dora's first Mayor in 1910.  Donnelly’s home, a Queen Anne-style structure, was originally built in 1893 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

In 1882 several leading citizens, John Alexander, John and Annie Donnelly and Colonel John McDonald, feeling Mount Dora needed a hotel in order to attract visitors and facilitate the growth of the community, formed a partnership for the purpose of building such a facility.

In 1883 the partners opened the new, two-story, ten-room hotel and named it the Alexander House, a simple design with a large veranda and constructed with termite resistant Georgia pine.

A popular winter retreat for hunters, fishermen, and boaters,  The Alexander House was renamed The Lake House in 1893, and in 1903, The Lake House was renamed Lakeside Inn and remains in operation today. Visitors included Presidents Coolidge and Eisenhower, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford. 

In 1887, the arrival of the railroad stimulated the local economy and carried tourists and freight. 

Tremain opened the first orange-packing house in 1891, although surrounding groves were destroyed by the great freezes of 1894 and ‘95. Also during the 1890s, fertilizer factories were established as well as a cannery. 

In 1910, the town was granted a charter with Capt. John Philip Donnelly as its first mayor. With 371 residents, Mount Dora boasted two general stores, a hardware store, a drugstore, two churches, and a town hall. The Mount Dora Voice became the town’s first newspaper. 

Boom Years 
The early 1920s marked a significant boom in residential growth and business development, and Mount Dora began the transformation from a country town into a city. 

During this time, Mount Dora began investing in its public infrastructure. Streetlights, a water system, curbs, and paved roads were installed. The town’s first two public parks, Gilbert Park and Donnelly Park, were created after landowners Earl Gilbert and J. P. Donnelly donated prime pieces of land downtown and along Lake Dora’s shore. 

Mount Dora is now home to more than 13,000. The city retains the flavor of a small town with many historic buildings and its large canopy oak trees, and is known for its variety of antique and specialty shops and numerous special events throughout the year. 

Eight major annual events draw thousands of visitors: 
  • Annual Christmas lighting festival
  • Bicycle festival
  • Antique Spring Show
  • Crafts fair                   
  • Mount Dora Arts Festival
  • Sailing regatta

An interesting trivia fact: The 1981 film “Honky Tonk Freeway” was filmed in Mount Dora, and many Mount Dora buildings were temporarily painted pink for the film’s set. 

Today, Mount Dora is a still-growing city with a flair for the arts, and the city remains a popular tourist destination.