A 100 Year Old Village in Mt.Dora Makes the Perfect Day Trip for Antique Fanciers
My hidden gem
I have always viewed antiques as a looking glass into times that have long since passed. Objects that may seem relatively unimportant to others can hold a lot of unseen meaning in them, which is part of the allure of antiques. Through my search for more places to gather antiques from, I came across the small city of Mt. Dora, located in central Florida.
The beginnings of the village
I enjoy antiques dearly, so it is always essential for me to understand the history and origins of new topics, such as learning about this town for the first time.
Mt. Dora, Florida, is a city that one could consider a gem in the rough. Roughly 35 miles outside of Orlando, it is the perfect destination for people looking for a stop on a road trip or interested in antiques. However, Mt. Dora's beginnings are humble. The area settled during the mid-1800s, and at the later end of the century, it and the adjacent lake named after one of the earlier settlers: Dora Ann Drawdy.
It wouldn't be until the 1920s before the small town saw noticeable growth. The location of the city made it a prime location for boaters, anglers, and hunters. Many buildings and features from this time still stand today, such as the Alexander House and the Donnelly House.
The antique center on the outskirts
One aspect of this village that piqued my interest has been their open-air bazaar of antique vendors. The Renninger's Antique Center on the outskirts of Mount Dora is home to over 180 antique vendors selling their collection of items that they have amassed through their lives and antiquing careers.
This 100+ acre market is home to not only the antique center but also a weekend farmer's market, a consignment area, and a "Street of Shops." The farmer's market also doubles as a flea market, meaning that there will also be the chance of finding more antiques in addition to fresh produce from local farmers. The consignment area, located inside the antique center, displays specifically delicate antiques and other collectibles to browse. And finally, the Street of Shops is located just outside of the antique center. These buildings are smaller and separated on a decorated path but are home to their collections of antiques to peruse.
As I walk through the dedicated and decorated booths of the vendors at this market, it never fails to amaze me with the variety of offered antiques. Different vendors, naturally, will have different focuses for their shops. Some vendors I pass by direct their focus on jewelry, crystal, and glassware, appealing to the timeless nature of these treasures. Other vendors proudly show off items that have been in their families for generations, excited to tell passing shoppers about the history and memories those items hold. One booth may hold antiques that are loved and have seen well past their prime, while the next booth may have carefully cleaned, restored, and protected antiques that look as if they were fresh from creation.
Downtown Dora's antique experience
For reasons that I quickly found out, this village is known as the "Antique Capital of Florida." In addition to the large, sprawling open market on the outskirts of town, the city's downtown district holds many antiques to be enjoyed by young and old alike. One of the first things I noticed about this part of the city was how the buildings lining the streets kept their more aged appearance, making everything feel anachronistic.
On the days that I don't travel out to the Antique Center and want to stay close to the city's heart, I tend to drift toward the Village Antique Mall. Without over 100 acres of land to sprawl across, this antique mall is a fair bit smaller than the previous one, but it still holds just as much charm. Across the 60 vendors at this mall, I have found items ranging from furniture to clocks bordering on 150 years of age to books on countless subjects.
Historical places of note in downtown
While walking downtown, I find that there is more to look at than shop windows. This busy portion of the city is home to its oldest attractions: the railroad depot, the Lakeside Inn, and the Donnelly House. The railroad depot dates to the first arrival of railroads in 1887, leading to an influx of tourists and freight and allowing the young town to flourish. Today, that depot holds the visitor's center and the Chamber of Commerce, with the bulk of the depot utilized as a banquet facility.
Both the Donnelly House and the Alexander House take my interest when I spend time in Mount Dora, Florida. The Alexander House is known as the Lakeside Inn today, as it went through a complete renovation in 2011 to become an icon of the town. This hotel has a lively history, from being a popular destination for snake hunts to being improved upon and visited by U.S. Presidents. The Donnelly House stands out against the historical backdrop of buildings with its iconic Queen Anne-style architecture. It was built as a gift to John P. Donnelly's wife in 1893, before becoming the town's first mayor just short of 20 years later.
Anytime I plan a trip near Orlando, I try and make time to stop by this historical footprint in Mount Dora. If not for the enjoyable atmosphere, for the prospect of finding new antiques that I can add to my collection.