Finally, she has been given the recognition she deserves. Sydonie Mansion, located just a few miles southeast of Mount Dora, was finally listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Sydonie, believed built in 1885, has been designated the oldest mansion in Florida which paves the way for grant opportunities to help fund costly renovations.
Inspired by the famous Alhambra Castle in Spain, she is a jaw-dropping Mediterranean Revival estate featuring thirteen bedrooms and ten bathrooms in the main house alone. The architecture, craftsmanship and lakefront setting are an unexpected marvel nestled on one of the most captivating pieces of property in Central Florida. Her rich history shows like fine lines on the face of a classic beauty.
Originally built on 600 acres as a hunting camp by wealthy Pittsburgh steal magnate, James Laughlin, Sydonie was remodeled in 1904 by renowned architect Grosvenor Atterbury. This was the same architect that designed John D. Rockefeller's estate in Maine, remodeled New York's City Hall, as well as worked for the firm that remodeled the East and West Wings of the White House.
The mansion's thirteen fireplaces are spread the over 22,000 square-foot main house and its guest's quarters. Completely self-contained, the sprawling estate required 49 gardeners, plus maids, butlers, carpenters and other workers to maintain the mansion, boat house, windmill and barns, as well as the citrus groves, dairy and poultry farms. In 1904, it reportedly cost $80,000 in annual maintenance.
Speers sold Sydonie in 1943 to Dr. Du Bose who started Hampden DuBose Academy, a conservative Christian boarding school. Classes were held in the large barn out-building and it was then that the mansion was renamed Ewell Hall and re-purposed as the girls' dormitory. After the school transitioned from a boarding school to a day school in 1980, the mansion remained under utilized for several years.
Over the time, the 600 acre-compound was parceled off. In 1997, Sydonie and its surrounding 12 acres became the private residence of Dick and Carla Durante. The couple, a carpenter and an interior designer, set out to restore the mansion and save it from its certain demise.
Fast forward to 2014, when history and architecture aficionado, Amy Frogley and her husband Clark purchased the grand estate to complete its restoration and share it with the public.
The century-old, Sydonie Mansion, has had its share of starts and stops in the arduous process of restoration for almost 20 years. Today, the impressive historic estate is well on her way to a rebirth. The Frogleys are passionate about preserving the landmark's architecture and history.
The couple purchased the mansion in 2014 with the goal to complete the restoration and host weddings on the sprawling, oak-filled grounds. Eventually guided tours will also be available to help fund the Sydonie's continual restoration and maintenance.
The twelve-acre grounds are arguably some of the most stunning real estate in Central Florida. The Spanish Court at the center of the mansion, bears a strong resemblance to one of Alhambra's courtyards, which was the castle that inspired Sydonie's design. The courtyard boasts a long koi pond, flower gardens and a romantic whispering wall.
Then there is the boathouse. Descending through the lush tropical garden to the steps of the boathouse, visitors feel like they are either in Bali, Hawaii or Florida. Once inside, the rustic Mediterannean building almost transports its occupants to Italy's Lake Cuomo.
Sydonie was designed with an extraordinary balance of glamour and warmth. Although much of the ironwork and lighting are museum-worthy, Amy's favorite indoor spaces are the understated butler's pantry and staircase.
"These are some abnormally cozy spaces in the mansion," said Amy. "This staircase, still sports the original wood worn down from years by those that labored there."
"The Butler's Pantry cupboards smell like home to me and I love thinking of the massive amounts of work that took place in this area to get ready for an event back in the day," continued Amy
Sydonie's original antiques survived in the mansion until about 1995 when they were sold in an auction. "Barbra Streisand purchased the urns from the front porch and the andirons from the living room fireplace, " said Amy adding that she believes the bulk of the furnishings were sold to local residents.
The couple was forced to re-prioritize and adjust schedules after discovering the expense of various county fees and the recent unexpected expense of moving the septic tank found on the neighbor's property.
For more photos of Sydonie, click here.
To read the history of the mansion, click here.
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