Above: Josephine "Jo" Houck with a copy of the novel "No Average Jo"."
(Special contribution to Mount Dora Buzz) Local author Marc Crail has recently made a splash with his latest novel titled, “No Average Jo.” The fictional lead character, Josephine, is loosely based on Crail’s ninety-nine year old mother-in-law, Jo Houck, whom he referred to as a tour de force, unforgettable, and truly one in a million.
Born in tiny Fayetteville, West Virginia, in 1924, Houck “never in a million years” dreamed she would be the inspiration for a hero in a novel. She grew up during the Great Depression when there were very few options available for girls. Through unwavering grit and stubborn determination, Houck, now a Florida resident, flourished by breaking barriers along the way. The grounded mother of six children also became an airplane pilot while in her thirties and flew private aircraft for decades. In the book, the fictional character became a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) during World War II, and ferried B-17 bombers from the western U.S. to the east coast to be loaded onto ships for use in Europe. In reality, a good flying friend of Houck, Jean Adams, was a real WASP and shared stories with Crail that he attributed to Jo in his fictional novel. Having endured the depression and a world war, as well as turbulent times including the women’s movement, the struggle for civil rights, the Vietnam War, and the current politically divisive times, Houck recalls the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis as being the scariest period in her memory. By contrast, her favorite time in life was when her house was full of kids and a hive of activity. Although she hated to see her kids leave, watching her children grow up, succeed, and have grandchildren and great grandchildren is her most treasured accomplishment, according to Crail, who is also Mount Dora’s Vice Mayor. Of her life well lived, Houck has few regrets, but wishes she took the opportunity to learn more German when she and her Army-physician husband were stationed in Germany following World War II. A book signing of “No Average Jo” with Crail will be held in downtown Mount Dora on Saturday, December 9 from 1:00 to 3 p.m at Barrel of Books and Games at N. Donnelly Street.
Mount Dora Plant & Garden Fair in Donnelly Park (Mount Dora Buzz file photo)
Gardeners and green thumbs will descend upon Mount Dora for the 29th annual Mount Dora Plant and Garden Fair on November 4 and 5.
The outdoor event is held under the tree canopy at Donnelly Park in the heart of the city’s historic downtown.
The free festival features native and exotic plants from nurseries across Florida, as well as vendors selling garden decor and nature-inspired gifts. Gardeners can expect to find blooming orchids, flowering shrubs, fruit trees and camellias, as well as succulents, bamboo, bromeliads, herbs, bonzai and other specialty plant vendors. There will also be vintage garden items and statuary for sale to enhance outdoor spaces. Experts will be on hand to offer advice on plant care and gardening-related topics.
For those seeking priceless treasure or others just curious about the oddities, Mount Dora’s Antique Extravaganza never disappoints. Once again, the city will be home to Central Florida's massive and eclectic shopping experience this month at Renningers Antique Center. The sprawling indoor and outdoor venue hosts the event, regarded as the mother lode of vintage and antique shopping, three times a year among picturesque hills under majestic oaks. Make no mistake. There is antique shopping and then there is shopping the “Extravo.” That’s the term seasoned buyers and “pickers” use for the event that boasts nearly 800 dealers during its three-day run spread on a scenic portion of a 130-acre property on the eastern edge of the city.
Dealers from across the U.S. descend on Mount Dora to offer an endless variety of vintage finds and fine antiques at every price. Eager collectors, decorators and vintage shoppers from across Florida show up in droves to uncover treasures, find the best deals and practice their haggling. Extravos only happen the third Friday, Saturday and Sunday of November, January and February. Loyal shoppers and the curious can roam the hills from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday admission costs more, but eager shoppers get first dibs on hard-to-find treasures. Sunday shoppers get better bargains, but some vendors do pack up early.
A frightful October awaits visitors who dare set foot on one seriously spooky Tavares farm. Far Reach Ranch, a usually peaceful family farm,has been successfully transformed into an exceptionally ghoulish seasonal experience rightfully dubbed Far Reach Scream Park. Instead of the ripe u-pick blueberries that typically draw droves of visitors to the former cattle ranch, the sprawling farm venue has become an eerie destination with three haunted attractions where monsters and ghouls delight in heart-stopping antics.
The farm’s three intensely haunted attractions, Bloodline Barn, Grimoire Manor, and Chainsaw Chase, challenge even guests with nerves of steel not to scream in terror. Guests who enjoy a little less intensity can partake in devilish competition, like ax throwing and old-school carnival games, at Dr. Deviant’s Game Emporium. There are also family-friendly yard games like cornhole, giant Jenga, ring toss, plus an area for creating smores.
The Pitchfork Parlor and Bar serves up special ghoulish drinks, craft beer, and wine with ample tables for listening to the Halloween-themed rock band, The DIsmembered. A food truck is on-site dishing out American classics available for purchase.
“This is my favorite event of the year,” reveals Brennan Hamill, Director of Operations and Business Development for Far Reach Ranch Farm. “We really turn it out for Halloween and create a spectacularly spooky experience chock-full of creepy characters. Our haunted houses will give you a great scare, but we balance it out with tons of fun! This year, we have three new haunted houses, plus games, activities for kids, live music, food, drinks, and a full bar,”
Fear Reach Scream Park is open Fridays and Saturdays through November 4th and Halloween, Tuesday, October 31, from 7 p.m. to midnight. The attractions open at dark, and lines close at 11:30 p.m. General admission starts at $25 and increases later in the season. Speed Pass tickets, which allow guests to skip the lines, start at $35 per person, including admission, and also increase throughout the season. Tickets must be purchased online and in advance.
As fall temperatures slowly return, so does one of Central Florida's biggest events. The streets of downtown Mount Dora transform into a sprawling craft fair on October 28 and 29 with hundreds of crafters from across the country. The Mount Dora Craft Fair is a nationally ranked craft fair and features an eclectic mix of handmade items ranging from jewelry, photography and textiles to paintings, leather goods and woodwork. The two-day event has previously attracted approximately 100,000 visitors, according to its organizers.
RELATED: Best local Fall events & festivals Crafts aren’t all there will be in downtown Mount Dora that weekend. Its many unique stores and seemingly endless restaurants are also open during the craft fair’s hours to accommodate shoppers and diners.
The festival runs Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Parking restrictions begin downtown in the late afternoon on Friday to allow for the craft vendors to set up. Street parking during the festival is limited, so as visitors drive into Mount Dora, they are encouraged to look for signs for park-and-ride shuttles located near the different entry points into the city. There are also private parking lots with paid parking available closer to the event. For more news and events in Mount Dora, Tavares & Eustis, visit the area's websiteand download the area's free mobile app. Be sure to followMount Dora Buzz's Instagram and Facebook page for more local info.
Don’t look for changing leaves to signal the start of the fall season in sunny Central Florida. However, every year there is one reminder that a cooler time of year is approaching evergreen Mount Dora.
The big tell is the annual Fall in the Field outdoor event at Renningers Antique Center. The two-day event blends an exotic heirloom pumpkin patch with plenty of primitive fall decor and a large dose of vintage shopping. This year the event is October 7 and 8 and celebrates its 12th anniversary.
In addition to the shopping experience, the weekend also features make–and–take crafts for kids at the complimentary craft tent. Fall in the Field runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m on both days, rain or shine. Admission and parking are free.
Every year the City of Tavares ushers in the season with a splash. RocktoberFest and the Monster Seaplane Fly-in feature family friendly activities, live rock music concerts, seaplane competitions, and food and merchandise vendors in lakefront Wooton Park.
The all-day event kicks off with the Monster Splash Seaplane Fly-In beginning at 11:00 a.m. Seaplanes fly in from across Florida to participate in the flying competitions, like the crowd-favorite “Pumpkin Drop” contest. While the pilots are competing, pumpkin decorating kits will be given to the first 200 kids at the Pilot Registration Tent. Spectators can meet the pilots from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. and get photos with their planes.
Following the seaplane contests, RocktoberFest continues with a performance by multi-genre band, Hypersona. The Ries Brothers, a duo from St Petersburg, follow and bring their soulful-sophisticated sound to the stage. The Grammy-nominated headlining band SIster Hazel will be the final concert of the night. Admission is free, but seating is limited, so guests are encouraged to bring a chair or blanket. The event begins at 11 a.m. and ends at 10 p.m. Free parking is available on the street and at the nearby parking garage located at 200 N. Sinclair Avenue in downtown Tavares.
Feeling adventurous? Get lost and then find your way out of the annual corn maze just south of Mount Dora. The 20th annual Corn Maze Adventure at Long & Scott Farm returns September 30 through November 26. Located approximately seven miles southwest of Mount Dora, the seasonal attraction reportedly brings an estimated 1500-2000 weekend visitors.
Guests that dare can enter the 6.5 acre corn maze and attempt to find their way out of the tall and twisting corn field that's designed in a “Space Exploration” theme this year.
Features include the Orion Space Capsule, stars, Saturn and the moon. If that’s not enough of a challenge, visitors can opt to tackle the maze at night. Whether day or night, there’s no need to panic. It's friendly fun, so before an anxiety attack kicks in, participants can raise a flag to surrender and be promptly rescued.There is also a half-acre mini-maze for smaller guests that celebrates the venue’s 60 years of farming. The two mazes have lots of paths and plenty of room. Employees inside the maze and on a bridge monitor and help guests navigate the rows of corn. Visitors are asked to divide into groups of four to six people, with an adult in each group, and then enter the maze with a rescue flag and a game sheet.
The popular weekend attraction also includes a lot of fun outdoor activities for kids, including an oversized jumping pillow, 60-foot super slide,kids' zip line, a mist maze, plus catch-and-release fishing. Food vendors are onsite, as well as a country market and cafe.
This year there will be four night mazes from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on select Saturday nights including Latin Night on October 14, Country Night on October 21, Family Friendly Halloween on October 28, and Glow Night on November 4.
Scott's Maze Adventure is open onSaturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. between September 30 and November 26. Visitors should get there early to avoid long lines. Latest entry is 3 p.m. The farm is located at 26216 County Road 448A, Mount Dora. Tickets are $15 online for guests ages 4 years and older.
The festive tradition continues as the East Lake County Chamber of Commerce kicks off the season with the opening of its 15th annual Pumpkin Patch on September 30.
Families can find their perfect pumpkins among thousands of the gourds of all sizes and many different varieties. There will also be family photo opportunities, Mount Dora High School Future Farmers of America Pumpkin Train, and other fun family activities.
On October 12, the pumpkin patch will host a free community screening of the Halloween classic movie, “The Addams Family,” on the big screen in the Chamber’s backyard. Refreshments will be available for purchase from Mount Dora High School Future Farmers of America. Bring your blankets, lawn chairs, friends, and family. Showtime is approximately 7:00 p.m.
The pumpkin patch is located at 24214 Sorrento Avenue (formerly SR 46) and will remain open through October 31. The hours are Monday through Friday 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. There is no fee to enjoy the patch, and pumpkin prices begin at $1.
East Lake County Chamber of Commerce is proud to bring the Pumpkin Patch to Sorrento for the sixteenth consecutive year. From its inception, this Pumpkin Patch has supported numerous local community organizations, who help staff the Patch in exchange for a share of the proceeds. These organizations have included Mount Plymouth Landowners League, East Lake Historical Society, Sorrento Girl Scout Troop #923, and Mount Dora High School Future Farmers of America, among others.
She is stunning as she sits perched on one of the most captivating pieces of property in Central Florida. Built in 1885, the Sydonie Mansion’s rich history shows like fine lines on the face of a classic beauty. She has been a phoenix in the making for almost two decades and has had her share of starts and stops in the arduous process of restoration, but now the historic landmark is finally open to the public for guided tours.
The current owners of the impressive estate nestled on Mount Dora's southern, Amy & Clark Frogley, arepassionate about preserving the lakefront mansion’s architecture and history. The couple purchased the 13 bedroom, 10 bathroom Mediterranean Revival mansion in 2014 and have invested 4 to 5 million dollars in its massive restoration.
Tours of the mansion are offered at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. with tickets costing $25 dollars for adults, and $10 dollars for children ages 5-12. This summer's Saturdays also have 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. tours. The 90-minute tours will help the Frogleys fund the sprawling estate’s ongoing restoration and maintenance.
Originally built on 600 acres as a hunting camp by wealthy Pittsburgh steel 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 and remodeled New York's City Hall. He also worked for the firm that remodeled the East and West Wings of the White House.
The mansion's thirteen fireplaces are spread over the 22,000 square-foot main house and its guest quarters. In its day, the self-contained estate required 49 gardeners, plus maids, butlers, carpenters and other workers to maintain the mansion, boathouse, windmill and barns, as well as the citrus groves and dairy and poultry farms. In 1904 it reportedly cost $80,000 in annual maintenance.
Members of the Laughlin family owned the home until its sale in 1942. New owner, Eugene Speers, flipped it after owning it for a year and making his money back by selling off the estate's rare and valuable foliage acquired from the Laughlin's world travels. Speers also profited by logging the property's entire fifty-acre pine forest.
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 outbuilding 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 underutilized for several years.
Over 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.
The lush 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 The Alhambra’s courtyards, 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 Mediterranean building almost transports its occupants to Italy's Lake Cuomo.
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.
Over the last several years, the greatest challenge for the Frogleys was navigating Orange County’s red tape, which caused a lot of delays. As it turns out, the Sydonie, located at 5538 Sydonie Drive a few miles south of Mount Dora, is the first historical home under Orange County’s jurisdiction that has been converted for public use. As a result, there were a lot of complex issues to flush out pertaining to requirements and permitting.
In the fall the Frogleys will schedule tours around weddings and other special events. Select October events will have Ghost tours and Christmas tours will start November 4 with additional times and tickets priced at $30 dollars for adults and $12 for children ages 5-12 years of age. For tour reservations, click here.
The impressive sights and sounds of dragboat racing will return to Eustis on July 29 and 30. Over 50 race boats are expected to compete over the weekend with the races beginning at 11:00 a.m. Saturday and 12:00 p.m. Sunday, and will run until approximately 6:00 p.m. each day.
Back in the 1990’s and early 2000s, Lake Eustis was on the annual circuit for dragboat racing, so for many residents and competitors the weekend will feel like deja vu. Local boaters should find alternate places to launch their watercraft, as Eustis Lakeshore boat ramps will be closed July 28 through July 30 to accommodate the races.
The City of Eustis has paired the event with its annual Back to School Bash on July 29. featuring food trucks, bounce houses, vendors and live music in lakefront Ferran Park. From 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. the City of Eustis will distribute 100 backpacks per hour to local school-aged residents. One backpack will be given to each child present, while supplies last.
To keep residents cool, Eustis Aquatic Center will be open on Saturday, July 29th from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and admission is free for the day. Swimsuits are required to enjoy both the pool and splash pad.
In addition to the races and Back-to-school Bash, One Blood will be hosting the annual Golden Triangle Battle of the Badges blood drive from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 29th on Ferran Park Drive. Residents are encouraged to donate in honor of local first responders who are competing to win the coveted traveling trophy. Appointments can be made by visiting www.oneblood.org/donate-now and using the sponsor code 68143. For more news and events in Mount Dora, Tavares & Eustis, visit the area's websiteand download the area's free mobile app. Be sure to followMount Dora Buzz's Instagram and Facebook page for more local info.
This year Eustis will celebrate two events at the same downtown party – American Independence and the City’s 140th birthday – on July 1.
The wide-ranging entertainment lineup includes a performance by the Central Florida Show Ski Team in Lake Eustis, live music throughout the day, arts and crafts, and food vendors. The free, family-friendly event runs from 12 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in Ferran Park located at 50 Ferran Park Drive.
Schedule of Events (subject to change): 12:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.: Eustis history display, food trucks, and vendors 12:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.: EshXchief (live music at the bandshell in Ferran Park) 12:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.: Free Admission to public pool and splashpad 2:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.: Happy Birthday sing-a-long and free cupcakes 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.: The GiGi’s (live music at the bandshell in Ferran Park) 5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.: Central Florida Show Ski Team 6:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.: Classic Airwaves (live music at the bandshell in Ferran Park) 9:30 p.m. - 9:45 p.m.: Fireworks Attendees are encouraged to bring blankets and lawn chairs.
The City of Tavares is celebrating the 4th of July with its annual downtown parade, family friendly entertainment and fireworks. The parade along Main Street will kick off the festivities followed by live music, a seaplane flyover, community vendors, food trucks, and a family fun zone in Tavares Square and Wooton Park. In preparation for the parade, Main Street between Sinclair Avenue and St. Clair Abrams Avenue will be closed to vehicular traffic from 3 a.m. until 6 p.m. on July 4.
The main live music act is the band The Rundown, a five-piece Rock band focused on the 80’s greatest hits and rock classics. The evening will wrap up with an impressive fireworks display over Lake Dora viewable from Wooton Park.
Seating is limited in the parks, so the public is encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets. Free parking is available in the municipal parking garage located at 200 N. Sinclair Avenue. The facility is within easy walking distance to the event.
SCHEDULE OF JULY 4th EVENTS: 4:45pm: Street Party on Main Street begins before the parade 5pm: Seaplane flyover Main Street 5pm: Parade begins east on Main Street from the Courthouse past City Hall to St. Clair Abrams Avenue 6pm: Kids’ activities in Tavares Square commence 6pm:Kids’ dance party with interactive Live DJ in Tavares Square begins 6pm:The Rundown begins performance on the main stage in Wooton Park 6pm: Main Street re-opens to allow traffic to flow normally 9pm: Fireworks (Please remember to bring pets inside before the fireworks.)
The boat ramp at West Wooton Park will be open, but vehicular access is limited during the parade. Boaters may launch at Tavares Recreation Park, Summerall Park, Hickory Point Recreation Facility, Trimble Park, or Gilbert Park.
This year marks 102 years of the Lake County Fair. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker heading for the rides or prefer to keep your feet on the ground and take in the exhibits, here’s a quick cheat sheet of what you need to know about this year's Lake County Fair that runs April 6-15.
1. LOCATION Lake County Expo Center is located at 2101 N. County Road 452 in Eustis.
2. FAIR HOURS Weekday opening: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Weekend opening: 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.
3. BYPASS THE LINE Purchase your 2023 Lake County Fair admission tickets online to save a couple of bucks and skip the ticketing line. Just have your pre-purchased tickets in hand (paper or on your cell phone) and proceed to the VIP/Fast Pass Gate for easy entry.
3. SHOWS & ENTERTAINMENT Please note, some shows begin before the full fair opens. Livestock shows run April 5 - 15 Robinson’s Racing Pigs: Daily at1:30, 3:30, 7:30, 9:30 p.m. Agricadabra Magic Show, Nightly at 6:45 p.m. at UF Health Showcase Center The Fearless Flores Thrill Show, 6:15, 8:15 p.m. Hypnotist Show, 8:45 p.m., UF Health Showcase Center
4. REGULAR ADMISSION PRICES Adults: $12 Seniors: $7 Kids ages 4 to 11: $3 Kids ages 3 & under: Free admission with a paying adult. Note: Rides are not included in any admission prices. Separate wristbands can be purchased for rides (see below).
5. RIDE WRISTBANDS & ADMISSION SPECIALS Thrillseekers looking for unlimited rides can buy wristbands which are valid from open to close for the day of purchase. The cost of wristbands is additional to the cost of admission into the fair.
All Fridays, Saturdays & Sunday: Wristband $30 per day.
Thursdays $25 wristband
Monday, April 10, $2-day All admission and rides are $2
Wednesday Carload Night, April 12 $65 Carload admission & wristbands, each person must be in a seat belt, max 8 people. Price includes admission and unlimited rides. Carloads are not sold after 9 p.m. Regular tickets are also available.
Mount Dora residents don’t need to look far to find the Easter Bunny. He’ll be making his annual appearance on the front lawn of the W.T. Bland Public Library with a little help from Mount Dora Fire Department on Saturday, April 8. An old-fashioned Easter egg hunt will follow after the Easter Bunny’s 10 a.m. arrival. The egg hunts are separated by children’s ages and abilities. Kids ten years old and younger are welcome to participate and every child will receive a free new book, courtesy of the Friends of the Library.
Sweet treats and PAWS therapy dogs will be on hand, as will volunteers from local service organizations.
No registration is required for this event. W.T. Bland Library is located at 1995 N. Donnelly Street in Mount Dora. Overflow parking is available at Church of Christ located at 1801 N. Donnelly Street, just one block south of the Library