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.