By Susan Myers Mount Dora Buzz Historical Columnist
Born in Pennsylvania, Warren Butts arrived in Mount Dora in 1896. He first established a furniture business, which later changed to a bricks, cement, and tile business. To showcase his business, Butts built an impressive brick house at 331 Donnelly Street in 1917. The two-story home featured large open front porches on the ground level and second floor. Along with the fancy brickwork, he added carved decorative columns, gingerbread trim and a lozenge window.
Today, Butts’ historic home is a commercial building and home to an impressive Christmas store, St. Nick’s Holiday Shoppe. Butts was a pioneer who contributed to Mount Dora in its early days, including placing the piers, at no charge, on the Town Hall built around 1904. He was also one of the first aldermen elected after Mount Dora was incorporated in 1910 and served as the city’s first tax collector in 1911.
Butts also purchased the first automobile in town, a Lenovee. When he purchased the car, he was shown how to start the one-cylinder motor and steer the car. However, when he arrived home, he was unable to stop the vehicle and drove it through the back wall of the barn. Later, Orrin Sadler, a young boy, learned to drive the car and drove Butts all around town. Over a hundred years after its construction, The Butts House remains, but has been substantially modified. Additional square footage was added by enclosing the porches and building an addition on the south side of the house. However, a stroll inside the current retail store reveals the original exterior is still in excellent shape.
For many years The Butts House remained a private residence and ads in the Mount Dora Topic have it listed as a rental unit in the 1930s. Eventually, it became a commercial property with various small business tenants over the years.
In the 1970s, The Three Elves gift shop on Sixth Avenue relocated to the Butts House. In the 1980s, one of downtown Mount Dora’s popular and fancy luncheon spots, The Gables Tea Room & Gift Shop, operated in the building. The eatery eventually relocated to Alexander Street. A string of other commercial tenants later occupied the historic home, including Caroline’s Antique Shop in 1996, then Laney’s Antique Shop, and later Sweet Romance which featured lingerie and linens.
In the early 2000s, Natalie Lovejoy purchased the building and opened The Painter’s Daughter, an eclectic boutique and gallery. Lovejoy did extensive renovations to the interior and transformed the exterior color palette that remains today. After the Painter’s Daughter closed and the building sold again, it was briefly leased to A. Adams Antiques and Fine Art in 2016. The following year, Naples Soap Company opened in the space. In 2020, St. Nick’s Holiday Shoppe opened and remains today. Naples Soap reopened months later further north on Donnelly Street.
In addition to his brick house, Butts also built a unique house next door called the “Tower” or “Windmill” house. This three-story house had a windmill-powered water tank above the third floor, which provided running water from a well beneath the residence. The house was later demolished and today a private home occupies that lot.
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