ABOVE: Mount Dora's "Castle on the Hill". (Photo courtesy of Mount Dora Archives)
By Susan Myers Mount Dora Buzz Historical Columnist
Once upon a time, Mount Dora boasted a fairy-tale style castle on the hill.
The story began in 1929, when Arthur Frothingham, a retired builder and engineer from Sleepy Hollow, New York, set out to build his dream home in the small city of Mount Dora.
His vision resulted in a sprawling 13-room, Mediterranean Revival-style mansion with the front overlooking beautiful Lake Dora and old Highway 441. The rear entrance faced Helen Street.
The impressive 13-acre estate was dotted with towering pine trees, which were common to the area at the time. To construct heavy joists and hand-hewn timbers to support the interior structure, many of the property’s pines were cut and processed using a small sawmill on the property established for that purpose. For the castle’s exterior, the entire inventory of bricks was purchased from a struggling brickyard in Whitney, four miles west of Leesburg. On October 23, 1929, before the mansion was completed, Frothingham died suddenly from a heart attack in his home at 1039 McDonald Avenue. His secretary continued the castle’s construction until completion for the cost of $94,000. The property eventually reverted to the J.P. Donnelly Estate, which held the mortgage note until it eventually sold.
The castle stood empty for several years, and rumors spread that it was haunted. Realtor George Malone once said he felt a hand touch him, and a voice say, “Well done, my man – well done,’” as he closed the door after showing it to a prospective buyer. Malone eventually sold the castle to Napoleon Hill, an internationally known author and philosopher who wrote the classic book “Think and Grow Rich.”
Hill and his wife brought new life to the castle as described in an article published in the Mount Dora Topic dated October 2, 1947. “The Castle, at long last, has become a beautiful residence. It stands proudly up there on the hillside. The weeds are all gone, and instead, there are neat orange trees planted in promising rows to the west.” The article continued, “Beautiful private drives enter it, marked ‘Private Road,’ flowers are everywhere; the windows sparkle clean in the setting sun.”
While living in the castle, the Hill family continued to write and publish their self-help genre books. They were active in town, and Mrs. Hill published articles entitled “Castle-on-the-Hill" in the Mount Dora Topic with advice for raising children.
The castle eventually passed into the hands of several more families in the ensuing years. Eventually, the west portion of the property was sold and the Hill House Condominiums were built in the early 1970s. Shortly thereafter, the Hill House Bath & Tennis Club was built in front of the castle, and the castle was converted into a clubhouse. Eventually, it was demolished and replaced with the Summit Place Condominiums.
At the time, Mount Dora was well-known for its antique stores and its unique Castle-on-the-Hill, but in the 1980’s the historic Castle-on-the-Hill was demolished, taking with it part of the city’s important history. If it still sat high on top of the hill overlooking the sparkling waters of Lake Dora, the impressive castle would likely be a draw for tourists today. Historic preservation keeps communities beautiful and vibrant while connecting current-day people with their cities' history.
Sources: The Mount Dora Topic, 24 October 1929, p.1 The Mount Dora Topic, 8 December 1938, p.1 The Mount Dora Topic, 2 October 1947, p.1 The Orlando Sentinel, 4 May 1972 The Mount Dora Topic, 26 June 1972 (photo of the castle) The Mount Dora Topic, 14 June 197b Edgerton, David Memories of Mount Dora and Lake County: 1845 to 1981. Mount Dora Historical Society, 1960. Photos courtesy of Mount Dora Archives