By Susan Meyers Mount Dora Buzz Historical Columnist
Mount Dora’s acclaimed library wasn’t always the impressive gem it is today. The City’s beautiful library, launched in 1905 with a modest 150-book collection located in a small room of what was then the City's Town Hall.
In March of 1912, a group of local citizens and winter residents dissatisfied with Mount Dora’s educational facilities, organized the Mount Dora Educational Society, a new private school. The group chose Joseph H. Crane, the principal of the public school at the time, as the principal of the new school.
Resident Jim Simpson, together with William Warden of Akron, Ohio, raised the $1,500 needed to construct the school building called Education Hall at 308 E. Fifth Avenue, which today is a law office.
Built in 1912, Education Hall was designed with two large pavilions topped by hip roofs joined by a smaller recessed center bay. The brick building, painted beige, rests on a foundation of molded concrete blocks created by 23-year-old Carl Risley, one of the school's organizers.
The new school accommodated the children of the City’s winter visitors who were tutored using the same books as their northern schools for consistency. The large building also served as a meeting room for local clubs and the First Baptist Church.
In 1917, the city’s library moved into the west room of the building’s basement. The expansion of the library included a full-time librarian with a salary of $1 a month. Unfortunately, the basement and library flooded for several years during bouts of rain.
Education Hall suffered a decline in enrollment following the opening of a new public school in1922 on Clayton Street. After serving as principal for a decade, Crane retired that year and was replaced briefly by Adrienne Sadler before the school's doors shuttered in 1923.
The City’s librarian, Margaret Lewis, who was also Education Hall’s first teacher, invited Charles Edgerton to visit the building after a heavy rainstorm. Shocked by the flooding, he instructed Lewis to move the library upstairs, and he proceeded to assume the outstanding lien of $1,043.89 on the building in order to sell it to the City when it had the funds.
On February 6, 1929, the city fulfilled its promise to purchase the building for use as a library. After 60 years, the library moved to a larger building in 1977, and the city sold the building to attorney Del Potter for $60,000. In 2014, the law firm’s four attorneys, Potter, Clement, Bergholtz, and Alexander, merged with Central Florida law firm Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed. They retain ownership of the 110-year-old building under the name 308 East 5th Avenue LLC.
In 1976, as the library continued to grow, a new building was constructed on Donnelly Street and 9th Avenue, which now serves as one of the City's Parks and Recreation Department buildings. In 1995, the impressive 15,000-square-foot W.T. Bland Library was built at 1995 N. Donnelly Street and expanded in 2012 with another 6,000 square feet to accommodate new technology and other resources. That same year the Nunan Butterfly Garden was planted. The library continues to grow and flourish under the passion and management of Cathy Lunday.
For more news and events in Mount Dora, Tavares & Eustis, this month, click here. Discover the area's online entertainment calendar here. Also download the area's free mobile app.