The evolution of homes: the past

With advances in architecture and technology, houses look very different than they did 130 years ago. Homes from the past, present and future reveal the history of Lake and Sumter counties, modern homebuilding trends and smart home technology that will continue to evolve.

Building a foundation

The Baker House

The Baker House

On one section of County Road 44A in Wildwood, new homes are crammed side by side on tiny lots so as many people as possible can enjoy The Villages, America’s largest retirement community. The homes are built with modern conveniences such as large kitchen islands and outdoor living rooms.

Just about 100 yards away on the same side of the road is a jarring contrast. A stately home sits alone on a five-acre property where Spanish moss dangles from ancient oak trees and a camellia bush planted in the late 1800s sheds its petals. Enter through the front door and ascend an old, winding, wooden staircase with hand-carved railing. Halfway up are multicolored stained-glass windows representing the four seasons: lavender for winter, green for spring, amber for summer and red for fall.

This home isn’t just where the heart is. It’s also where history dwells.

The Baker House, 6106 County Road 44A, was the home of David Hume Baker. A state senator from Kentucky, David and his wife, Mary, moved to Florida in 1886 to benefit from “Orange Fever,” a term given to Florida’s booming citrus industry at the time.

David built the two-story home in 1890 using a rare combination of architectural designs. The Folk Victorian style is seen in the decorative detailing on the wraparound porches on both floors. The home’s roof with four sloping sides is a feature of the Second Empire style that originated in 16th-century France. Another unique aspect is that the home features two main structures: the main house with bedrooms, bathrooms, a foyer and a library, and another for the kitchen, dining room and servant’s bedroom. The structures are connected by a breezeway.

“In those days, it was not typical for homes to have the kitchen and dining room right next to each other because of the heat released from the stove,” says Angela Love, museum history specialist.

Five generations of the Baker family lived in the home until it was donated to the city of Wildwood in September 2012. For seven years, volunteers maintained the home and raised money for restoration projects. In November 2019, the city decided to conduct more events at the home.

In February, Angela began offering history tours of the home from 10am-2pm every Wednesday. The tour costs $10 per person. On March 21, the Baker House will host a heritage festival featuring Civil War reenactors, vendors, live music and house tours. Other events will include Christmas tours, weddings and special dinners.

“We’re going to grow,” Angela says. “This house will be everything it has been and more.”

The Clifford-Taylor House

The Clifford-Taylor House

Old houses are typically known for strange noises—creaking doors, rattling walls and squeaking stairs.

Inside the Clifford-Taylor House in Eustis, however, there’s nary a peep.

“Most homes talk to you, but this house doesn’t say a word,” says Gary Marshall, curator of the Eustis Historical Museum, which is housed inside the Clifford-Taylor House. “I’ve been inside here at 1am and decided to go home because I needed a little noise.”

Things do get a little noisier on Fridays and Saturdays when Gary provides tours of the home, located at 536 N. Bay St. History buffs step into the Clifford-Taylor House and receive a glimpse of architectural achievements, as well as lifestyles and traditions of the past.

The home was built in 1910 on the shores of Lake Eustis by Guilford Clifford, Eustis’ first settler, who constructed the city’s first building, a general store located downtown. Guilford promised his wife, Unity Bell, that he would build her a grand home.

The Clifford-Taylor House is constructed from Florida cypress, and the floors are made of heart of pine wood. The 4,500-square-foot home contains 18 rooms, including five bedrooms, two bathrooms, two great hallways and a basement. Two sets of stairways lead to the second floor—one that was used exclusively by the Clifford parents and another used by their servants and children.

Each of the six fireplaces has different imported Italian tile and beveled mirrors on the mantels. A wood-burning stove in the basement provided heat for every room without a fireplace, with the exception of the upstairs guest room.

“That was Mr. Clifford’s way of getting guests out of his home in the wintertime,” Gary says.

Guilford died in 1919, and Unity Bell died three years later. In 1925, their eldest daughter, Lottie C. Taylor, moved into the home following the death of her husband, Robert Toombs Taylor. She resided there for 50 years.

“In the early 1970s, the city was considering tearing it down,” Gary says. “Lottie would sit in her rocking chair in front of the window with no lights. People would walk by the house, see her silhouette and think it was haunted.”

Fortunately, the house was preserved after Lottie successfully got it listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The home became designated as the Eustis Historical Museum in 1983 thanks to the efforts of Eustis residents and historians Louise Carter and Ethel Ryan.

One room inside the museum features exhibits about Dr. Edgar James Bank, a professor and archaeologist who retired in Eustis. He was the inspiration behind the “Indiana Jones” film character. Another room is filled with pictures of NASA astronaut David Walker, a 1962 graduate of Eustis High School who flew four space shuttle missions.

The Mote-Morris House

The Mote-Morris House

Nine thousand dollars. Today, that amount would be just enough to purchase a decent used car.

That’s also how much it cost to build one of the most recognizable and historic homes in Leesburg.

The Mote-Morris House was built in 1892 by E.H. Mote, a developer and hotel owner from Washington, D.C., who served eight terms as city mayor and one term in the Florida House of Representatives.

Known for its Victorian Revival architecture, the home contains some interesting features. Among them is an L-shaped stairway leading to three bedrooms on the second floor, a clawfoot tub made of cast iron and a four-story turret, or small tower.

“When you’re up in the tower, you can look out and see across Leesburg,” says Glorianne Fahs, a volunteer with the Leesburg Heritage Society. “To get to the tower, you have to take a staircase that is so narrow that there is not enough room for handrails.”

A back stairway connects a kitchen to an upstairs servant’s room. This feature kept servants out of sight when E.H. and his wife, Lucretia, hosted elaborate parties.

“Servants could answer the front door but not use it to enter to exit the home,” Glorianne says. “They could also clean furniture but not sit on it.”

Several families have owned the home throughout the years. In 1908, E.H. sold it to Bishop Henry Clay Morrison, for whom Morrison United Methodist Church is named. Ten years later, John and May James Morris purchased the home, and a member of the Morris family would live in the house for the next 70 years.

The home was sold to Morrison United Methodist Church in August 1988, and in September 1990, the 150-ton house was moved from 1021 W. Main St. to its current location at 1195 W. Magnolia St. The local landmark was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Residents such as Vi Pfahler have fond memories of the Mote-Morris House.

“When I was a child, I’d walk past the house and take a stick and run it along the wrought-iron fence,” says Vi, also a volunteer with the Leesburg Heritage Society. “It would make a lot of racket, and May would run out yelling, ‘Quit that!’”

Glorianne and Vi formerly gave public tours of the home one Saturday a month. However, the house was damaged by fire in February 2018 and is currently under renovation. When restored, the Mote-Morris House will once again be available for weddings, tours and events.

“We hope it’s restored by 2021, but that’s just a ballpark figure,” Glorianne says.

The Donnelly House

The Donnelly House

A lighthouse with red-and-white horizontal bands overlooking Lake Dora. A hotel where former President Calvin Coolidge stayed for a monthlong vacation. An old railroad depot that now houses the Mount Dora Chamber of Commerce.

Indeed, Mount Dora has quite a few historic landmarks.

But perhaps the most well-known of them is the Donnelly House, 530 N. Donnelly St.

John P. Donnelly, who moved from Pennsylvania to Mount Dora in 1879, built the home in 1893 as a gift to his wife, Annie McDonald Stone. John served as the city’s first mayor in 1910 and founded the local yacht club.

The elegant Queen Anne-style yellow-and-white home features beautiful stained-glass windows, an octagonal turret, a wraparound porch and three fireplaces—one in the foyer, one in the sitting room and one in the dining room. On the outside of the house, a concrete stairway leads to a basement, a rarity in Florida since the water table is about a foot or less below ground.

George Barber was the architect of the home. A resident of Tennessee, he made a living by designing houses and selling the plans via mail in a series of catalogs called the Cottage Souvenir.

Following John’s death in 1930, the home was temporarily owned by D.F. Gorham before being acquired by the local masons in 1935. Today, the Mount Dora Masonic Lodge No. 238 F&AM holds its meetings inside the home, as does the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls and the Mount Dora chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star.

“This is one of the most photographed houses in Florida,” says Henry Link, secretary of the Mount Dora Masonic Lodge. “During the Mount Dora Craft Fair and the Mount Dora Arts Festival, members of the Eastern Star serve breakfast and lunch inside the home to nearly 5,000 people.”

Though much money has been spent on renovations throughout the years, parts of the original home remain intact, including the flooring, mantel pieces around the fireplaces and crown molding along the ceiling. The home has also survived harsh weather conditions such as 1993’s Storm of the Century.

“We had about five or six tornadoes that lifted the building off its foundation, twisted it and then sat it back down,” Henry says. “Items from our storage room were found five miles away in Sorrento.”

This architectural gem was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.