As I stand looking at the red and white Mount Dora Lighthouse I think of the lighthouses I lived in growing up as a lightkeeper’s daughter. I can still hear the echo of Dad’s footsteps as he climbed the metal spiral stairs to the top of the 90-foot lighthouse on Great Duck Island out in Lake Huron. I smell the fuel as the light hisses when lit. The big bellow of the fog alarm fills my memory.
My father Frank Rourke was a lightkeeper on Lake Huron for many years. I lived there summers almost all of those years and lighthouses still entrance me.
Grantham Point juts out into Lake Dora with docks, a boat launch ramp and a marina on the right as you look out at the lake and more docks on the left. Every year these docks have tied to them the sleek and shining beauties of “old woodies” during the Mount Dora Antique Boat Show.
The lighthouse sits at the very end of Grantham Point, a Port of Mount Dora sign is nearby and flags fly on a flagpole. Children circle the lighthouse playing some kind of game. Around and around they go, as children will do again and again the years and decades to come.
As I stroll towards shore, palm trees sway in the wind, ducks quack along the shoreline and a gaggle of white geese honk a greeting. “Hello you silly goose,” I say to one as I walk by. Along the shore in a sandy area a sign warns me, “Danger, Alligator Habitat.”
A brochure from the Chamber of Commerce states “The 35 foot lighthouse was dedicated on March 25, 1988. Built of bricks covered with stucco, the lighthouse stands sentry over the Port of Mount Dora. Its 750-watt photocell powers a blue pulsator sending out a guiding light to all boaters navigating Lake Dora after dusk. Civic clubs and citizens raised the $3,000 needed and soon the lighthouse was a reality.” Later I spoke to Jim Snell who was director of Public Works at the time. He said money was raised with a “Buy a Brick” campaign.
The idea for a light first came to Jim one day when he overheard a man at the boat ramp talking about having difficulty finding his way from Tavares to Mount Dora in the dark, having to poke his way slowly along the shoreline. Jim decided there should be some kind of light to let mariners know where the harbour and boat launch are located.
A project to beautify the lakefront was in process at the time. Jim suggested to Judy Smathers, who was involved with the group responsible, that a light on the point would be a good idea and a lighthouse would be even better. And so it is.
The Mount Dora Light is the only inland freshwater lighthouse in Florida. It blinks out its address in red to mariners trying to find their way home across the waters of Lake Dora in the darkness of the night.
Over the years the lighthouse has become a symbol for Mount Dora. It adorns brochures, maps, and information sheets. The Chamber of Commerce uses it as their logo.
Go out on Lakes Dora, Eustis or Harris at nighttime and a multitude of lights float around in the dark, nestle against the shoreline or snuggle under a bridge. Get closer and each light belongs to a fisherman or two sitting in their boats waiting for the big catch, lights shining into the water. It’s quiet except for the clack, clack, and clack of some water bird or a heron squawking its great garish displeasure or pleasure at something out there. When the night’s fishing is done these fishermen put their rods and lights away, start their motors and some point the bow of their boats towards the Lake Dora Lighthouse and home.
I have been out on the lakes many times in the dark. It is comforting to see the blinking lights at each canal guiding us safely to them and through to the next. One night we were going through the Dora Canal heading to the Lakeside Inn for dinner. As we putt-putted through the canal a million fireflies filled the forest, their tiny lights a breathtaking moment in time. We left the canal and headed for Mount Dora, another light in our sight. Mount Dora saying to us, “Safe harbor ahead.”
This story appeared in the
April 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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