At a time in history when women were not known for business savvy or independence, Annie Donnelly was both. Annie started life in Toledo, Ohio, born in 1850 to Clark and Helen McDonald. At the age of 16, she was married to William Stone and had a baby shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, their marriage was not a happy one and, in fact, Annie separated from her husband twice. In May 1875, Clark and Helen decided to relocate to Florida and convinced Annie and William to follow, hoping their marriage would have a better chance in a new land where the sun shone every day.
While prospecting for land, William Stone and Clark McDonald saw and bought two lots marked as worthless swampland, staking their claims at 80 cents per acre. Turned out the land wasn’t swamp at all, but valuable waterfront property, and they found themselves owners of what would become the business district of Mount Dora. Annie loved her new home, but William apparently did not love Florida or Annie. In May 1877, he disappeared from Mount Dora (and history), leaving behind Annie and their only child. Two years after being deserted, she hired Tavares attorney, Alexander St. Clair Abrams, to file for a divorce. In the petition, Abrams described Annie’s plight, asserting that William Stone left her “in the woods, in a strange country.” She was granted a divorce on August 5, 1879.
That same year, bachelor John Phillip Donnelly arrived in Mount Dora from Pennsylvania and invested in 160 acres, which just happened to be located next to Annie and her 160 acres. Over the next couple of years, the couple courted. In July 1881, after they’d filed for a marriage license, Annie paid the balance ($4) on her ex-husband’s homestead claim, after which, she and her father then owned 2 miles of Lake Dora waterfront. When Annie and J.P. married and his property was added to hers and her father’s inventory, some of the most valuable land in Mount Dora was owned by this one family.
Annie and J.P. became not only husband and wife, but also business partners. Believing there was need for a hotel in the growing city, Annie and J.P. joined forces with James Alexander and Colonel John A. MacDonald to build what is now the Lakeside Inn. It was built when only 16 families lived in Mount Dora, but the foursome envisioned a bright future for the small town situated on Lake Dora. Completed in 1883, the hotel was initially called the Alexander House. A two-story building with 10 rooms, it was only open during the winter season. Visitors flocked to the hotel, fascinated by the variety of wildlife, including 200 different species of birds. Other popular pastimes were fishing, and quail and snake hunting. In 1893, Annie and her partners sold the successful Alexander House to Emma Boone, who changed the name to the Lake House.
Annie and J.P. Donnelly would later donate lots for the Methodist and Congregational churches and contribute funds for the first fire brigade, as well as land for the cemetery where both she and her husband are buried. Annie died in 1908 and is remembered for having been a mover and shaker in her time, for significantly contributing to the growth of Mount Dora, and as a visionary when it came to tourism.