Just a short drive west of Orlando is Clermont, where many years ago citrus groves lined the highway and the Florida Citrus Tower was a popular Central Florida attraction. While the landmark tower is still there — it is now nearly 60 years old — it doesn't draw the crowds it once did, but it is still worth the stop. Once you take the elevation to the top, you can still see miles around; but, what you see has changed. Many of the citrus groves have been replaced by subdivisions and shopping plazas. Clermont's proximity to Disney World has put it in the path of progress and changed the community forever.
History: Then and Now
Situated in Lake County, named for its over 1400 lakes, Clermont was first believed to be settled as early as 1868 by Herring Hooks. His 40-acre Grove is believed to be Florida's first commercial nursery. A small group of men hailed from Vineland, N.J. and in 1884 they launched what they termed a "colonization" project. The corporation they formed — Clermont Improvement Company — was named for the corporation's general manager and treasurer whose birthplace was Clermont-Ferrand, France. The men's goal was to build a "model town." In 1891, the city was incorporated as "Town of Clermont, Lake County." Many years later their dreams were realized as the city became known as the "Gem of the Hills" because of its beautiful homes with well-kept lawns and paved streets, pristine lakes and wonderful views — notably one of the state's most beautiful places.
During most of the 20th century, the citrus industry thrived in Clermont. Before citrus canker took its toll, and just as more frequent freezing temperatures were forcing new groves to be planted farther south, Disney World came to Central Florida. It was a move that would literally change the landscape of Clermont. It didn't take long for land values to skyrocket and citrus growing profiteers to pave the way for developers. Although Downtown Clermont remained virtually untouched over the years, rural Clermont went through a tremendous transformation. Rolling hills that once were filled with rows of citrus trees are now dotted with subdivisions with rows of tract houses. With the population growth came an economic growth which attracted large and small retailers to the area; and, it brought the largest shopping mall in Lake County to Clermont.
Walt Disney wasn't the only newcomer to this area of Central Florida. In 1989, on 127-acres just a few miles north of Clermont, set among the citrus groves of Central Florida, Gary Cox and a group of investors opened Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards. Today, after years of phenomenal growth, Lakeridge ranks as Florida's largest premium winery and remains a pioneer in the development of table and sparkling wines from hybrid grapes.
Developers haven't had their way with all the beautiful land in Clermont. A few miles south of Clermont, the State of Florida has set aside 4,500 acres that preserve the area around a chain of lakes that includes Lake Louisa, Lake Hammond, and Lake Dixie. Lake Louisa State Park features a full-facility campground, primitive campsites, equestrian campsites and modern rental cabins. Activities include hiking and horse trails, canoeing, picnicking and swimming.
Chances are, if you are traveling from the north by car to Disney World, you may pass through Clermont. It is quite literally at the crossroads of the state — the intersection of State Road 50 (which runs east and west across the state) and U.S. Highway 27 (which runs north and south through the center of the state). Clermont is located approximately 25 miles west of Orlando and 25 miles northwest of Disney World and about 10 miles south of Florida Turnpike Exit No. 285.