History of the Town
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Howey-in-the-Hills was founded by William John Howey and incorporated as “Howey” on May 8, 1925. In 1927, the name was officially changed to Howey-in-the-Hills to reflect the beautiful rolling hills and sparkling lakes, which he dubbed “the Florida Alps.” Mr. Howey envisioned a great citrus empire with the Town as its commercial and shipping hub. For four years, he housed visiting prospective buyers in “Tent City,” near the shore of Little Lake Harris. Long-time Howey resident, Helen Buck, spent her first night in Lake County in Tent City. The biographical sketch on W. J. Howey explains why this was necessary.
After building the Floridan Hotel on the south end of town to house the buyers for his citrus acreage, he built the Howey Mansion at the north end of town. Across the street from the Mansion to the west, the Floridian Country Club and adjoining golf course replaced the no longer required tents, and the new sport of golf gained rapidly in popularity in 1928. The condition of the Country Club building and golf course declined until take over by Packing House By-Products, a Chicago firm headed up by Nick Beucher in 1964; the building later became the Mission Inn Pro Shop, then a real estate office, then leveled to leave vacant land once again.
The first citrus juice plant in Florida, also built by Mr. Howey in 1921, sold canned juice under the “Lifeguard” name. It and the original Vaughn-Griffin Packing Company has periodically modernized its capabilities since completion in 1930, first as Silver Springs Citrus Cooperative, and now as home to the progressive Silver Springs Citrus, purchased in 1994 by Toyota Tsusho America.
Shaping Florida’s future in citrus was due in a large measure to Dodge Taylor, one of W. J. Howey’s nearest neighbors (the Dodge Taylor House) and Sales manager starting in 1923.
During the C. V. Griffin era, the Floridan Hotel was turned into the Administration Building for the Howey Academy. The old hotel also included the girl’s dormitory, and for a while, a portion of it served as Town Hall. Currently, there is a clear spot on top of the hill overlooking Little Lake Harris where the original Floridan Hotel used to stand. The building had fallen into a state of disrepair, and on April 22, 1994, the Floridan Hotel was literally “blown up,” exploding in a huge fireball, and allowed to burn to the ground during the filming of the Hulk Hogan TV series called, “Thunder in Paradise.”
Town expansion accelerated in the 1950’s when C. V. Griffin, Sr. promoted “Land Cruises” that lured people to the central town area where he built homes and sold them at four successful auctions. Griffin built and donated Town Hall, established Griffin Airways and was instrumental in seeing that the State Road 19 Bridge linking Lake County cities and promoting commerce was constructed over Lake Harris. He was a major benefactor of the Howey Academy, founded in 1956. By the end of the 1970s, the academy had seen its days of glory, and it fell into disuse until Michael Desisto took over the operation of the facility, naming Marsha Glines, president of the new Desisto College. When the college sued the Town in federal court claiming zoning ordinances discriminated against the school’s learning disabled students, the judge ruled in favor of the Town. Griffin promoted major citrus reform in Florida, was a member and committee chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission, and was a potent force in creating statewide citrus industry standards.
In 1964, the forth entrepreneur in Howey-in-the-Hills, Nick Beucher purchased the Floridan Country Club and Golf Course and within three decades has turned a simple recreational facility into the prestigious Mission Inn Golf and Tennis Resort. Those grounds, along with other real estate developments in the immediate area comprise over 1000 acres. The family-owned, award winning resort and convention facility sits on beautifully landscaped grounds and offers two 18-hole championship golf courses, a five-star tennis facility, four elegant dining areas, a restored river yacht and a marina on Lake Harris.
Howey-in-the-Hills, with a population of just under 1,000, is a picturesque, family-oriented resort community. The Community Church (Presbyterian) built in 1949, and the 1920s mission-style architecture of many of the houses, some of which have been restored, adds color to this small town.
In 1996, residents started a series of celebrations leading up to their 75th anniversary of the Town’s incorporation. In May 1997, they kicked off an annual “Birthday Bash and Citizen Salute,” which is celebrated around Town Hall and the beautiful curves of Little Lake Harris, culminating in the 75th Anniversary held May 2000.