LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – The iconic Howey mansion in Lake County hosted the likes of President Calvin Coolidge and the New York Civic Opera.
For nearly a decade though, the mansion on Citrus Avenue has sat empty and abandoned. But now, with a new owner, the building is being restored to its former glory and is almost ready for a grand reopening.
Brad Cowherd, who owns Infusion Tea in College Park, along with several other businesses in Orlando, was inspired to buy the former home of citrus grower William Howey, which has sat vacant since 2009.
Cowherd and his brother purchased the property in July.
"We really want to open it back up to the public," Cowherd said. "It really is the jewel of Howey-In-The-Hills."
The renovated mansion will be used as a wedding and events venue and eventually a bed and breakfast.
"My brother and I had a lake house up on Lake Harris and we would visit there with our families," Cowherd said. "We drove by it a bunch. It was abandoned, spooky old mansion, that hadn't been touched in a long time."
When word got out that the space would be turned into an event venue, Cowherd said one woman hired a private detective to track him down so she could talk with him about hosting her wedding there.
"Folks were finding us all sorts of ways to talk about having their weddings there," Cowherd said.
Cowherd and his family was impressed with the character of the nearly century-old mansion, with many of its original relics still in tact. Even the mechanism that opens a secret basement, used to store liquor during prohibition, still works.
"We found all sorts of trash in there but no raccoons," Cowherd said laughing.
The new owners spent a little more than $600,000 to purchase the property and invested nearly $600,000 for renovations.
"We had to restore all the floors," Cowherd said. "A lot of plaster work inside and out, completely overgrown so a lot of grounds work. We restored the fountain in the middle of the courtyard."
The mansion will start showing private tours, including one this weekend, and for residents of Howey-In-The-Hills. Those tours have already sold out, but the owner plans on opening up more tours starting in 2018, when the venue officially opens to host events.