The Aliquippa Works, J&L Steel
In 1878, James L. Laughlin, a co-head of J&L Steel, the largest private independent steel company in the world, began exploring Central Florida with a group of friends. Hunting at the turn of the century was optimal in Florida, and it was a new, exciting destination. In 1883, the men brought the railroad with them, and with that development, their families followed. Laughlin traveled the world with his wife, Sydney Page Laughlin, and both felt that the view from the north of Lake Minore was a beautiful place to expand. It is on this site that they chose to build "Sydonie," far from the bustle and industry of the steel mills in Pittsburgh.
Grosvenor Atterbury, Design Architect
By 1903, Sydonie underwent renovations, and famous architect Grosvenor Atterbury was called in to design the new structure. Sydonie remains the only example of his work in the State of Florida. Fashioned after Alhambra Castle in Spain, she is designed in the style of Mediterranean Revival combined with Asian influences. Additional Atterbury designs include John D. Rockefeller's house in Maine (demolished), and Forest Hills in Queens. Atterbury remodeled New York City Hall, and the firm he worked for, McKim, Meade & White, remodeled the East and West Wings of the White House. Concerned with the welfare of everyday Americans, Atterbury came up with the concept of "prefab" so that houses could be affordable for everyone.
Edgar Viguers Seeler, Architect
Edgar Viguers Seeler, the son-in-law of the Laughlin's, was hired by Atterbury to build this grand estate with Frank Roberts as the engineer. Seeler was a renowned Philadelphia Architect. Sydonie's commencement date is unknown, but according to the writings of grandson James Laughlin, there was an original structure built in the 1880s. The Sydonie of Atterbury's vision was built up and around this existing structure according to his vision.
The original design for Sydonie included twenty or more outbuildings requiring the help of 49 gardeners, countless maids, butlers, carpenters, and more to maintain. It is said that to run Sydonie, her citrus, dairy, and poultry facilities in 1904 cost a whopping $80,000 a year. Andrew Carnegie and other dignitaries visited Sydonie, and it is rumored that Thomas Edison designed the irrigation grid and the power station.
James L. Laughlin died on Oct 19th, 1919. His wife Sydney maintained Sydonie until her death eight years later. Their five children handed over their shares of Sydonie to their sister Martha, and it was upon her death that Sydonie left the Laughlin family for the first time. The Laughlin heirs sold Sydonie to a Mr. Eugene Speers in 1941. He only owned Sydonie for a year, just long enough to decide which rare specimens planted on the estate could fetch the most money. After selling all the rare plants, Mr. Speer sold the property to the Hampton DuBose Christian Academy in 1942.
Hampden DuBose Academy Students at Sydonie (Ewell Hall)
In 1942, Mr. Speer sold Sydonie to Dr. Pierre Wilds DuBose, who started the Hampden DuBose Academy, a Christian School, which still occupies Sydonie's barns, carriage house, and power station today. From 1942-1980, Sydonie was renamed Ewell Hall by the school and was a boarding house for countless girls. The Reverend Billy Graham's daughters lived here, and he visited Sydonie numerous times. Sydonie's roof took an active role in guiding aircraft as a landmark from 1942 to the end of WWII. From 1980-1997, Sydonie was no longer housing students as the academy transitioned from a boarding school to a day school.
Sydonie Suffers Damage
In 1997, Dick and Carla Durante bought Sydonie and painstakingly restored the 42-room mansion one room at a time. Hurricanes threatened the structure over time, and the Durantes did what they could to restore it.
In April of 2014, Clark and Amy Colyer Frogley bought Sydonie with the idea that she needed to be shared and turned into a historic landmark.
Sydonie is now open to the public daily for historic tours. Please visit our Historic Tours page to learn more and book your tickets today. Thank you for considering a visit to this great piece of American history.