William J. Howey wasn’t just a businessman, he was a visionary. His investment and propagation of 60,000 acres of land in Lake County turned the wealthy entrepreneur into a citrus tycoon.
Though known to most as a humble man, Howey and his wife, Mary, built a lavish home—one the rich admired—full of indulgences that quickly became a center of entertainment. Dozens of innovations and hidden treasures lie within the 24-room, Mediterranean Revival-style home, and we have the particulars on some of the best.
Many of the mansion’s creative details are common practices today, but at the time, were considered inventive and pure luxuries. Take, for instance, a food elevator to aid the staff in delivering meals, snacks, and tea to the upstairs rooms. The home also included hidden stairways connecting butler spaces to the main living areas.
Within one of many upstairs bedrooms, a secret wall safe–likely hidden by paintings or draperies–was installed into the home’s structure. If walls could talk, I wonder what they’d tell us was stored in this safe? Money? Jewelry? Surely it would have been items of great value.
Down the hallway, two additional bedrooms share a water closet that is said to be the first Jack and Jill bathroom known to exist. And it should come as no surprise that the Howey Mansion was equipped with running water and functioning plumbing, which was still a very early amenity and quite the luxury for the time.
Speaking of luxury, Mrs. Howey’s bedroom was built with three separate closets, including one cedar lined, to house her fur apparel. Three closets? Some would probably say that’s an indulgence even by today’s standards.
Another bedroom contains a steel ladder that leads to the roof. Visually questionable, perhaps, but Mr. Howey was a smart businessman even in the comforts of his home. You see, the mansion had been built between two lakes; Mr. Howey would climb the ladder to a constructed turret on the roof, where he could watch his citrus shipments pass across the water, ensuring the business was running on schedule.
One of the most exciting features of this home is a hidden passageway. Within the home’s library, a sliding bookshelf panel unveils an unusual lock. With a special key, a large wall panel—otherwise undetectable—opens in the nearby hallway. The opening reveals a staircase leading to a fireproof, tumbler-locked bank vault door securing a small basement-style room. Whatever was stored here was undoubtedly of great importance. The secrecy, security, and 12” thick walls encompassing the room let your imagination run wild with the wonder of what it once contained. Some say it could have been used as storage during the prohibition era. What do you think could’ve been stored here?
The mansion, the land, and the owners gained a notable reputation. As such, an impressive list of guests have stayed at the home over the years, including President Calvin Coolidge. The Howey mansion has struck fame in modern days, too, as the primary film location for the 2021 Swen Studio’s “The Mad Hatter” movie.
Today, the Howey Mansion is used as an event space, with historic tour offerings throughout the week. Discover more about the mansion, its (ghostly) history, and view many more unknown relics within the grounds of this incredible home.