“Why was the Citrus Tower built?” is the number one question we receive. The short answer is that it was constructed to be a roadside attraction back in the days before Disney and the Turnpike.
However, the story is a little more in-depth than that and takes us as far back as 1953. Ever since the first visitors discovered the area, they had an appreciation for the rolling hills that Clermont offers. Locals dreamed of a viewing tower they dubbed the “Castle in the Air”. Once the new highways Florida 50 and US 27 were built, the value of making the tower a reality became clear. According to the Clermont Press on July 12, 1956, “Enthusiasm for a lookout tower in Clermont was so great that tower plans were being made by two companies at the same time. The second was also to be built on US 27 but closer to the intersection of Highway 50. After several friendly joint meetings, however, the promoters of Project Number 2 graciously bowed out in the interests of Project Number 1.”
On October 12, 1950, a man named Ralph Harper outlined the need for an observation tower at a Chamber of Commerce Directors meeting. With the tower being built on one of the highest hills in Florida’s ridge section, the hilltops along US 27 were a prime location. The plan was discussed and Art George and Curtis Reid joined Harper as they created a committee to estimate cost and operations. A.W. Thacker, who owned the site of the tower and the Skyline Motel across the street, loved the idea immediately. However, the planning and organization took over a year when Harper finally received a letter from Thacker stating “The estimated cost for such a structure is around the $100,000 figure…I am writing to you because I know you are the father of this idea as well as an enthusiastic booster.”
The original plans called for a 60 ft. tower, then 75 ft., and by 1953 it was 100 ft., then 150 ft., with the final height boasting 226 feet high. The height kept growing as the excitement built up over the years of initial planning. Many agree the overall project was made possible through the work and persistence of Al Thacker, originally from Pittsburgh. He found supporters from his hometown such as an attorney, an architect, and A.J. Toole, owner of the Triangle School of Drafting. Thacker fought through a multitude of opposition and red tape before he could start building. Finally, in July of 1954, he was given permission from the Securities Commission to sell stock. After half of the stocks sold there was a decline in interest, but Thacker’s determination resulted in the sale of all stocks needed to begin construction.
Florida Tower Corporation owned the tower and included members such as A.W. Thacker (Vice President and Treasurer) and F.J. Toole (President). The final figure totaled $250,000 with 300 stockholders from 22 states forming the corporation. These stockholders had faith in the future of Central Florida and financed the tower. They believed the natural and man-made beauty would attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area. As it turns out, they were correct! The late 50s and early 60s garnered up to 500,000 visitors per year. Every architect, drafter, builder, and worker that constructed the tower created a landmark to last a lifetime and beyond. Now in 2019, we hope that while times have changed and the view is different, you can still sense the history and wonder of this Old Florida attraction.