by Chuck Seaver, South Lake Tablet

Clermont is no stranger to car dealerships, especially on the east side of the city on State Road 50 but did you know that the historic downtown area of Clermont has a dealership history of its own? In a time when downtown Clermont was truly the hub of the town and anything east of East Avenue was considered the outskirts of town, car dealerships and gas stations thrived.


Historic downtown Clermont was also the site of the first known motorcade formed by the townspeople on March 13, 1916. The motorcade began at the First State Bank on Montrose Street at 8th Street, better known as the two-story brick “Roe Building” and ended in Orlando. The motorcade included 20 cars and 96 passengers. Pictures dated by local historians document the first automobile of Clermont in 1910 and is believed to have participated in the motorcade.

Times were good for residents and the good times brought successful businesses, including the Harper Motor Company located at 736 West Montrose Street, the present location of Corelli’s Pantry. Harper Motor Company was originally established in 1925 as a Plymouth-Dodge distributorship and eventually began selling Desoto automobiles. Desoto’s, named after the famous Spanish explorer, Hernando De Soto, who discovered the Mississippi River in 1541, were a rapidly growing expansion of the Chrysler Corporation. The first Desoto was introduced on August 6, 1928, to compete with Pontiac.

Although the exact date is not recorded, Harper Motor Company partnered with Firestone Tire Company and served the Clermont area with sales, repairs, and tire maintenance. Harper Motor Company included a carport style covered car display area that is now utilized as a private, unpaved parking area between Corelli’s Pantry and the Art Walk building that is occupied by Black Bear Kitchen and Roasted Spirit. The carport was long ago removed in the name of progress but in its day, the carport played an important role in providing shade for not only cars but pedestrian traffic that needed a break in the shade from the summer sun.

The Harper building is now home to the popular Corelli’s Pantry Café and Deli. A favorite spot among locals that enjoy the authentic Italian recipes and delicious deli products that Corelli’s offers.


A clear view from the back of Corelli’s lends a hint to the location of another popular and long-time car dealership in downtown. The once red brick building at 806 West Minneola Avenue, currently known as Becker’s Funeral Home, was once the Clermont Motor Company and was an official Ford Dealership. The building was built in 1923 by John D. Jones. It is recorded that in that first year of business, Jones sold 200 Fords, tractors, and used cars to area businesses and residents. The business was sold in 1924 and continued a decades long legacy of selling a variety of brand name cars, including Studebakers and Nash cars. The building’s last car dealership occupant was Dan Fields Chevrolet Agency, better known to locals as Sun Chevrolet Company.

The building, which had been purchased by the Postal Colony Company (PCC) in 1943 and leased to the dealership owners, was eventually occupied and utilized as an operations hub for the PCC. The PCC was organized in 1923 by a group of retired Railway Postal Clerks to provide homes for retired employees and a method of supplementing their retirement income through profits received from small citrus groves. The organization evolved into one of the largest citrus caretaking businesses in Central Florida.  

Winter temperatures in 1985 would change the course of history for the PCC and many others in the Central Florida area. The January freeze of that year was attributed to a shifting polar vortex that allowed freezing temperatures to sweep further south than normal. What was dubbed as “the freeze of the century” was responsible for the damage or destruction of 90% of Florida’s citrus groves.

The freeze left many citrus-dependent businesses finding themselves with little or no work. The problem was magnified by a similar freeze only 13 months earlier that the citrus groves had not yet recovered from. PCC decided to liquidate some of its properties, including the old brick building at the corner of Minneola Avenue and 8th Street.


In September of 1985, the ownership of 806 West Minneola Avenue was secured by Becker Funeral Home. The new owner, Ron Becker, immediately began making changes to the building to accommodate the new business model while preserving as much of the original exterior of the historic building as possible. The family-owned and operated business remains an integral part of the community, not only as a business but the family’s civic-mindedness as well. The Becker family has been long-time supporters of programs such as the USMC Toys for Tots Drive and the Kiwanis Club of Clermont’s Light Up Center Lake project, just to mention a few.


The history of downtown Clermont dates back to the late 1800’s with many of the original buildings still in place while securing the legacy of the next generation of history makers that occupy them. It is good to see the progress that has been made toward the revitalization of the historic area while taking the necessary steps that have been taken to preserve as much of the structural landscape as possible.

Visit for a full listing of activities, businesses, and community events located in the original downtown Clermont area.


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