Louise Merryweather Whitney, a native daughter of Lake Sumter Landing, built the Waterfront Inn in 1893 with the profits she earned from interests in local phosphate mines in the late 1800s. Mrs. Whitney was the only daughter of legendary local outdoorsman “Mojo” Merryweather who had established his famous hunting and fishing lodge on an adjacent parcel of land in 1839. The land upon which the Waterfront Inn is built was left to Mrs. Whitney as part of her father’s estate after his demise in a hunting accident in 1872.
Mrs. Whitney was a hugely popular figure in Lake Sumter Landing, especially with local farm families who were devastated by the big freeze of 1894. In the wake of that blow to the local economy Mrs. Whitney took many families into the inn to live, rent free, until such a time as they could get back on their feet. Several of those individuals eventually became employees of the Waterfront Inn and stayed on in that capacity until well into the 1930’s.
Mrs. Whitney’s oldest daughter, Amelia, was a strong-willed fifteen-year-old girl when the Waterfront was completed in 1893 and had just turned sixteen when the Freeze of ’94 ravaged the agricultural economy of Lake Sumter Landing. Amelia Whitney was an enthusiastic supporter of her mother’s plan to help the farming families who lost everything in the freeze and immediately organized a daily meal program to help feed the children of families most in need. A self-taught cook, Amelia eventually became so proficient in the kitchen that her mother put her in charge of the hotel’s increasingly popular ground floor restaurant.
On Amelia’s twenty-first birthday, Louise Whitney gave her daughter two gifts that she would treasure her entire life: At a party honoring the young woman in the hotel’s restaurant, new signage and menus were unveiled announcing the renaming of the restaurant as “Amelia’s”. While praising her daughter’s natural talents and sure instincts in the kitchen, Louise Whitney suggested that talent without training was likely to limit Amelia’s growth as a great chef. To that end she announced that an enrollment had been secured for Amelia at the recently established Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris.
It was a glorious day for Amelia Whitney, even though she would never graduate from Le Cordon Bleu. It turned out that the strict, male-dominated regimen of the old world cooking school was not compatible with the independent nature of the young woman from Florida. For two years Amelia attended classes and absorbed everything that the school had to offer, before deciding there was more to cooking (and life) than mastering a Sauce Béarnaise.
In 1903 Amelia dropped out of school and spent the next three years traveling in Europe and then America, working in a different kind of restaurant in every country and state she visited. By the time she returned to Florida in 1904 she was a master of her craft, if not a graduate of Europe’s premier school for chefs. Amelia Whitney went on to live a long and adventurous life, the professional focus of which was creating great meals for the well-fed guests of the Waterfront Inn at Lake Sumter Landing.