The Land Around Us: Orange City, Florida
| The Community Neighborhood
By Louise Caccamise | Photographs by Bob Dunham
After visiting many of the towns near to us, this month we come home to Orange City.
Individuals from Eau Claire, Wisconsin came to the area between 1875 and 1877. Among the streets today bearing the names of these and other early settlers are French, Graves, Thorpe, Sparkman, Leavitt and Carpenter.
Visitors stayed at the DeYarman House, built by Hugh and Sophia DeYarman in 1876. A business, the 1876 Heritage Inn, now occupies that location, holding no resemblance to the first building.
Orange City is well known for being the site of beautiful scenic Blue Spring State Park, located at 2100 West French Avenue, which officially opened in 1972. Before our first settlers arrived, botanist John Bartram had paddled into Blue Spring in 1774 and described it as “an admirable fountain.” The spring discharges 104 million gallons of water daily into the St. Johns River. In 1856, Louis Thursby purchased Blue Spring. He built a three-story house on top of an Indian midden in 1872. His former home still stands on that location, unfurnished, but open for visiting, with many exhibit boards inside and out telling of the history of the area. Before the coming of the railroad in the 1880s, Blue Spring Landing was a center of steamboat activity, transporting tourists and goods to Jacksonville and beyond. At the present time, many visit the park throughout the year, but particularly during the winter when manatees are swimming there. A one-third mile boardwalk follows the flowing spring through the hammock and spacious grounds providing opportunity for camping, hiking and enjoying Florida away from today’s busy pace.
Historical buildings in the town include Dickinson Memorial Library, now known as Orange City Public Library since inclusion in the County Library System. Looking out on Dickinson Park, the building dates to 1919, when Albert Dickinson had it built and donated it in memory of his sister Melissa. Frank S. Taylor, then President of the Library Association, accepted the gift on behalf of the town and the Library Association during the dedication ceremonies. Mr. Dickinson also donated the surrounding land for use as a public park. Now modernized, the library meets today’s standards, but still speaks of an earlier time. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.
The town hall on Graves Avenue was dedicated in 1929, with the cornerstone being laid in 1928, and designed in the style of a New England town hall. A historic building, it resounds today with the sounds of a modern world.
The First Congregational Church is the oldest church in Orange City. The congregation was organized in 1883 and met in various locations. The first church was built amid the orange groves and was completed in 1887. It was lighted by a chandelier that contained twelve kerosene lamps. With additions to the building through the years, this is still an active church.
The Orange City First Congregational Church was the setting for one of the most significant events in Florida history when on January 29, 1885, the General Congregational Association of Florida, composed of thirteen churches, held its annual meeting there. The movement was started that resulted in the establishment of Rollins College. Orange City and other towns made offers for the site, but at a special meeting in Orange City on April 17, 1895, Winter Park was selected. Today a large bronze tablet stands just east of Dickinson Memorial Library telling of this history. It was presented on January 29, 1935, by the Daughters of the American Revolution.
One of the oldest houses in town, dating to the 1870s, bears an interesting history in that it was purchased in 1935 by John Knox resident Joan LaFleur’s grandparents, Rev. David Hughes and his wife, Harriet. Located at 343 East Graves Avenue, three generations of the family lived there until 2006 when Joan and Bob LaFleur sold it and moved to John Knox Village. It originally had ten-foot ceilings and pine plank floors.
Another historic residence, Fairview Cottage or Seth French Home, was built by Dr. Seth French who was an army surgeon during the Civil War. Originally from Potsdam, New York, he went to Eau Claire after the war and was part of the Wisconsin group of early settlers in Orange City. French Avenue was named for him and his former home, which has had additions through the years, and is at 319 East French Avenue.
Albertus Cottage was built in the 1870s and is city-owned. Now located on the corner of East Rose and South Holly Avenues, it was moved from the site of the Orange City Library in 1918. After a long history of many uses, it now houses educational displays telling of the early history of Orange City. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
There are many places to enjoy in this historic town so near to John Knox Village.