Article by: Louise Caccamise
Photographs by: Bob Dunham
This month in our series, “The Land Around Us,” we will visit DeLand, our neighboring town to the north. Now the county seat of Volusia County, it was once called Persimmon Hollow because of the wild persimmons that grew in abundance. Then in this undeveloped place, oranges thrived, flowers bloomed and the song of birds filled the air.
In the spring of 1876, Henry Addison DeLand came to the area with his brother-in-law, Oliver P. Terry. Mr. Terry was excited over his own land purchase and wanted Mr. DeLand to see the great possibilities. At first, Henry DeLand was not impressed with the unsettled country that was so different from life in his native Fairport, New York, a little town on the Erie Canal where he was a prosperous businessman.
But after enjoying the hospitality of Capt. John Rich and his wife Clara, in their log cabin, Henry DeLand became enchanted with the area. Before starting his journey back to New York, he purchased 160 acres in what became the center of DeLand. Today a small monument on West New York Avenue, near the present site of St. Peter’s Catholic Church, marks the place where the log cabin stood. Later in 1882, the city was incorporated in this unpretentious little log cabin.
Because of the vision of these pioneer settlers, DeLand had its start. The cultural center that we know now had its beginning in this simple past.
Now DeLand attracts tourists with many different interests. In competition DeLand has won various awards for its main street. It was voted “Best Mainstreet in Florida” several times and one year received the award, “Great American Main Street.” The planters of growing flowers adorning the main street are provided by the Garden Club of DeLand. Artists have painted murals on the exteriors of many buildings. Brass plaques have been placed on the older buildings telling of the history and the people involved. Sculptures can be found throughout the city. Art museums tempt you with their changing exhibits.
The Museum of Art-DeLand is located at two locations, downtown on the corner of East New York Avenue and at 600 North Woodland Boulevard. The Hand Art Center on the Stetson Campus is open to the public. In November, a judged art show, DeLand Fall Festival of the Arts, is held on the temporarily closed main street. In the spring, DeLand Outdoor Art Festival is held in Earl Brown Park.
The Stetson Mansion at 1031 Camphor Lane is the restored winter home of John B. Stetson, the famous Philadelphia hat maker and friend of Henry DeLand. Built in 1886, and open year around, tours are available by reservation. The Christmas tours are particularly beautiful.
The West Volusia Historical Society Complex on the corner of Michigan and Florida Avenue contains changing historical exhibits, a research library, a collection of oral histories of long time residents and an early home, DeLand House, that offers docent led tours. An outdoor gazebo features the history of Lue Gim Gong and the story of his citrus fruit. The organization holds tours of historical homes at Christmas and many interesting programs throughout the year. On North Stone Street, the DeLand Memorial Hospital & Veterans Museum provides docent- led tours Monday through Friday, as it helps to trace the early history of the area with its exhibits.
The Stetson campus is an interesting area to visit with its Dupont-Ball Library, Gillespie Museum of Minerals and other noteworthy buildings. Its concerts and athletic events are open to the public. DeLand Hall, located on North Woodland Boulevard, was built in 1884. First known as DeLand Academy, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
On West Indiana Avenue, the old Volusia County Courthouse rotunda has paintings on display of artist Jackson Walker’s “Legendary Florida” collection. The restored Athens Theater, dating to 1922, is the setting for many plays, with season tickets available, as well as additional musical events. A wide variety of restaurants and unique shops await your visit. In the northeast outlying district there is a Naval Air Station Museum and skydiving attracts visitors from around the world.
There are many pleasant drives in the subdivisions in DeLand, around Lake Winnemissett and along the St. Johns River. Long ago, dubbed, “The Athens of Florida,” DeLand continues to be a gem.
Till we meet again, happy trails!
View our most recent Village Life Magazine to learn more about community updates, events, and news happening here at John Knox Village of Central Florida.