Our Community: The Pioneer Years
by Maybelle Cox Allen

DeLand had its beginning in the 1870s, about 80 years ago.

This section, which was known as the ridge, was very adaptable to orange culture. Already, land in the Orange City section had been taken up by homesteaders, so any newcomers settled in what is now Lake Helen, DeLand and DeLeon. All this area was high pineland and a hammock surrounded by flat woods and swamp except where it touches Lake Beresford. At Beresford, boats coming from Jacksonville stopped at Alexander’s Landing, which consisted of one store and a boarding house in a beautiful grove.

In 1873 Samuel Swing and his family were aboard the steamboat City of Jacksonville on its first trip up the St. Johns River. After three days they landed at Alexander’s Landing. Captain Swing built a 10-room house on land south of DeLand, planted orange trees and imported a governess to teach his children.

Soon the Riches, Owens, Jordans, Woods, Austins, Millers, Gannons, Craigs, Allens, Deans and many others came and took up homesteads. The men arrived first and, after building their small cabin homes, sent for their families.

Sources: This account was based on Calista Allen’s personal notes and THE STORY OF DELAND AND LAKE HELEN by Helen Parce DeLand.

Based on a talk given by Mrs. Allen at a PEO Sisterhood meeting in DeLand about 1955

My sister-in-law Mabel Allen (now Winters) and her mother, Calista Allen, arrived from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in the fall of 1875, when Mabel was two years old. Mabel’s father, James Frederick Allen, was at Cabbage Bluff Landing to meet them.

The boat was late and the dock keeper had turned the oxen out for the night. So the Allens had to stay in a one-room cabin with the dock keeper’s family. In the morning, the wife cooked breakfast in the yard. As she came in and out, she pulled her sunbonnet down over her face so as not to embarrass the guests while they were dressing. When the oxen came up, the Allens and their baggage were packed into the cart and driven through the woods to their new home out by Orange Camp Road.

It was some time before their household goods arrived. Mabel’s mother cooked in the yard. She baked biscuits in a Dutch oven under hot coals and they were very good. At first their beds consisted of pine needles on the floor, covered over with army blankets. Later, when they had beds, they made their mattresses of moss. About twice a year they would remove the moss from the ticking, take it onto the porch and pick it all to pieces, putting cloths over their mouths and noses to protect them from the dust caused by tearing the moss apart. After washing the ticking, they would replace the moss and tack the cover, using long mattress needles and twine. They would then have lovely beds until the moss became matted once more.

Mabel’s father, a skilled carpenter, made some of the furniture for their log cabin home. He made a couch and her mother sewed a moss-stuffed pad for it from oil-boiled turkey-red calico (Ed. Note: This kept the material from fading during frequent washes.). He also made a barrel chair and wardrobes for their clothes.

People wore palmetto hats made from the bleached and stripped palmetto buds. They learned to braid the strips in different fancy patterns for good looking hats. Those for the men were made with plain braids.

It was a lonely life because there were no close neighbors. The Allens did have one neighbor who lived about a quarter of a mile away near a lake. Mabel, who had no one to play with, used to go fishing in that lake, using a cord on a stick for line and pole and a bent pin for a hook with sinker and cork. She would use small frogs for bait and caught bream and catfish and once a small turtle. Grasshoppers also made fine bait.

She said they tried to have a different order on Sundays and did no work. Mabel had a special wax doll which she played with only on Sundays.

In clearing the land for the orange groves, the wonderful big pine trees were cut down, piled and burned. Workers used what they called a cant hook (a large hook on a pole) to roll the logs together. After the trees were cut down, the stumps had to be cleared out. That was done by digging around them and building fires around and under them.

The settlers gathered together in their homes for frolics and visiting as often as possible. One of the pioneers could play the violin and everyone would gather for dancing. They came by ox cart and mule. A bed would be made on the floor of the cart where the children could sleep. By the time they returned home, it was morning and soon time to go to work.

The settlers had picnics at the Thursby place at Blue Spring. Later, after there was a DeLand, they gathered each year for a picnic and meetings, at which time they talked about the old pioneer days.

Another gathering place was the Orange City hotel, the DeYarman House. Mrs. H.H. DeYarman, on one occasion, wanted to have a cake. She made it of grits, cooled and shaped it in a big pan, frosted it and put it on the table, but wouldn’t allow it to be cut.

From DeLand it was an all-day journey to Orange City and back with the mule and cart on the deep sand roads.

Other gathering places were at the homes of the Giddings and Jinks families and George Colby, who lived in what is now Lake Helen. They were spiritualists. Mrs. Giddings was a medium and it is thought they were the forerunners of Cassadaga camp.

Then into this small community came Henry DeLand – but that is another story.

In this way our community had its beginning, progressing steadily through years of prosperity and years of depression. We must never forget our debt to these old settlers to whom Miss Helen DeLand paid this tribute, quoting Mackay’s THE PIONEERS:

Powers of the Forest & Powers of the River
Here shall obey thee, working thy will.
Pine boughs that whisper, aspens that quiver
Sing to thee, “Conquer still.”

Helen DeLand & Henry A. DeLand late 1880s

The Rich Cabin - 1870s

Cabbage Bluff - 1800s

Mabel's parents - James Frederick Allen and Calista Allen 

Calista Allen (left) and Mabel Allen Winters. Mother-in-law/sister-in-law of Mabelle Cox Allen - author of this article.

Blue Spring - 1890

The Family of James Augustus (Gus) Allen and Mabelle Cox Allen - author of this recollection 

In 1882, as the town of DeLand developed, the J.F. Allens built a two-story frame house on the west side of North Woodland Blvd. across from the DeLand Academy (later Stetson University) campus. Just around the corner from his parents, at 113 West Minnesota Ave., James Augustus Allen and his wife, Mabelle Cox Allen, built their house in 1910. Using carpenters from the family furniture store, J.F. Allen & Co., in downtown DeLand. Both homes are still in use, the older by Stetson University and the other by Allen family members.