Historical Articles

Frederick Northrop Burt, Pioneer Developer. A "secret garden" in DeLeon Springs, at the intersection of Retta and Audubon streets, has an elaborate entrance called the "Burwyn Park West Gates." These beautiful 108 year old wrought iron gates, held by magnificent Arts and Crafts style columns with wing-walls, were built in 1912 by Frederick Northrop Burt. Identical columns, set further east on Retta, are still standing, but no gates remain.

Burt planned an upscale development, with English and Dutch Colonial style homes on the heavily wooded, sloping ground leading to the St. Johns River. Ten houses were constructed during the mid-1920s and eventually, in the post-WWII years, several more homes were built on the remaining Retta Street lots.Read Oscar Brock's descriptive article here.

Deja Vu? West Volusia and the Yellow Fever Epidemic of the 1880s. In 1888 the community of Seville, in northwest Volusia County, was a relatively large and prosperous town. Early settlers and newer arrivals included businessmen, professionals and educators. Many residents were employed in the businesses and, of course, a large number of farmers and ranchers rounded out the population. Seville was located just 83 miles southwest of the state’s major commercial center, Jacksonville, and was on the main line of the Jacksonville, Tampa, and Key West Railway.

In the summer of 1887, the city of Jacksonville suffered a severe yellow fever epidemic which brought unexpected changes to Seville.By the summer of 1888 all of Florida experienced such a severe outbreak that guards were stationed at road crossings, bridges were blocked and trains were stopped to prevent access into or out of Florida. Click here for the full article by Mary Lou Peffer.

The Agricultural Picnic in DeLand, November 6, 1879. The author of this article, Col. Christopher C. Codrington, was a Jamaica planter who moved to Jacksonville in the 1870s and to DeLand in 1878, bringing the news journal The Florida Agriculturistwith him. For that journal in this issue published November 12, 1879 he wrote this account of a day-long gathering on November 6th at his newly built home among vast orange groves at the NE corner of Clara and Minnesota avenues.

The tale begins....The morning dawned clear and bright, with no clouds to dim the pure luster of the bright Italian skies, and ere the sun had traced its path far above the horizon, the grove, grounds and home of our editor were filled with genial, happy friends and merry children, enjoying the social pleasures of the day and receiving the benefits of the agricultural meeting. And so the day only hurried too quickly into evening, when the friends once more separated to join each other again at the Calico Ball which was to take place at a later hour.  Read Col. Codrington's full article here. Editorial notes by Richard Gibson.

Four Houses at West New York and Clara Avenues.  This is a tale of what once was and is no more: four beautiful homes, three of which went under the wrecking ball in the name of progress and expansion. Lifetime Historical Society member Sally Landis Bohon shares an insider look as someone who lived there.

Once upon a time—some sixty-plus years ago—the intersection of West New York and Clara Avenues was the springboard from business to residential, with a large historic home on each corner. Today in 2020, only one of those residences still stands and it has been transformed into a professional firm, Ryan Insurance at 302 W. New York Avenue... The houses are worth remembering. More importantly, the people who lived in them are worth remembering. All occupants were interesting folk, each contributing in some way to the tapestry of the community.  Click here to read their stories: Haynes/Stout and Landis HomesJackson and Jordan Homes.

The Stetson Mansion - early days. On the west side of DeLand sits the Stetson Mansion, one of the oldest, most magnificent Victorian-era landmarks in the state. Designed by George Pearson of Philadelphia and built in 1886, it was the winter home of John B. Stetson, his wife Elizabeth, and their three sons.

Mr. Stetson met Henry A. DeLand on a trip to Florida and a visit to the town of DeLand soon followed. Mr. DeLand was in financial trouble after the freeze of 1884-85 and he knew Stetson, the owner of the Stetson Hat Company, had the means to help support the academy DeLand had founded.

Click here to read Lorna Jean Hagstrom's interesting article on the early days of the Stetson home. 

First Flight  Being a World War II kid, I was very interested in military aircraft. I drew pictures of them all the time at home and at school (to the dismay of my teachers). My favorites were the Army Air Force P-40 Warhawk (in the “Flying Tigers” shark–nosed paint job), P-38 Lightning (with its twin fuselage), B-17 Flying Fortress (with its four engines and numerous guns), and the Navy F4U fighter (which has unusual inverted “gull-wings”).

I had seen only a very few real airplanes flying in those days as we lived in the rather remote southeast Kentucky hill country. Click here to read John S. (Jack) Gibson's recollections of when he soared like a bird for the first time.

Florida's Oldest Canoes Found in West Volusia.  For many years residents and visitors have been adding to their knowledge about the past by exploring DeLeon Springs. But little did they know how much more history was lying half-buried at the bottom.Click here to read Oscar Brock's article on the archaeological significance of two prehistoric dugout canoes found and recovered from our own DeLeon Springs State Recreation Area. 

Pierson - the Fern Capital of the World.  The town of Pierson is known as the “Fern Capital of the World,” with good reason. It was here that the industry grew as a major exporter of floral greens.

After the famous Florida freeze of 1894-95 and another one five years later, the citrus groves that families in the area relied on for income were severely damaged. A brother of Peter Pierson (the town is named after this family) was growing asparagus plumosus fern in a hothouse in Connecticut. In 1904 he shipped 10,000 plants to Peter and “the rest is history”. Read Lorna Jean Hagstrom’s interesting article on how the industry grew and prospered from a small backyard business to a nearly 80 million dollar industry today.

Why is History Relevant?

"I believe that the more you know about the past, the better you are prepared for the future" - Theodore Roosevelt. 

Was Theodore Roosevelt trying to leave us a valuable piece of advice? Is history a tool for learning? When Henry Addison DeLand came to what was called Persimmon Hollow, he birthed a vision of what he had known up North where he'd come from. DeLand envisioned the Athens of Florida; a town cultured, education in the arts, productive and industrious. The early settlers captured that vision. The town was renamed after DeLand and it prospered. Its prosperity drew countless others to it as it grew, but the town was not without major challenges - the Great Fire, the Great Freeze, the Great Depression ... have we learned anything from history? Time will tell. Read this compelling article by Larry French.

Modernist Architecture in West Volusia County.  Recent years have brought a rage for Mid-Century Modern material culture: homes with low-pitched or butterfly roofs, aqua and pink kitchen appliances, spikey-legged furniture, boomerang coffee tables, flying saucer lamps - the list goes on. Young people, especially, are outfitting their homes with old-modern furniture, decor and wall hangings found at thrift stores or picked up roadside. This series is offered in the hope that members, young and old, might look back and smile nostalgically at "the way we were."

Click here to read this first in a three-part series on Modernist architecture in West Volusia by Oscar Brock. Part one focuses primarily on Mid-Century Modern, 1954-1964.

Engines of Growth: The Railroads in DeLand, Florida.   Prior to the introduction of railroads into the interior of central Florida, in the last three decade of the 19th Century, access for goods and people was gained by steamboats which traveled the St. Johns River between Jacksonville and Sanford. During 1881, the Orange Ridge, DeLand and Atlantic Railroad was incorporated. This narrow-gauge line ran from DeLand Landing to a depot located on the south side of New York Avenue between Clara and Delaware Avenues. On July 28, 1884, operation of the railroad commenced. The rolling stock consisted of an engine, two flat cars, three boxcars, and one passenger coach.

Read W. E. Roddenberry's interesting documentation of how railroads enabled the growth of DeLand. Click on this link to read the full article and view great vintage photos from the WVHS archives.

Saving Vintage Newspapers 

For many years the West Volusia Historical Society has been storing a vast collection of approximately 1000 vintage newspapers ranging from the early 1920’s to the 1960’s. Volunteers organized the papers by date and location with the bulk of the collection being DeLand Sun News and the Daytona Beach News Journal. While fortunately many of these vintage papers have been digitized and are now available through the Volusia County Library Services website, the project continues and the newspapers are deteriorating. Click this link to read the Barbara Dunn Storz update on the continuing project to preserve these treasurers. 

Gingerbread - a Christmas Tradition.  The Historical Society has initiated a gingerbread contest as an integral part of the Christmas in Bloom event. Christmas and gingerbread seem to go together but how did that happen?  Lifetime member Lorna Jean Hagstrom explores the history of ginger and how it became part of our Christmas traditions.  Click this link to read about this tradition. Published in the West Volusia Beacon on November 12, 2020

Recollections of the Polio Epidemic.  If you were a youngster during the late Thirties, Forties and early Fifties, you may remember saving your coins for the March of Dimes and trying to understand why a cooling splash in the pool hinged on something called a vaccine. Poliomyelitis—polio for short—is the disease that gave parents nightmares in the early 20th Century. It struck in the summer months, and although many people recovered quickly, many others, including a US. president, were crippled for life.

DeLand native Mary T. Clark shares her memories of a close friend, Ann Roberson (later Morris), who contracted Volusia County’s first case of polio in July 1949. Click this link to read the story of this endominable woman.  

Monkeys, Socks and World War I.  ...and Christmas? Christmas stockings, warm fuzzy socks and sock monkeys are Christmas traditions. But how does World War 1 fit in? Read this interesting story that Karen Tweedie uncovered while planning the Christmas in Bloom event. As she researched the history of sock making and its role in history she learned about Circular Sock Machines and an amazing patriotic effort during WW1 to provide warm dry socks to our soldiers on the front lines. Click this link to read the story, and the next time you see a sock monkey and smile, you’ll be reminded of another reason for that warm feeling. 

Astor Florida and the Jungle Den. A recent article in the DeLand Beacon evoked memories of the Jungle Den in Astor in earlier days for Historical Society member Hilda McCarter. Read her recollections of Astor, known then by many around Florida for its laid-back atmosphere, impressive fishing tales, and in some years – a good restaurant with excellent seafood. Called by the Beacon as a once-vibrant resort and fish camp, it now is defined as “an unsightly mess”. Click this link for the story.

The Civil Rights Movement - Looking Back.  Stories of the Civil Rights years abound, but seldom are they told by the people who lived them. Fortunately for Volusians, Joyce Cummings-Cusack is an exception. Because her community activism began at an early age, she can personally share the many stages, from a drug store sit-in as a high school senior to her achievements as a black woman in public service. For her account of a life well lived, read her speech to Volusia County employees in February 2020 transcribed by Beacon Reporter Eli Witek. Cusack served in the Florida House of Representatives, representing the 27th District from 2000 to 2008. Click this link to read the transcription of her speech. 

Old Settlers. Henry DeLand did not start the community that later would bear his name. That distinction belongs to a group of hardy settlers, from all over the north, southeast and Midwest who were looking for a better life after the Civil War ended. Look at the city’s street names and you will see reminders of these “old settlers.”

When Mabelle Cox, the author of this short history, married James Augustus (Gus) Allen, she joined one of those pioneer families, headed by James Frederick and Calista Allen. With them she attended for many years, the annual "Old Settlers Picnic." She came to have great admiration for the bravery and courage for all pioneers. Click this link to read her interesting article based on the recollections of her sister-in-law Mabel Allen Winters and the early days of DeLand.

The First Baptist Church of DeLeon Springs is celebrating 100 years. A special service to commemorate its longevity and adaptability to change was recently held. The church has contributed to the history of DeLeon Springs and has opened welcoming doors to members and visitors alike for a century. 

Click this link to read Oscar Brock's article.