Florida Stories: A Walking Tour of Deland

    By Tom Scherberger

    Want to explore the cultural, historical, and architectural treasures of Deland, Fla.? There’s an app for that.

    Just go to Florida Stories Walking Tours, and download the app created by the Florida Humanities Council.

    With this app you can learn, at your own pace and on your own schedule, what some of Florida’s most unique towns and cities have to offer.

    Here’s an overview of what you can experience via the Deland app:                                                             

    Where: Deland
    Number of stops: 12
    Total time: 2 hours
    Author: Larry French, Executive Director, West Volusia Historical Society
    Start: West Volusia Historical Society Complex

    Overview

    Founded in 1876, DeLand is best known as the home of Florida’s oldest private college, Stetson University, which also boasts Florida’s first law school.

    Formerly called Persimmon Hollow, DeLand was also the first city in the state to have electricity. No wonder it was optimistically nicknamed the Athens of Florida by its founder, Henry Addison DeLand.

    The city survived DeLand’s personal misfortune when his citrus holdings were devastated by the great freeze of 1885. The historic downtown features Mediterranean Revival buildings from the 1920s.

    Henry DeLand would likely be pleased that the DeLand Fall Festival of the Arts draws tens of thousands of people each year to the downtown streets he laid out. This tour takes you through much of the historic downtown area.

    Highlights

    DeLand Hall, built by Henry A. DeLand in 1884, is part of Stetson University and Florida’s oldest building in continuous educational use.

    Across the street is Elizabeth Hall, built in 1892 and modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It was named for the wife of John B. Stetson, the maker of the famous Stetson hats, after whom the college was named.

    Painters Pond Park, located in what was once the heart of DeLand’s African-American community called Red City, includes the largest of DeLand’s 14 murals.

    The Athens Theater opened in 1922, was shuttered in the early 1990s and reopened after restoration in 2009 for plays and movies.

    The neo-classical Historic County Courthouse, built in 1929, is one of the city’s most impressive structures, featuring huge columns, marble steps, a large dome and a clock that chimes every fifteen minutes.

    Fun fact

    Artist Jackson Walker’s series of legendary Florida paintings line the walls of the main and second floors of the Historic Courthouse Rotunda, and in each one he includes the image of a snake.

    Notable characters

    R.C. 'Pop' Bushnell, DeLand’s Bandmaster who conducted concerts on Sunday afternoons at the town bandshell and built a brick structure that became the home of W.A. Allen and Co. druggists and is still known as Allen’s Corner.

    Railroad tycoon Henry Flagler, after whom the Mediterranean Revival style Flagler Hall is named.

    C.C. Codrington, an immigrant plantation owner from Jamaica who edited the Florida Agriculturalist and was a key figure in promoting semi-tropical horticulture in Florida.

    Things to do

    Canoe or kayak down the Spring Garden Run beside the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge to see birds and other wildlife.

    The Reptile Discovery Center features indoor and outdoor exhibits of lizards, alligators, tortoises, rattlesnakes, cobras, mambas and many others.

    Dig deeper into DeLand history at the Conrad Research and Education Center of the West Volusia Historical Society Complex.

    Visit the African American Museum of the Arts, the only museum in the area devoted primarily to African American art and culture.

    Stroll along Artisan Alley, which runs off Georgia Avenue, and check out local artists, boutiques, restaurants, wine bars and, on Friday nights, a farmer’s market.

    For some modern Italian dining, try the Urban Brick, or some southern comfort at Taste of Soul.

    Places to Remember

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