110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
Lake Helen is located in the gently rolling hills of West Volusia, six miles east of DeLand. No traffic lights here, but there are tennis courts and an equestrian center near City Hall. Bed-and-breakfast inns, a bicycling center and a “tin man” water tower add to the charm.
Lake Helen’s tree-shaded streets, friendly people and Victorian-era homes create an Old Florida ambience. A historical district that is on the National Register of Historic Places offers a scene much as it was at the turn of the century. “Quaint” and “unique” are words often used to describe this small city of fewer than 3,000 people.
Henry A. DeLand founded Lake Helen in 1884. He dreamed of developing a town around a pristine lake. He acquired about 1,000 acres of high pineland, plotted the streets, and named both the town and its principal lake for his daughter, Helen.
Henry DeLand built a two-story resort hotel, named it for his son Harlan, and set out to draw Northerners into his dream of creating the “prettiest and pleasantest” town in Florida. Visitors boarded a riverboat at Jacksonville and came south on the St. Johns River. Growth was phenomenal and, in 1888, six years after DeLand incorporated, Lake Helen became a city.
Many of the homes built in those early years are open to visitors during the biennial historic-homes tour, usually held the first weekend of December.
The neighboring village to Lake Helen, Cassadaga, is world-renowned as a center for psychics and mediums. George Colby founded Cassadaga in 1875, with the intention of it being a haven for Spiritualists wanting to escape cold winters while practicing their religious beliefs. The first people pitched tents or stayed in nearby hotels until cottages were built.
In 1895, Colby deeded part of his homestead to the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association. The association and Cassadaga are referred to as “the camp.” Today there are no camping facilities; “camp meeting” is an old term describing the annual gathering of religious groups.
Designated a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, Cassadaga is the oldest active religious community in the Southeastern United States. Folks come from all over to visit Cassadaga: the believers, the curious and the skeptics. There are bookstores, a historic hotel, and many shops and homes where mediums and psychics offer their services to the public.
Lake Helen and Cassadaga are separate and distinctly different communities. Side by side, however, the two towns work together on projects like water conservation, passive tourism and historic preservation. Fundraising T-shirts are sold in both villages, proudly proclaiming: “Lake Helen-Cassadaga; Where Mayberry meets the Twilight Zone.”.
Marge Clauser has lived in the Lake Helen/Cassadaga area for many years. She was a regular contributor to the Beacon for five years. Currently she is working on a creative non-fiction book. She is also pursuing poetry as a genre for which she has had a love but not the time to devote to it.
She will return to The Beacon pages when her schedule permits, to write about subjects on which she is passionate.
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