110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Rick Tonyan
It used to be easy to tell when you drove into Northwest Volusia on U.S. Highway 17.
Coming north from DeLand, Northwest Volusia was the place where all the development stopped and all the citrus trees, ferns and cattle started growing.
It's not that way anymore. Subdivisions sprout where groves, ferneries and pastures once dotted the landscape north of DeLand.
But, don't write the obituary for Northwest Volusia agriculture yet.
There still are plenty of ferneries, citrus groves and pastures bringing millions of dollars into the local economy.
Despite development pressures, much of Northwest Volusia remains stubbornly rural.
There are the horse farms around DeLeon Springs, with Spring Garden Ranch, an internationally known harness-racing training facility, at their hub.
There are the ferneries of Pierson, the self-styled "Fern Capital of the World."
There are the cattle ranches and citrus groves of Barberville and Seville, small communities that always relied on agriculture for their economic lifeblood.
For the most part, the rest of Volusia County is rooted in the Northwest. The name of the county comes from a settlement called Volusia on the east bank of the St. Johns River. When the county was created in 1845, Volusia was its largest town. Now, Volusia is a tiny unincorporated community off State Road 40.
The history of Northwest Volusia stretches back for as long as people have lived in Florida. Some of the oldest pre-Columbian Native American artifacts in the state have been found in and around the boil of DeLeon Springs.
When Europeans arrived in Florida, it didn't take them long to find what would become Northwest Volusia. Indeed, the Spaniard who discovered Florida, Juan Ponce de León, described in his log what might have been a trip south on the St. Johns to DeLeon Springs.
By 1570, a Spanish sugar plantation was developed in the area. For centuries, sugar and indigo a plant used to make a dark-blue dye were the big cash crops. Cattle and cotton also contributed to the local economy.
But, by the mid-1800s, Northwest Volusia was slipping in economic and political clout. Investors poured money into other areas of the county.
Still, as long as folks drink orange juice, use ferns in decorations or enjoy horse-oriented sports, Northwest Volusia will play its role.
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