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DeLand collector buys it from Putnam’s new owner

A small piece of DeLand history is now safely in the hands of a local collector after being rescued by a team of volunteers from the long-closed Hotel Putnam. 

Found long ago in the St. Johns River, the dugout canoe that hung from the ceiling in different rooms inside the hotel for decades was taken April 5 to the safety of Jim Cara’s collection, which houses thousands of West Volusia artifacts. 

A small group of people helped Cara carefully maneuver the canoe through the inn’s long-disused corridors and out the front door. 

The canoe has been in the hotel since at least the 1950s, but its origins are somewhat unknown. 

“The history is a little bit of a mystery that we’re hoping to solve in the near future,” Cara said. 

He said he thinks the Brown family, which owned the hotel and its predecessor from 1896 to 1959, are the ones who brought the canoe into the inn, supposedly from the St. Johns River.

“I have personally talked to people who, as early as 1955, remember seeing the canoe hanging in the Cypress Room Bar,” Cara said. 

Before landing at the hotel, the canoe was displayed in a Florida exhibit at at least one World’s Fair in the 1930s or 1940s, according to Linda Dorian, grandniece of Robert Brown Sr., who formerly owned the hotel.

It’s also unknown if the canoe is an authentic Native American artifact possibly dating back centuries, or something carved in more recent years. Cara said the vessel has seen its fair share of abuse.

“I was told it had actually sat outside of the hotel for a few years and was used as a planter,” he said. “When we got a good look at the bottom of the canoe, we found four to six holes that had been drilled into it.”

Cara had been trying to acquire the canoe for several years. The hotel’s new owner, Mohamed Rashad, was willing to sell the artifact. Rashad purchased the hotel for $1 million on March 30, and intends to renovate it into apartments on the upper floors, possibly with space for the Museum of Art – DeLand on the ground level. 

Cara declined to say how much he paid for the dugout canoe, saying only that it was “not cheap.” 

“I paid what I paid for it because it’s a cool artifact that’s been here in DeLand,” he said.

After having an expert look at the canoe to more clearly determine its provenance, Cara would like to display the dugout where the public can view it.

“My intent is to keep the canoe here in town,” he said.

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