In the 19th century, DeLand and other Volusia County cities had grand hotels that served visitors for several decades. Today, most of those landmarks to the area’s rich history are gone forever, lost to modern development.
Research into the history of this area reveals a vast number of these establishments that once existed here.
Unlike many Florida cities transformed in the 20th century, DeLand did not tear down and replace most of its older inner-city buildings. Why? Was it because residents recognized the significance of these visual ties to the past? Perhaps people sensed the relevance of this history to their present lives?
From research for my book Grand Hotels of West Volusia County, I found that DeLand at one time had 20 or more hotels and establishments that boarded visitors. Of these, only the DeLand Hotel (now the Artisan Downtown), Evergreen (now The DeLand Hotel), and the Hotel Putnam are left.
The Artisan Downtown and The DeLand Hotel have been restored. These historic hotels still accommodate guests. The Putnam, the largest of these remaining hotels, currently has a new owner who is attempting to save and restore it. The question is, does DeLand and will DeLand help save the Putnam?
Read the history of the Putnam. This longtime center for social events and destination for notable visitors has stood the test of time and trials. The Putnam has gone through a couple of owners.
Big Bubba Investments, which now owns the hotel, has had to endure an arson attempt to burn down the “fireproof” building not long after it was bought. The sound structure survived this, and now permitting problems have prevented further repair and restoration.
One has to wonder: Does DeLand want to save the Putnam, or does someone stand to benefit from the total loss of this landmark?
Whatever the answer, DeLand decided more than 30 years ago it was important to preserve and restore its past by saving landmark buildings and streetscapes. The city has garnered several awards, such as Great American Main Street, Best Main Street in Florida and, recently, America’s Best Main Street.
Today, visitors once again come here in large numbers, as they once did long ago. They are drawn to the streetscape, the businesses in Downtown DeLand, and the stories the preserved buildings have to share.
The Hotel Putnam is a very big part of that story. Will residents and the City of DeLand help save the Putnam?
— Larry French is a historian and Volusia County resident. He authored Grand Hotels of West Volusia County, which features the Hotel Putnam, and is a lifetime member of the West Volusia Historical Society and its former executive director.