Even in 1887, DeLandites were worried about coping with traffic and having enough trees
Wasting the public’s money
All the booming business in DeLand caused increased traffic on the still-unpaved Downtown streets. In 1887, with the ruts in the sand becoming extensive, a street-improvement program was deemed absolutely necessary by the Town Council, and $200 was allocated for this purpose.
The money was used to purchase a mule and a special wagon with high sides and a tailboard. Henry Dixon, one of the pioneer African American citizens of DeLand, was hired to haul sawdust from Dunn’s Eagle sawmill and spread it on the streets of the Downtown business district.
Not everyone viewed this appropriation in a positive light. Some irate citizens gathered on the street corners to protest the “extravagance” of city officials using public money for this purpose.
A group of merchants from the north end of town also picketed against sawdust being spread, but not because of the expense. These men liked to pitch horseshoes in the street during those afternoons when their shops were quiet, and the sawdust did not provide as good a base as sand for their horseshoe courts.
In addition to sawdust, other paving materials were tried. The area’s massive Native American middens were mined for shells that were spread on many area thoroughfares. Any sensitivity sites is not noted in the historical record. toward these archaeologically significant
Another substance the city tried was marlstone, brought in from DeLeon Springs. Marl is a lime-rich, mudstone deposit of calcium carbonate containing variable amounts of clay and silt.
Also in 1887, another street-improvement project, which had begun two years earlier, was now unanimously acknowledged to have been a serious miscalculation.
When the City of DeLand was founded, there were very few oak trees in its environs, but in 1885, the Town Council had initiated a project to beautify the streets and provide shade for shoppers.
Young oak seedlings were set out on both sides of Woodland Boulevard and down its center island, and in the center of Howry Avenue, as well.
Despite the critics who proclaimed that these plantings resembled “rows of upside down dust mops,” the commissioners had forged ahead with an even bolder scheme. Each property owner within the city limits was granted a 50-cent discount off their taxes for each oak tree seedling they planted along the street side of their property, provided the trees survived for two years.
This scheme had seemed on the surface to be a good way to make the Downtown more attractive; however, things ran amok because of simple marketplace economics. Since the seedlings could be purchased for half the price of the 50-cent rebate, the project inevitably changed from a civic beautification program into a personal financial opportunity.
Property owners planted oaks along every road in town, no matter how little-traveled or how remotely located from the city center.
Trees were even planted where no street had yet been cut through. As the requisite two-year survival period ended in 1887, not only had an unexpectedly large proportion of the populace taken the city up on its offer, but the homeowners had planted their trees only 15-25 feet apart, rather than the 40-50 feet that was the recommended spacing.
Once all the property owners claimed their tax deductions, the city coffers were empty.
Fortunately, there were no bonds to pay interest on, no paved streets to maintain, and no salaries owed for members of the Town Council or mayor.
The city’s only paid employee was the town marshal, who had been hired to do day and night duty for a salary of $50 per month. Naturally, when told that the city was unable to pay him, the marshal was not pleased.
As he sardonically put it, he didn’t think leading his family out to “browse the oak trees” was much of a consolation for being unable to provide for their welfare.
A special meeting of the Town Council was called, and the oak-tree ordinance was summarily repealed.
The ordinance had been in effect for 19 months, but its influence on DeLand would be evident for at least a century to come.
Even in the 1920s, substantial oak canopies arched over many of the city streets, and it was widely held that these trees were DeLand’s greatest asset.
— Ryder and her husband, Bob Wetton, live in DeLand, and have been active with the West Volusia Historical Society. Contact the Historical Society at 386-740-6813, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to order a copy of Ryder’s book Better Country Beyond. Proceeds from the sale benefit the Historical Society.