DeLand’s first newspaper, the Volusia County Herald, had its publishing debut on May 10, 1877.
The fact that a local newspaper arose so early in the town’s history is another validation of the “enterprising and intelligent” quality of the town’s citizens that Henry DeLand had spotted the very first time he met them.
These were not people who would be content with the usual custom of passing around days-old or weeks-old newspapers, and they made it a priority to start one of their own.
Although many of the citizens doubted the paper would be able to “hatch up enough news” to fill three columns of local happenings, the venture was attempted anyway, and with good results.
Before there was newspaper advertising
Before the wide distribution of newspapers like the Herald, the only access smaller communities had to product advertisements was through printed handouts called “drummer cards,” so named because they had the size and stock quality of playing cards and were passed around by traveling salesmen called “drummers.”
The manner in which these men conducted business explains their nickname. Upon reaching a town, a salesman would find an appropriate gathering place and then begin to ring a bell, or, more effectively, beat a drum, to attract a crowd to hear his sales pitch.
As he spoke, drummer cards were circulated that extolled the many benefits of the product. However, as newspapers proliferated, more people could be reached through advertising in these venues, with a lot less effort than was needed for such circuit-riding appearances, so drummer cards slowly fell out of favor.
Not surprisingly, the Herald was published by Henry DeLand, perhaps initiated during the 1877 visit to the city that he mentioned in his memoirs.
His brother-in-law Menzo Leete and another settler, T.J. Southworth, served as dual editors.
Leete’s son Frederick took a job as his father’s “printer’s devil,” as these young apprentices were known, because their faces got so begrimed with ink that they looked “as black as any devil employed to stoke the fires of hell.”
The newspaper publishers at first had to make do with a block printing press.
Sheets preprinted with world news on the outside had to be placed, one at a time, in the press, and a lever was pulled down to make an inked image of the local news on the blank inside of the sheet.
Then the sheet was removed and another one put in its place, and the process was repeated over again until the required number of copies was printed.
Once the publishers were able to obtain a secondhand rotary press, getting the paper out was much less laborious, but even this apparatus came with a drawback — it was missing its inking rollers.
The staff went through a few trial-and-error experiments to rig up some rollers on their own, but their contraptions were barely adequate.
Leete mentions that when he was there, the rollers were so “terribly made” that the large (5-foot-wide) hand-wheel-operated press could be turned only by “a mighty black man.”
The price of a subscription to the Volusia County Herald was $1.50 per year.
Some fragments of a July 19, 1877, edition of the Volusia County Herald have
survived that provide readers with a veritable time-capsule view of what life was like in those days.
As might be expected for a town centered on the Orange Ridge, most of the content was related to agriculture and citrus cultivation. However, other crops were discussed, as well.
One article suggested that the local climate was also suited to the growing of the cinchona tree. Quinine, used in the treatment of malaria, is extracted from the bark of these trees.
The commercial growing of pasture grasses and tobacco was discussed.
Another profit-making enterprise mentioned in this edition is one that was all the rage in that day: the cultivation of silkworms for commercial purposes.
A man in DeLeon Springs (then called Spring Garden) opened a cocoonery called “Spring Garden Silk Farm.” Silk from his farm won prizes at the Florida State Fair and the World’s Cotton Exposition.
However, nothing in the historical record indicates that any of these crops was ever widely planted.
Finally, a piece of social commentary, republished from The Daily Graphic, which was published in New York City, discusses the latest ladies’ fashion trend of the day.
While the practical frontier women of DeLand would not have been enticed by constantly changing styles, the article that hailed “The Return of the Ladies Slipper” did offer a delightful bit of whimsy for local readers.
The author reported that, “For nearly a generation, the only street view of the feminine ankle has been [of] leather.”
Not only were women’s boots expensive, he noted, but they also grew misshapen after only a little wear. So for urban gentlemen, the sight of the clean, white hose that had previously been covered by scuffed and wrinkled boot leather was “a power in the lane.”
The outline of a neatly turned ankle that the more low-slung slipper offered was enough to afford “the hurried man of business a momentary respite,” one well worth the risk of being distracted and possibly causing a traffic mishap.
Public-service announcements were included in this edition, as well, such as a schedule of departures by steamboat: “A through boat for Jacksonville, Palatka and intermediate landings leaves Enterprise, Mellonville, and Sanford every Thursday and Sunday at 6 a.m.”
The most significant public announcement for the citizens of DeLand concerned a “Peach and Ice-cream Festival” to be held on the evening of July 25, 1877, at 7 p.m. at the new schoolhouse.
Admission was 10 cents per person, with refreshments costing extra, and all the proceeds would go toward liquidating the debt on the recently completed school building.
Helen DeLand’s account of the events of that day noted that the ice-cream churns were filled with ice that came “all the way from Maine.”
There was so much demand that the social committee was highly embarrassed when it had to dilute the ice cream to ensure that everyone had a sample.
Readers interested in history have much to gain by studying vintage newspaper advertisements. They are among the richest and most faithful reflections one could ever find of the activities of daily living in a particular society.
A real estate ad from 1877
Of special interest is the following extensive real estate offering:
“Twenty-two 10 and 20 acres, proposed improved lots. Cottage houses of two rooms and kitchen, good well water, 200-300 two-year old sweet seedling orange trees on each place. 40 acre lots improved- $1,000. 20 acre lots improved- $750; and 10 acre lots improved- $500. All the above property is located within four miles of Lake Beresford near the village of DeLand.”
This advertisement reveals the kind of properties available for sale as the town was just being born.
Beyond the physical descriptions, a quaint image comes through of a simple lifestyle amid exotic and fragrant, orange-blossom-scented surroundings.
This image had proved irresistible to many.
This surviving edition of the Herald, for example, demonstrates how the lives of the men and women of DeLand were clearly dominated by providing food, shelter and clothing for their families.
The Herald’s ads for that day in 1877 included one for sewing machines that could be ordered from New York City for $20. Wood-burning ranges were also listed for sale.
The Colcord and Felt store at Alexander’s Landing in Beresford rightly claimed it was “the oldest establishment in the place,” and touted its merchandise of “groceries, provisions, dry goods, hardware, tin ware, wooden ware, medicine and fancy goods equal to any stock south of Jacksonville.”
Mr. Jordan had no promotion for his new store in DeLand, but a catchy business advertisement promoted the other Beresford store owned by Henry Austin and John Cannon: “If you want to grow fat, buy your groceries at: Austin and Cannon, Beresford Fla.”
— 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 email@example.com to order a copy of Ryder’s book Better Country Beyond. Proceeds from the sale benefit the Historical Society.