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PHOTOS COURTESY FLORIDA FWC, CHAD WEBER TURKEY, ANYONE? — Wild Florida turkeys roam around Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area in Sorrento, unaware that they may be someone’s Thanksgiving dinner sometime soon.

Auld Lang Syne

The incorporation of the City of DeLand may have been the event that fueled the strong sense of nostalgia about the “good old days” on the frontier among those who had been there from the beginning.

Just over six months after the incorporation vote, on Thanksgiving Day of 1882, a special group was formed.

Karen Ryder
Editor’s note: This is the latest installment
of our feature Better Country Beyond, with excerpts from DeLandite
Karen Ryder’s, pictured, book about the early days of the founding of the city of DeLand.
The Beacon is indebted to Donna Jean Flood, a DeLand financial adviser
with Edward Jones, for the idea for this series, part of our ongoing West Volusia Memories series by community writers.

The membership consisted of the majority of the earliest inhabitants, and they met for the first time at a Voorhis residence.

This house still stands today on the southwest corner of Howry and Clara avenues, where it was moved from its original location, one block south, on the southwest corner of Voorhis and Clara avenues, in 1910.

The preserved minutes of this gathering recorded that the attendees first partook of a communal dinner around a table that “fairly groaned with the good things of life.”

The group sang the Scottish folk song “Auld Lang Syne,” which literally translates to “old long since” but could better be rendered as meaning “for the sake of old times” — a particularly appropriate choice for this occasion.

After eating, everyone went out onto the house’s broad veranda, and held the first meeting of what they called “The Pioneers of DeLand and Vicinity.”

Only those who had owned property in the DeLand area before Jan. 1, 1877, and their descendants, were eligible for membership.

Their expressed purpose was to meet annually in order to keep alive “the cordial and kindly feeling that has ever existed” among themselves.

The officers elected that evening were: Dr. Henry Gillen, president; newly elected Mayor Judge Cyrenius Wright, first vice president; Henry DeLand, second vice president; and Hettie Austin, secretary and historian.

Over time, the group became known more commonly as “The Old Settlers Society.”

PHOTO COURTESY WEST VOLUSIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY STORIED PAST — Members of the Old Settlers Society gather for a photo in 1912. On Thanksgiving Day 1882, the Old Settlers organized, offering membership to anyone who owned property in the DeLand area before Jan. 1, 1877, and their descendants. The home where that meeting took place is still standing in DeLand.

To the city of DeLand’s great benefit, the group would prove to be a major force in the community, and the surviving record of their meetings and memorials has preserved the perspectives of those who had been in the city since its very beginning.

Less than one month after the formation of the Old Settlers Society, the town was confronted with the first loss of one of its founding members.

Eliza Wright, wife of Mayor Cyrenius Wright and mother of Clara Rich, died at the Rich cabin at the age of 62.

Secretary Hettie Austin’s poetic memorial for her expressed the sentiments many were feeling about this loss.

After his mother-in-law’s death, John Rich sold his DeLand holdings, and he and his wife, Clara, moved to the city of Jacksonville, where he again became agent for a steamship line.

However, his father-in-law, Mayor Cyrenius Wright, stayed on at the cabin and was soon joined there by his son Silas, who came from South Carolina with his wife to live in DeLand.

BEACON PHOTO/BARB SHEPHERD MEETING PLACE — This grand home, now at 302 W. Howry Ave., was the site of the first meeting of the Old Settlers Society in DeLand. It wasn’t at this location, however. The house was moved from its location about a block south on Clara Avenue.

Turkeys for tourists

By 1885, there were many boardinghouses in DeLand, so competition for the commerce of all classes of lodgers was keen.

One resident’s memoirs tell of an unidentified boardinghouse keeper whose inn was conveniently located where arriving trains passed by on their way to the depot.

The woman who owned the inn kept watch for any sign of an approaching locomotive and then would immediately drive her “fine flock of turkeys” into her front yard, where they could be viewed by all the incoming passengers.

However, it was well known to the locals that anyone thinking the inn’s fare would include a fresh roast turkey dinner would come away sorely disappointed.

Not one of those proudly displayed fowl had ever appeared on the guests’ dinner table.

PHOTO COURTESY DELAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY
LAKE HELEN’S HOTEL — A view of the old Harlan Hotel in Lake Helen.

Harlan Hotel opens on Thanksgiving

By 1884, the whole area was surveyed, streets were laid out, many large homes were erected, and the Harlan-in-the-Pines hotel in Lake Helen opened its doors on Thanksgiving night.

The hotel was a two-story structure with a high tower and wide verandas overlooking the Lake Helen Lake.

Right from the start, it was a popular social center. It had a billiards parlor and hosted euchre and whist card parties, dances, “tableaux” (dramatic scenes where a picturesquely dressed group of people are frozen in position on stage), masquerades and musicals.

Outdoor recreation included tennis and croquet, as well as horse and boat races.

PHOTO COURTESY THE FLORIDA MEMORIES PROJECT
LAKE HELEN HOTEL — Another view of the old Harlan Hotel in Lake Helen.

Once again, Henry DeLand’s genius for business sales proved wildly successful.

According to the memoirs of one longtime resident, “All of the millionaires would come down in the winter to stay at the Harlan Hotel.”

The hotel would remain a popular winter destination until 1922, when it burned down on Halloween night.

— 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 delandhouse@msn.com to order a copy of Ryder’s book Better Country Beyond. Proceeds from the sale benefit the Historical Society.

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