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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to order a copy of Ryder’s book Better Country Beyond. Proceeds from the sale benefit the Historical Society.