Boom times for West Volusia in the 1880s
The people who flocked to DeLand during boom years came from surprisingly diverse locales.
An 1885 promotional booklet titled “DeLand: A City in the Pines” reported the number of property owners by the states they had lived in previously.
It is interesting to note that both Northern and Southern states were well-represented. One Northern state, New York, and one Southern state, Kentucky, were tied at 100 each for having the highest number of immigrants to the city.
Northern states predominated in the next three highest-ranking slots, with Indiana coming in second at 60, and Illinois and Michigan tying for third place at 46. Next, in fourth place, was Florida, because 40 residents had come to DeLand from some other locale within the state.
There were a few DeLandites who had even come from outside the United States, namely England, Scotland, Ireland and one, apparently Christopher Codrington, who was from “the West Indies.”
Trash burial common
Population growth on the scale that DeLand was now experiencing inevitably led to issues with the disposal of trash and garbage. As long as most of the pioneers lived on remote wooded homesteads, disposal was an easy matter. Anything that couldn’t be used for enriching the soil or recycled for other uses was buried in their own yards.
Residents dug holes several feet deep into which they threw bottles, cans, broken dishes and other household detritus. Once one hole was filled, it was covered with a layer of soil and a new hole was dug. Even residents with smaller lots closer to the business district followed this practice.
However, by 1885, the Town Council felt there was sufficient need for an organized method of house-to-house refuse pickup and disposal, and passed the first ordinance to address this task.
The growing number of residents also ensured that any events occurring in town would draw substantial crowds, and a surviving 1885 photograph shows just such a gathering.
A traveling show is seen in the foreground at the corner of New York Avenue and Woodland Boulevard.
The photograph reveals how frontier ways of life were now intersecting with more urban styles. While the still-unpaved sandy streets are deeply rutted, and pioneer clothing is still being worn by some citizens on the streets, there are substantial numbers of men sporting dark business suits and derby hats.
GROWTH BY THE NUMBERS
1,113 — The population of DeLand, as recorded by the 1890 federal census figures, the first census after the town’s incorporation in 1882.
8,167 — The population of the whole of Volusia County as of the 1890 census.
37,351 — DeLand’s population as of the 2020 census. One source, www.worldpopulationreview.com, puts the number at 39,237 for 2021.
Preserving small-town charms
For all the above-mentioned growth, DeLand in 1885 still retained many of its small-town ways, and one of the hallmarks of a small town is how fast gossip travels.
One item of chatter in active circulation in 1885 involved a highly acrimonious and even scandal-tinged lawsuit. It all started when David Parce, brother of Joseph Parce and Sarah Parce DeLand, came from New York state that winter to visit his DeLand relatives.
After reaching DeLand Landing, Parce took the train into town. But what he did upon his arrival was what set tongues wagging. He immediately sought out two things: a pair of crutches and a lawyer.
The reason for his actions soon became clear when Parce used the lawyer to initiate a lawsuit against Eber Bond, the owner of the railroad. Parce’s suit stated that when he boarded the train at DeLand Landing, he stepped into a hole in the planking and injured his ankle.
At first, Bond paid little attention to the suit, but when Parce was awarded damages, Bond appealed the case to the U.S. District Court at Jacksonville.
The Bond family believed Bond had been discriminated against by a regional court that was biased toward the many cattle ranchers of the area, whose livestock were being injured and killed by trains. So Bond refused to pay the $30,000 in damages that Parce had been awarded.
As a result, ownership of Bond’s railroad was transferred to Parce.
In the ensuing years, Bond had a limited presence in the city of DeLand but never completely severed ties with the area. In 1904, he obtained property in Lake Helen and built a “veneer factory and sawmill” and the Bond Sandstone Brick Co.
Rails and jails vs. cows
All across the country, the proliferating presence of trains was causing these kinds of confrontations between railroad interests and cattle ranchers.
The conflict was especially keen in Florida, where not only did cattle ranches cover much of the land, but the cattle also were allowed “free range” to graze wherever they happened to wander.
With this many head of cattle and no fences present, it is not surprising that high numbers of these animals were being killed or injured as train service proliferated.
Even before the railroads entered the scene, there had been clashes between ranchers’ interests and urban growth.
For example, when stray cattle ate up the shrubbery and fouled the streets of the city of DeLand one too many times, a city pound was established to capture and sell the offending bovines, unless the owners paid a fine.
One day, the town marshal announced at a specially called town meeting that he had “arrested” 12 head of cattle. Two of the owners paid up, but the third one, dentist H.D. Bracey, the man who had offered his land for the new wharf, flatly refused to do so.
Bracey arrived at the marshal’s office with a constable and a summons signed by a justice of the peace that ordered the town marshal to release his cattle. When the marshal refused, saying the cattle were under the jurisdiction of the Police Court of the City of DeLand, Bracey stormed out.
He marched over to the pound and proceeded to rip down the fencing so all the cattle would be able to escape.
Another account of this incident gives further details of what happened next. The marshal hauled Bracey to jail, but he was forced to sit with gun in hand outside Bracey’s cell to prevent other cattlemen from freeing the prisoner.
It’s easy to see how adding miles of train tracks across what the ranchers considered their pasturelands only increased the intensity of the grievances they were feeling. This clash of interests would persist for several decades, until Florida’s open-range laws were finally repealed after World War II.
— Ryder and her husband, Bob Wetton, live in DeLand and are active members of the West Volusia Historical Society. For information about obtaining a copy of her book Better Country Beyond, call the Historical Society at 386-740- 6813, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.