brock house
Built in Enterprise in 1854, the Brock House was a hotel where many visitors to the small Volusia County community, once the seat of the county’s government, stayed.
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 first commercial St. Johns River steamboat line in Volusia County was established about 1850 at the town of Enterprise. The settlement had been founded on Lake Monroe nine years earlier when a group of 20 homesteaders built a fort on the north shore of the lake as a protection from the Seminoles.

The group was led by Cornelius Taylor, a former timber agent and first cousin to future U.S. president Gen. Zachary Taylor.

The developer of this premier steamboat line was Jacob Brock, who came to Enterprise from Vermont and immediately saw the transportation potential that existed along the St. Johns’ extensive waterway.

By 1854, when Enterprise was named the seat of the newly formed Volusia County, Brock was already making weekly excursion trips up and down the river between Enterprise and Jacksonville in his side-wheeler, the Darlington.

Just as he had envisioned, the success of Brock’s steamship business in this small, remote town was due to the ease of access it provided into and out of the center heartland of the state. All the tributaries, lakes and springs along the river’s shores from Enterprise north were now connected to the bustling port of Jacksonville and from there to Charleston and all the other Atlantic trade routes for Europe and beyond.

Health benefits

Before Brock’s arrival, Enterprise already had gained a reputation as a health resort, due to its three local sulfur springs.

The advent of his regularly scheduled steamer service was a magnet to the crowds of ill and infirm who were hearing word of the springs’ benefits. The attraction was especially strong for those suffering from the often-lethal lung disease tuberculosis.

Until 1882, when Mycobacterium tuberculosis was discovered to be the infectious agent, the affliction was called “consumption” due to its major symptom — the progressive wasting away that occurred in the bodies of its victims.

This ancient malady had reached epidemic proportions during the 19th century and was the leading cause of death in the U.S.

Many sufferers pinned their best hopes for recovery on the chance to recuperate in the Florida sunshine — close to one third of the tourists arriving in Florida were invalids, and the majority of them suffered from consumption. As one handbook described the trend, Florida was “fast becoming the greatest sanitarium of the continent.”

Brock was kept busy transporting invalids, as well as goods, from Jacksonville to Enterprise to bathe in and drink from its local springs.

Visit Enterprise

In the winter of 1854-55, Brock designed a more complete package for his customers by building a two-and-a-half-story, wood-frame hotel called Brock House on the shores of Lake Monroe. It stood directly behind the dock of his steamboat hub on the site of what today is Florida United Methodist Children’s Home.

Pictured is steamboat captain Jacob Brock. Originally from Connecticut, Brock was involved in Enterprise’s growth in Volusia County.

By 1859, Brock’s establishment was a premier destination for all kinds of tourists, not just those seeking a health cure. Vacationers, investors and settlers also found much to attract them.

Hunting and fishing in particular were big draws for sportsmen who sought the abundant deer, bears, ducks, turkeys and quail of the woods and the fish that teemed in both fresh and salt waters.

Brock’s new hotel was well situated to accommodate these visitors and rapidly gained a reputation as a winter resort and sportsman’s paradise.

Capt. Brock was a colorful character. Visitors to his wheelhouse were highly entertained by this small man with a true gift for storytelling.

One of his favorite tricks was to wait until a crowd of passengers was highly absorbed in one of his tales and then suddenly give a blast of the boat’s piercing steam whistle. Making grown men jump and ladies squeal was apparently as amusing to the victims of his jokes as it was to Brock because he remained well regarded.

While he was well known to be “creative in the lushness of his profanity,” it was also reported that “A kinder-hearted, nor more congenial man never (sic) walked a deck.”

On board the Darlington was another remarkable individual — a 200-pound Black woman called Commodore Rose.

Once one of Brock’s slaves, Rose had been emancipated for saving his life during a steamboat accident. She served as the ship’s steward, and it was said that she knew “every inch of the river, every house, every plantation along the shore.”

Rose announced the sights in a voice so loud and commanding that she could even be heard above the noise and confusion that surrounded each landing.

Civil War

Although he was a Northern transplant, Jacob Brock became a slave owner in Florida and was in complete sympathy with the Rebels. Because Union patrols extended along the entire navigable length of the St. Johns River, Brock volunteered himself and his ships as blockade runners for the cause.

Pictured in this photo from the early 20th century, the steamboat Clara sails past a dock along Lake Monroe.

In March 1862, Brock was aboard his steamboat the Darlington at Fernandina when Federal troops raided the town. Brock loaded the steamer with refugees and military stores and tried to outrun his Union pursuers.

However, he was soon captured and sent to a Northern prison. The confiscated steamer was then pressed into service for the Union.

Post-Civil War

Jacob Brock was characteristically eager to resume full service at his Enterprise hub.

He survived being held in several Union prison camps, and, when released from custody, was given back his ships.

To celebrate his return to business, he offered a free excursion to Green Cove Springs.

Approximately 250 whites and 100 Blacks took part in the music and dancing and general conviviality of this event.

Early accounts of steamboat travel indicate that a large portion of the passengers were heavy drinkers, and the bar was said to be the most popular place on a ship, as it surely would have been on that gala occasion. The well-stocked barroom at the Brock House hotel in Enterprise also was a large part of its draw, and one publication took note that passengers leaving the steamers were always well able to “make merry” there.

Visit by Ulysses Grant

When former President Ulysses Grant made a train trip to Florida in 1880, it still was necessary for him to transfer from the train station in Jacksonville to a St. Johns River steamboat depot in order to connect with the booming regions of the central part of the state.

Grant’s steamboat took him to Brock House in Enterprise, just as Henry DeLand’s had done four years earlier.

This photo from 1886 shows three large steamboats parked on the Lake Monroe dock outside of the famed Brock House hotel. From left, the ships are the Fannie Dugan, the Frederick DeBary and the Queen of the St. Johns.

Entertaining the man who had been the 18th chief executive was all it took to firmly cement this resort’s reputation.

From then on, it was believed that “you were nobody” unless you had taken a steamer to Brock House. Some of the nation’s most important figures in politics, finance and theater and even European aristocracy walked the Brock House corridors, to the point where the establishment was called “the Monte Carlo of the South.”

With no rail competition encroaching into their territory as yet, the fleet of steamboats carrying passengers and freight on the St. Johns was larger than that of any other river south of the Hudson.

It was said to be “a rare occurrence” if passengers on the upper deck of one of the river’s steamboats could not find the billowing smoke of another one somewhere in their sights.

— 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


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