Editor’s note: DeLandite Dot Brown married into the Hotel Putnam family in 1953. Here she shares her memories of the historic hotel, which were compiled by her daughter Terry Brown.
How could you?
How could you tear down the memories?
DeLand gets to be a streetlight city with no history left, no landmarks, no memories left.
How can you tear down that historic, once-beautiful hotel, our Hotel Putnam?
One look at those weary walls now – walls that speak of my story, your story, our story – one must stop, listen, weigh in. We must shore up those walls and stories, meet one another, sample the menu, hear the music, learn the lessons, create new stories together.
Shore up those worthy walls!
My introduction to the Putnam
I was first introduced to the grand Hotel Putnam during a weekend stay in November of 1952 when I was recruiting rising college students for Brenau College in Gainesville, Georgia. It was College Day for Stetson University, and I had been invited to attend by a Stetson representative.
I thought DeLand was the prettiest town in Florida, with its tree-lined streets, and the hotel was the finest I’d ever seen. From my comfortable second-floor room, I could hear muffled cheers, songs and laughter from a distance away, and I called down to the front desk to find out what the excitement was about.
“It’s a Stetson Homecoming bonfire and football pep rally. ‘Want to go?’” Bob Brown asked.
I married the Hotel Putnam when I married Robert Horton “Bobby” Brown Jr. in June of 1953.
Bob and I lived right next door to the elegant lady, in the perfect cottage, which is barely standing now. It was behind the lovely home of Bob’s mother and father, Sarah Hargreaves Brown and Robert Horton Brown, at 351 W. New York Ave. That home is now gone.
My husband, Bob’s, grandfather, Benjamin Edward Brown, had built the Hotel Putnam in 1923 after The Putnam Inn, previously known as the DeLand Grove House (which was built in 1880 by Henry Addison DeLand himself!) was destroyed by fire in 1921.
Considered Florida’s first fireproof hotel, the Mediterranean Revival-styled Hotel Putnam was constructed of steel, brick and concrete adorned with a stucco exterior and crowned with a tile roof.
Designed by early-Florida architect William J. Carpenter, the Putnam was avant garde in her day. Carpenter’s works also include DeLand’s first skyscraper, the First National Bank Building, built in 1923, as well as the Scarlett & Jordan Building (1925), and the renovation of the adjacent Landis-Fish Building (1924). He also designed the Cassadaga Hotel (1927) and worked on a number of local schools, two of which are included on the historic registry.
The Hotel Putnam was a winter hotel, as her guests stayed during the North’s cold-weather months. In summer, only the second floor “basic rooms” were open for guests, and the dining room was closed.
The Cypress Room served as both bar and dining room during the warm-weather period. Chet Shirley and, later, Rudy, normally bartenders in winter, became both cook and bartender in summertime. Our family would often eat dinner in the Cypress Room, served by Rudy or Chet, and surrounded by our dedicated hotel family.
Winter was the Putnam’s time to shine
In winter, the Hotel Putnam sprung to vibrant life. The guests arrived with titanic wardrobe trunks and would stay through until March or April; Bob and I would pick up many of the guests from the train in Daytona Beach.
The Hotel Putnam’s maitre d’hotel, chef and waitresses would travel as a team from north to south and back again with the seasons, arriving here in late November. The dining-room staff would stay in the annex, which is now gone, behind the hotel.
The Louisville Colonel Minor League Baseball team lived on the sixth floor, the top floor of the hotel, during spring training, and they would practice out at Spec Martin Memorial Stadium. The players would walk down the walkway in front of our cottage on their way to Downtown each day, tapping on our screen door in good-morning greetings. Our oldest daughter, then 2-year-old Vicki, would run to the door to wave her jubilant hello to the affable athletes.
The Hotel Putnam’s spacious dining room, open for the winter, was luxuriously dressed in white linen tablecloths and adorned with fresh flowers. Sarah Hargreaves Brown, aka “Mother Brown,” would pick the flowers from her sister’s prolific garden at the current location of Yorkfield Square, near the corner of New York and Garfield avenues.
Sarah’s sister Ibby Acree had nothing but glorious camellias and fruit trees growing in front of her magnificent home, her gardens stretching from the location of my current Yorkfield Square condominium today (where her stately home then stood) all the way to New York Avenue.
Robert Horton “Brownie” Brown Sr. would regularly drive to Samsula to select the freshest of vegetables — sweet corn, bell peppers, cucumbers, okra, black-eyed peas, sweet onions and tomatoes – from the farms there.
I didn’t have to cook much in the winter, as we usually ate in the little dining room area close to the kitchen.
The Brown family-run hotel was perpetually collecting the best for her guests.
When you walked into the east-wing section of the lobby of the hotel, one of the bellhops, either Jim Corley or John Henry, would meet you at the door. Terry Acree recalls admiring the bellhop’s fine hat and uniform as a young boy, regarding him as a bona fide serviceman in the Army.
The decorous bellhop would disencumber you and escort you to the front desk to check in. Buddy, the town-famous 7-pound toy fox terrier, would reach out his paw and shake your hand from his perch upon the front desk. All the politicians wanted to have their pictures taken with Buddy; all the guests knew the little pooch as a constant friend.
You would turn and, facing New York Avenue, take in your amazing surroundings: guest elevator and staircase on your left, engrossing glass-encased dioramas of squirrels, raccoons, turtles and herons in their native Florida habitats throughout the sweeping lobby, with maroon leather couches and a huge south-facing fireplace, then the enticing dining room to the west, then back east to the pleasing social parlor with varied, comfortable seating, and beyond to the clublike, Cypress Room with its dugout Seminole canoe.
These were all adjoined by the spacious lobby and parallel front veranda with reposeful rocking chairs and rousing ping-pong table. The porch curved along and embraced the east and west hotel wings, creating an inviting contoured haven, overlooking the immense rubber tree and tropical garden within and the wide green lawn beyond. The vistas stretched on to Downtown DeLand, out and away and peacefully back again.
Entertaining the guests
Promptly and assuredly by 4 p.m. each day, the Hotel Putnam’s proud proprietors had changed their clothes and were dressed to entertain their winter guests. Grand piano or chamber music played in the lobby. Shoes were polished, bridge was played, and bridges of friendship were made.
Lady Putnam embraced DeLand’s community town and Stetson University’s academic gown. She pitched ball with the boys of summer and provided warmth and rest to her winter-worn guests.
If things started to go left, Robert “Brownie” Brown Sr. would set them right. A real master fix-it, he would step in and cook superbly when the temperamental chef had done too much flavor-enhanced taste-testing.
Brownie could repair almost anything in his workshop on the ground level of the hotel annex.
Brownie, Mother Brown, Bob and I, and others in our hotel family all took our guests — and hotel families themselves — on trips to surrounding points of interest.
One time in 1957 or 1958, Mother Brown’s Bethune Beach picnic excursion drew the attention and action of the New Smyrna police! She had brought her grandchildren and about 10 of her hotel families on a beach outing. Brownie didn’t go as he was too nervous. Mother Brown was always in control and could see no problem at all.
Before long, cars were driving back and forth on the beach, apparently not approving of the racial composition of the beachcombing group. Next, police cars arrived, stopping the car traffic on the beach and stationing themselves nearby — for protection. So, we had the beach all to ourselves.
Then the police airplanes started flying overhead. I’m not sure exactly who they were protecting. We had a great time. Mother Brown was not worried in the least, and the police stayed for as long as Mother Brown wanted to stay. You know, Grannie Brown did her own thing.
Earl Brown’s role
Brownie’s brother, Earl Brown, was a man who wore many hats in the City of DeLand. He was a former mayor, executive secretary of the Board of Trade (Chamber of Commerce), and one of the founders of the Volusia County Fair in 1925.
Best known through his company, Exhibit Builders, he built the Florida exhibits for the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, and the 1939 Exposition for the World’s Fair in New York.
Earl Brown is the grandfather of DeLandites Linda Dorian and Earl Colvard; it was he who had a profound appreciation of Florida’s natural beauty and brought the 22.5-foot cypress dugout canoe (now gliding on high in the Stetson Library!) to the Hotel Putnam after the Chicago World’s Fair.
It was Earl Brown who delivered the menagerie of taxidermied Florida animals to the hotel’s vast vestibule. It is fitting that Earl Brown Park, an ample green space featuring the Paw Paw Dog Park, a duck pond, a playground and a fitness trail, is naturally inhabited by lively ducks and Florida wildlife, and is host to numerous seasonal festivals and events.
They kept the ball rolling
Brownie’s colleague, John “Jack” Richard Churms, would fill in at the hotel as magical renovator, whenever and wherever he was needed. Jack also knew the St. Johns River like he knew the back of his hand, and he would take the Putnam’s guests on high-yielding fishing excursions for mightily fancied black bass, while the bellhop, John Henry, would row the boat.
Every single hotel room had a radiator, and Jack could fix each one. If Brownie needed a fill-in as desk clerk, Jack would eagerly change his clothes and transform accordingly.
Charlie Larned followed in Jack Churms’ phenomenal fix-up footsteps, marvelously performing all the hotel’s maintenance.
Helen Fell Windhorst’s first job was doing the books for the Hotel Putnam at the age of 19. A graduate of Stetson, Helen worked as part of the Putnam family for many years. Her husband, Ted, worked for the DeLand post office and her son, Jon, currently lives on Merritt Island with his wife, Patti. Helen’s granddaughter, Sara, now resides near London with her family.
Helen was always a saintlike aunt of affection for all five of our daughters. Her bustling desk and day were never without a special drawer and tender moment for a gripping book for Vicki or a taste of sweet angel food cake for second daughter, Terry.
Jim Corley’s wife, Martha, was on the cleaning staff. Anna, Rudy’s wife, was one of the waitresses. Jack met his wife-to-be, Annie Laurie from Georgia, when she arrived in town with a girlfriend at 17 and immediately became a waitress at the hotel.
The innovative, ambitious and dependable Putnam family of employees helped make the hotel the place to go. Is it any surprise that the Hotel Putnam was a showplace for DeLand?
Wonderful guests came to the Putnam year after year
Mrs. Olmsted was a regular winter guest at the hotel; she was the daughter of Biltmore Estate landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (and her daughter married a gentleman from DeLand). Other noted guests included the American evangelist Billy Graham, F. Lee Bailey of the Court of Last Resort, Clyde Beatty of Clyde Beatty Circus fame, Lord and Lady Trefgarne of the United Kingdom (we did not learn of their royal titles for years), and Grantland Rice (known as the dean of American sportswriters).
The celebrated Cypress Room attracted notables from all around, especially naval personnel based at DeLand’s Naval Air Station during World War II; the Cypress Room became the officers’ club for the naval base, and remained open around the clock, always busy during wartime.
Bill Churms, at the age of 9 or 10, called the Hotel Putnam home as he lived there for three or four years with his parents, all a part of the dedicated hotel family of employees. He learned to play ping-pong on the front porch and credits Bobby Brown as his teacher.
Young Sally Bohon lived across the street from the Putnam, at the corner of Clara and New York avenues. Brownie gave Sally permission to pick the figs from the four big fig trees in the back of the hotel, and she would walk up and down the street, selling them for 5 cents a bag. This would give her spending money to go to Dreka’s department store in Downtown DeLand.
Sally reminded me of the big telephone switchboard behind the front desk — the hotel rooms all had telephones — and she remembers seeing young Bob working the desk so often. Her sisters, Patty and Margarite, were the same ages as Bob’s sisters, Louise and Martha, and the four were close friends. Margarite and Martha were often seen playing in the Hotel Putnam.
Sally could not take her eyes off the animals in the glass cases in the reading room, which looked out on “the most beautiful emerald-green lawn in winter” because Bob Sr. seeded his lawn each year for the winter guests, including the handsome naval officers in uniform going to and from the Cypress Room.
Ray Veech recounts enjoying lunch at the hotel when she returned to DeLand from Kentucky in the late 1950s, and meeting an older family friend outside of the bar, though she did not go in.
At the age of 7 or 8, Terry Acree, in his white sailor-suited Sunday best, stepped into the elevator of the hotel only to find the elevator had gone AWOL. He fell to the basement below, besmudging his glad rags and his feelings.
The theater next door
The Athens Theatre, at the back door of my little cottage, regularly advertised its picture shows in the hotel lobby. It cost us only 10 cents to go to the show, but I don’t know why we paid, because we could hear each movie for free from the back porch of our little cottage!
Joe Fleischel was the manager of the Athens Theatre; his brother, Victor, was the manager of Fountain’s, the men’s store. One of my dearest friends, Annette Smith, was married to George Sr.; George and Annette ran the feed store on the Boulevard.
Annette and George Fleischel, Ray (the Stetson tennis coach) and Betty Lee Hussey, Marshall (of Lane Insurance) and Shirley Lane, and Bob and I did everything together. The men enjoyed playing bridge together in our cottage; they would send us out to the movies at the Athens; we all won. Much later, after George died, Annette married Victor Fleischel.
The Putnam, so deeply rooted in DeLand’s rich history, has a history that matters, that reflects our community’s history, our own chronologies. The Putnam matters.
Our collective memories
Each day, I learn more about the resonant connections and attachments of our community members to me and to our Lady Putnam. While realizing that there are problems to be solved, I am encouraged by our collective memory, and the knowledge, integrity and resourcefulness of our DeLandites, our leaders, our journalists, teachers, engineers, our artists and architects, historians and dreamers, our Stetson scholars. Our local heroes. The potential loss is staggering. I envision the potentiality, the promise, of our Putnam’s future. We can’t look away.
The baseball connection
My Bob was nearly 78 years old as July 13, 1999, approached, the day Fenway Park in Boston was to host only the third Major League Baseball All-Star Game in its 112-year history.
Bob was thrilled. Ted Williams was to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. You may know that Bob was a fanatical Ted Williams and Red Sox aficionado. There were many baseball-related events leading up to the actual All-Star game, including the Home Run Derby and the pre-game ceremonies featuring introductions of nominees for the All-Century Team.
Bob was determined to attend the All-Star FanFest, which was held at the gigantic Hynes Convention Center during the week before the All-Star game. It included more than 40 games and attractions, and appearances by former big-league players, including Carl Yastzemski, Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron and Lou Brock.
Bob, with daughter Terry, had but one imperative destination at the baseball festival: the Negro League Exhibit. There were players there he yearned to reconnect with.
He found Earl Wilson at the exhibit. Earl, then 65, had been an American League professional pitcher and had played all or part of 11 seasons in Major League Baseball. Most importantly, Earl had been a part of the Louisville Colonels before his rise to the MLB Boston Red Sox in 1959. The Louisville Colonels had stayed at the Hotel Putnam annex; the Black players, then, weren’t allowed to stay in the hotel proper.
Once Bob reintroduced himself as “The Putnam’s Bobby Brown,” Earl hugged him and the two chatted at length as old friends.
When it was time to go, Earl asked Bob, “Tell me again why we couldn’t stay in your hotel with the rest of the fellows.” Bob lowered his head, then looked into Earl’s eyes declaring, “I’m sorry, Earl.”
“You know,” Earl replied wistfully, “Having to stay with your Putnam man, Eli Worthy, was hard at first. But his family became my DeLand family. Like you, Bobby. Thank you, Bobby.”
Apologies to the grand dame
Now, I do my best to approach the beautiful Lady Putnam’s shell from every angle possible – and apologize to her for not keeping her safe and well.
Our daughter, Martha, was born in February of 1959; Brownie died at the age of 64 as the result of a tragic car accident in March of the same year. The hotel passed from our hands in 1959.
Bob and I moved to New Jersey with our three young girls; daughters Becky and Sarah were born up North, as was Somerset Tire Service, the company Jack Apgar, Bob’s brother-in-law, and he started.
Bob and I returned home to DeLand 25 years later, in 1984. Sarah, our youngest daughter, attended Stetson University.
The Putnam, always an unselfish, dynamic, productive, benevolent lady, longs to be constructive once again. Through the years, Lady Putnam watched as Artisan Alley and the Athens did rise, right before her sanguine eyes. She has always contributed generously to our community.
Now, even as an empty shell, her dignified heart beats loud and well.
An extraordinary landmark
I did not think you could tear all of that history down!
Leaving us with Dull DeLand without the hotel, just cement and parking lots, boring streets and no quintessential landmarks. No memories.
What extraordinary landmarks do we have left?
Do not tell me that a 100-year-old lady’s accounts are inconsequential.
Our lady of longevity, our graceful Hotel Putnam, deserves our gratitude and deep respect!
She more-than-merits our extraordinary intervention and long-outstanding restorative reparation.
— Dot Brown, now 95 years old, shared with her daughter, Terry Brown, memories of the Hotel Putnam, which Terry compiled here. Terry Brown is a retired elementary and special-education teacher in Nahant, Massachusetts, which Terry notes is “a mere long ball away from Fenway Park.”
The Old Port (a poem that the Putnam now brings to my mind)
I like the old buildings,
the weathered brick,
the worn down doorsteps sanded
by a century of shuffling feet,
the musty smells from
old bond stores and hotel
cellars wafting up through
grates along the street.
I like the defiance
of the old facades,
how they hang on
beneath layers of gaudy paint
the names and dates
embossed on buildings
refusing to be rubbed out,
the held dignity of a stone (brick) wall,
desecrated by graffiti
yet still standing straight
— Paul Willason
Just wonderful. I feel so blessed to have known them. Love you and thank you for sharing.
Well documented touching history of the Putnam Hotel, a special DeLand building known to so many. If removed, rather than restored, it’ll be Another sad loss to our Athens of Florida, home to Stetson University and special memories to many residents, relatives and friends.
Do those who decide to destroy history rather than preserve, realize the profound losses already rendered to our beloved historical DeLand. Modern is Not always a good choice.
Dot, thank you for the memories, so many of the names you mentioned brought back memories of my parents and the fun times you all had. It will be sad to see lady Putnam go as it has been with so many other Deland buildings. take care love you,
Dot thank you for sharing those wonderful memories. Frank Larned has shared many of those memories with me about growing up and working there with you as his father worked there.
The question to be asked is if the City officials really cared about preserving the history of DeLand and its historic structures, how could they for decades watch from City Hall and witness the deterioration of the Hotel Putnam, while so many other municipalities in America embraced historic preservation and actually proactively worked with the private sector and non-profits to save historically important structures. With the City approving yet another justification of destruction for “demolition by neglect,” as Mark Shuttleworth calls it, DeLand looses the Hotel Putnam. Perhaps, if the Community truly cares about preserving the history of DeLand, it is time to say, “NEVER AGAIN.”
DeLand is temporarily losing a ton of historical moments, yet there is a silver lining here…..
Rebuild as was, bring back the magic !
This town needs its grandfathered history restored as similarly as can be.
Hotel Putnam is Famous! The stories date so far back that this generation does not realize it. Let’s keep this magic alive as I myself have lived and worked in all parts of Hotel Putnam , enjoying all the history as I learned it. Appreciating all memories I bring forth into my future , stories to share with future generations. God Bless