West Volusia has been home to my husband, Dr. Leo Salter, and me since we moved here from Atlanta and built our home in 1973. Our farm is centered mainly around ferns, floral greens and harness racehorses.

SMILE! — Pictured here are Leo and Evie Salter, proud owners of “The Fernny Farm” fernery.

The seller of these 43 acres — which we purchased right out of college — had a hog farm and a large plumosa fernery. We did not continue with the hog farm, but did continue in the fern business. We were fascinated with the history of the fern industry in general, and with this large plumosa business in particular.

There was a labor camp on the property. There were a few trailers and two small cottages, a well and a water pump, and other amenities used by the workers who lived on the property and cared for the hogs and the fernery.

The cottages had been built of pecky cypress, and were in bad condition, so we recycled the salvageable wood pieces by making furniture, and also the large mailbox stand that we still use today.

Soon we discovered that Spring Garden Ranch, the country’s largest training center for harness racehorses, was just down the road from us. We were excited by the prospect of having harness horses of our own. In the 1970s, Spring Garden Ranch was a truly amazing and fun place; it became our second home.

ON THE RANGE — Above, Leo drives an antique tractor, a vehicle used for plowing, soil preparation, planting and cultivating for a wide variety of field crops.

The place was a beautiful resort of sorts, with tennis courts, a basketball court, a large swimming pool and an indoor handball court.

Back then, everything was very well-maintained. There was a restaurant with glass windows all around where spectators could watch the horses being trained, and the owners often set up large tents for concerts, special dinners, weddings and musical bands for dances. A New York company brought camels and had spectacular camel races on the racetrack.

There were other kinds of races, too, like miniature horse races and Jack Russell terrier races. No race is funnier or more fun to watch than Jack Russell terrier races; the pups’ legs are racing at high speed even as the owners take the pups from their kennels. Somehow they know that they are going to run soon, and they are READY!

We got to know one of the horse trainers who gave us a registered Standardbred filly that could not race due to a hairline hip fracture. She had excellent bloodlines, and was in foal to an excellent sire. We took her to our farm and nicknamed her “Lesa.” We were blessed to watch her give birth to her foal.

Something occurred the moment the foal was born: Instead of merely standing up and starting to suckle like normal, he turned away from his momma and raced toward the woods. We knew then he was truly a racehorse! Usually, new foals have very shaky legs, but not this little fellow! Leo named him Hasty Tuff Stuff.

Hasty grew into a fine racehorse. During that time, Reynolds Road was a dirt road with a good surface, so when Hasty was old enough, Leo jogged him on the road. It was ideal; no traffic all the way from our farm to Spring Garden Ranch. We long for those days, because once Reynolds Road was paved, traffic got heavy. It became too dangerous for Leo to use for jogging his horse, so he had a track built on our farm. Actual training was done at Spring Garden Ranch, on the official clay track.

IN TOW — Evie jogs a racehorse. A jog is a slow-paced walk for a horse, comfortable for longer rides.

For many summers, Leo and I have raced our horses at such renowned racetracks as Louisville Downs and the Red Mile in Kentucky, and Sciota Downs in Ohio. Those were exciting experiences we will relive over and over forever. The cheering crowds, the sound of the horses’ hooves, the colorful helmets and the shiny satin shirts of the drivers…

As for the fernery, we have enjoyed getting to know a lot of the people in the business of raising ferns. Since Leo is a clinical psychologist, friends dubbed our farm “The Fernny Farm.”

One day an industrious fellow was attracted to our fern farm, and he thought we might like to get into the floral greens business also. He ended up planting over 200 Nagi bushes on our farm. Nagi is a beautiful plant with smooth, rich dark-green leaves that are sold in bunches, similar to how ferns are sold. Cutters come and put them together into bunches and take them to be stored in coolers until ready to be shipped all over the world.

Looking back to when we were searching for farmland to live on, Leo and I were very puzzled the first time we saw people moving about and bending under shade trees. We soon learned that the people were cutting ferns. Having never seen ferns grow, we had no idea anything could grow well in the shade, except maybe moss. It was amazing to learn that this area is the fern capital of the world! It’s great being a small part of such a large industry.

A scenic picture that reveals a beautiful view of the Salters’ residency from beside the pond.

Our community of DeLeon Springs had its own newspaper reporter, Mary Smithwick, who wrote a delightful column for The DeLand Beacon newspaper for many years. She kept everyone informed about happenings at “our Park” as she called DeLeon Springs Park, before the State of Florida purchased it. She wrote about activities at the famous harness horse training center, Spring Garden Ranch, and even about all the concerts by Leo’s band, the Florida Strings. Mary kept everyone informed about the band’s activities for the 20 years they were together, so when she passed away, the members felt a tremendous loss.

In 1973, Leo was hired as a child psychologist for the Guidance Center, and he later served as executive director. Leo says he loved his career at the mental health center. The center changed names through the years, and when it, sadly, descended into mainly a drug rehab center, Leo felt that 40 years was enough and happily retired. He then spent over three years writing his first book, Therapeutic Deception, which is available on Amazon. He is now working on an autobiography about growing up in Decatur and Atlanta, Georgia, titled Boys of the Corner.

Leo was a member of the “noon” Rotary for 23 years, and he was amazed when he realized that he had perfect attendance for all those years. He felt he had to leave the club when most of his free time was spent traveling with his band and going up north to race his horses.

For many years, I was a member of the DeLand chapter of the National League of American Pen Women and served as their president for a two-year term. I enjoyed meeting other published authors such as Gloria Vanderbilt and Camelia Sadat at national conventions in Boston and New York.

My history as a freelance commercial artist here has been full and gratifying. I served for 12 years on the Volusia County Animal Control Advisory Board. During that time, I had the idea of having the county give a rebate to pet owners to encourage them to have their pets spayed or neutered. The County Council set up a large fund for the project.

FULL OF RAFTER — Amid the wildlife, turkeys would appear at “The Fernny Farm” in groups known as rafters.

I wanted to spread the word, and, as a book illustrator, I thought of having a cat I met write a book, and I would illustrate it. One day, I had the book on display at my booth at an art show in the Orlando Convention Center, and a buyer from Disney saw it and began selling it in a gift shop there. Tourists purchased the book, and many of them have written letters to Mo the cat. He has an international fan club! I hope that other communities are using my idea of a rebate to help to reduce the pet overpopulation.

We are blessed to have lived in the rural area of West Volusia for so many years. Of course, there have been many changes in 50 years. Leo and I are thankful to be able to look out our windows each day at a changing scene of horses, wild deer, turkeys, turtles, great blue herons and sandhill cranes. As this area attracts more and more residents, we hope that the magic that is West Volusia is never lost.

— The Salters plan to continue to keep their farm as long as their faithful and longtime farm worker, Saule’, stays with them. He takes care of the farm when they leave for the summer for their home in the North Carolina mountains. The Salters are busy editing Leo’s second book, Boys of the Corner… the “corner” being the drugstore in Decatur, Georgia, where the guys gathered every day after school.


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