DRESS-UP — From left, Robert Conrad, Bob Lee, Bill Dreggors and Janet Bollum gather in front of the Henry A. DeLand House. Dreggors is dressed as Henry DeLand, and Bollum is dressed as Helen DeLand. Dreggors often reprised the role of Henry DeLand during historical re-enactments.

Editor’s note: This is the beginning of a series of articles about the West Volusia Historical Society, including prominent figures and events. These stories will appear in EXTRA! and online through December 2023, when the society celebrates its semicentennial.

The DeLand of the early 1970s wasn’t so different from the DeLand of today. Historical landmarks were being lost, and residents weren’t happy about it. So, in December 1973, 28 residents met to talk about their desire to save their community’s heritage. They formed the West Volusia Historical Society.

West Volusia Historical Society members served the roles of watchdog, educator and community historians back then, just as they do now.

“I think part of the role of the Historical Society is really educating. Educating about what these buildings mean, what our history is and really that it is not that far away. We are all connected to it somehow,” Executive Director Sarah Thorncroft said. “And when you’re connected to something, it makes it a lot more important to you.”

As one of their first initiatives, the society began collecting historical photos in April 1974. The community responded positively to the project, taking family portraits off the wall and offering them up to the society. In January 1975, the photos were displayed at the DeLand Museum, and, by popular demand, a second showcase was held in November of the same year.

According to Thorncroft, there is no recorded evidence of what the displayed photos were, though she does believe some copies might have wound up in the two photobooks the society published in later years.

“I would imagine that it’s probably any old photos that somebody brought in,” Thorncroft speculated. “But since it was on display at the DeLand Museum, it was probably curated in some sense.”

William “Bill” Dreggors, known by many as “Mr. DeLand,” became the president in January 1975. He was not only a vital member of the West Volusia Historical Society but also played an integral role in preserving West Volusia’s history. He collected most of the photos that make up the society’s historical collection and played a part in restoring the Athens Theatre, the DeLand Memorial Hospital, the DeLand House, and DeBary Hall.

After the Historical Society disbanded in 1976 due to stagnant membership growth and decreasing funds, Dreggors continued to fill the role of historian.

He played an important role in bringing it back, too.

“… if we hadn’t had him and some of his kind of, bulldoggedness really advocating for the history and collecting it…,” Thorncroft told The Beacon. “I think he realized that our shared histories as a community were interconnected enough that warranted an expansion.”

The society was reborn in June 1983 with Dreggors at the helm as president again. With the re-establishment, talk of publishing a book began, and excitement about such a prospect ran rampant. Hundreds of copies of Volusia: The West Side, a collection of historical photographs with related entries, were sold.

“That’s basically an expansion of Reflections, which was the first thing that the society published in conjunction with the City of DeLand for the bicentennial of the U.S. and the centennial of DeLand,” Thorncroft explained. “I can only imagine that was a big project. It was a gargantuan task with a lot of research, editors, writing, etc.”

EDUCATE — Sidney Johnston, Bill Dreggors, Jack Fortes, Robert Conrad, Hawtense Conrad and other members of the West Volusia Historical Society celebrate the society’s education efforts in front of the Henry A. DeLand House. The Conrads paid to make copies of Dreggors’ collection of slides of historical photos for educational outreach presentations. Education is still a fundamental goal of the society.

After years of looking for one, the West Volusia Historical Society finally found a permanent home in June 1988 when it was announced that anonymous donors, later revealed to be Robert and Hawtense Conrad, had purchased the DeLand House, which Hawtense Conrad called the “Henry House,” at 137 W. Michigan Ave. The building was given to the City of DeLand under the stipulation that it be used as a place to store artifacts of community historical value. It is the society’s headquarters today.

While the society was a part of many projects, one of the most successful was the Christmas Candlelight Tour of Historic Homes. The first tour was co-sponsored by the West Volusia Historical Society and the DeLand Woman’s Club in December 1991. By the third year, it had become one of the society’s main fundraisers.

The event depends on people who live in historic homes being willing to invite members of the community in for tours.

“I think it’s a success because people have a natural curiosity,” Thorncroft laughed. “It really takes a special person to want to live in and preserve a historic home. Takes a lot of love and money and resources, honestly. So, it’s a great favor that many members of the community have done for the Historical Society through the years.”

While the West Volusia Historical Society has been involved in a variety of projects, its biggest contribution has been the preservation of local history. They have helped preserve numerous articles and photographs that allow the people of today to learn about the residents of past decades. The informational plaques scattered around Downtown DeLand, which provide remnants of history, were possible because of the society’s efforts.

This December, the West Volusia Historical Society will mark 50 years of serving the community, and the organization still has its hands in a variety of projects. The West Volusia Historical Society has made it possible for modern DeLand to hold on to historic DeLand.


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