A WORK IN PROGRESS — Pictured is the James W. Wright Building at the southeast corner of West Voorhis and South Clara avenues in DeLand. In 2018, efforts began to restore the building, built in the early 20th century, to its former glory. DeLandite Sidney Johnston was a part of a team of people organized by the building’s owner, Greater Union Life Center, to get the Wright Building on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.

To mark National Historic Preservation Month this May, Beacon co-editor Noah Hertz spoke to local historian and grant writer Sidney Johnston. Johnston, a fifth-generation DeLand native, tapped into his history serving on DeLand’s Historic Preservation Board and as a grant writer working to preserve historic buildings, to break down why historic preservation is important, and also why people should care about historic buildings.

What makes a building historic? Johnston explained that if you ask the federal government, it has to do with a building’s age, integrity and significance.

Buildings built at least 50 years ago are considered historic, but integrity and significance are a little harder to pin down.

Johnston explained:
“If you’re able to document that was Abraham Lincoln’s cabin birthplace, and there’s no doubt about it … but when we look at it for integrity — that is, does it look like Abe Lincoln’s cabin from the early 19th century?” he said. “When it was built as a log cabin, it probably had a gable roof. If it has a flat roof now, it does not pass the test of integrity. If you can’t touch and see the logs and instead they’re stuccoed walls, absolutely not …”

Lincoln’s birthplace is obviously historically significant, and Johnston gave some local examples of historic figures like DeLand founder Henry DeLand, leading Black entrepreneur James W. Wright, and U.S. Ambassador Bert Fish.

Above all, Johnston said, getting engaged in historic preservation helps you love your community even more.

“The simple act of walking out your door and walking along sidewalks in a historic place means that you have an opportunity for these incidental conversations that can lead to your investment in a neighborhood,” he said.

Want to get involved in historic preservation locally? Contact the West Volusia Historical Society online at, or by phone at 386-740-6813.

You can listen to The Beacon’s full conversation with Johnston to hear even more about specific historic preservation projects, the state of West Volusia’s historic preservation and more below or by searching for The West Volusia Beacon on your podcast platform of choice.


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