Note: This is a series of features created with assistance from the West Volusia Historical Society in anticipation of the society’s 50th anniversary at the end of this year.
DeLand’s rich architectural history reflects the major events of its past — the orange fever boom, the fire of 1886, the Florida land boom of the 1920s, the Great Depression, and the arrival of the modern world.
The West Volusia Historical Society, who will be celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, publishes A Field Guide to DeLand Buildings.
The book contains tips and tricks to recognize various architectural styles, history of the area and its denizens, and architectural examples from all over the town.
With knowledge in hand, a walk down city streets turns into a story — a story of a town, the people in it, and how it became what it is today.
By 1875, land in DeLand was being cleared for orange groves. The upland longleaf pine forests that Henry A. DeLand describes so eloquently in his first impressions of the area were the most readily available materials, and thus early homes in DeLand were simple split log houses.
These homes are also called Cracker homes, or, more academically, Wood Frame Vernacular style.
As commercial business grew, material not readily available was shipped via steamboat.
Businesses in Downtown DeLand were built in a similar fashion using longleaf pine wood, and the abundance of wood structures was one of the reasons the fire of 1886 was so devastating.
One of the very few structures to have survived the Downtown fire and remained to this day is at 109 W. Indiana Ave.
The shock from the fire is one of the reasons for many of DeLand’s beautiful Downtown buildings — an ordinance passed immediately after the fire required all future business buildings to be built of brick or stone. Much of the sandstone brick is from Lake Helen.
In 1895 and 1899, great freezes devastated many of the orange groves, but by this point, DeLand had established itself on the basis of other agricultural pursuits, education, and as a transportation hub.
Although the freezes bankrupted Henry A. DeLand, who guaranteed against many of the investments of early settlers, John B. Stetson was luckier. His orange grove investments paled in comparison to his very profitable hat business. Stetson University continued to expand.
DeLand continued to thrive and attract new residents, businesses and architects, from other states.
An explosion of house styles can be seen in homes from these days, including early examples of Queen Anne, Arts and Crafts, Neoclassical (the dominant style in the United States), Federal, Italianate, Gothic Revival, and Mediterranean Revival.
Many of the businesses built at this time were of the Masonry Vernacular style, including the Dreka Building at 101 S. Woodland Blvd. (constructed circa 1909).
Many churches built at this time employed a Gothic Revival style, including Greater Union First Baptist Church and Bethel AME Church.
1920s land boom and bust
Boom times arrived in the days after World War I ended in 1918, in an early example of a real estate bubble. Over the next seven or eight years, more than 60 residential subdivisions were mapped out inside city limits.
Like all bubbles, it didn’t last very long — by 1926, fraud and fund withdrawals from banks led to collapse, compounded by hurricanes in 1926 and 1928 that hit Florida hard, sparing inland Volusia County.
After the land boom, which brought extravagant stylings and grand buildings, DeLand returned to more modestly built homes in familiar styles.
It wouldn’t be until after World War II that more modern architectural styles would be brought to DeLand.
Returning servicemen from World War II brought the need for more development, and DeLand expanded greatly, to the point that by the 1980s and 1990s, many older buildings were being demolished to accommodate the new growth.
Architectural styles used at the time included American Ranch, Contemporary Folk, and Geodesic Dome homes, and new, distinct versions of previous styles, such as Neo-Arts and Crafts and Neo-Mediterranean.
New buildings reflect previous styling. Examples include the DeLand Regional Library, which employs gable ends that reflect the style of nearby framed houses.
Restoration efforts on older buildings meticulously re-created former structures, such as the Garden District on East Voorhis Avenue.
Spotlight on Orange City
The City of Orange City has launched a Historic Property Marker Program aimed at spotlighting local homes that fall within the Orange City Historic District, roughly bounded by Banana, Carpenter, French and Orange avenues.
The historic district is the original 1 square mile boundary of the town when it was incorporated in 1882. The area includes 217 structures, some built 137 years ago.
While dominated by Wood Frame and Masonry Vernacular styles also popular in nearby cities, there are also examples of Classic Revival, Colonial Revival, Mediterranean Revival, and Gothic Revival.
More information on applying for a historic marker can be found on the city’s website, at www.orangecityfl.gov.
A historic tour of some notable structures can be viewed online HERE.