Elements of Urbanism: Deland

July 20, 2011 8 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville visits a small community that has been successful at revitalizing its downtown through its Main Street Program: Deland, Florida.

About Deland

Known as Persimmon Hollow for the wild persimmon trees that grow around the natural springs, the area was originally accessible only by steamboat up the St. Johns River. It was settled in 1874 by Captain John Rich, who built a log cabin. It was visited in 1876 by Henry Addison DeLand, a baking soda magnate from Fairport, New York, who envisioned here a citrus, agricultural and tourism center. That year he bought land and founded the town named for himself. He sold his northern business and hired people to clear land, and lay out streets, erect buildings and recruit settlers, most of whom came from upstate New York. Henry Deland was never a full-time resident of Florida. Incorporated in 1882, the city became county seat in 1887. It was the first city in Florida to have electricity.

To enhance the community's stature and culture, and to enhance the value of his local real estate holdings, in 1883, Henry A. DeLand established DeLand Academy, Florida's first private college. But in 1885, a freeze destroyed the orange crop. One story has it that DeLand had guaranteed settlers' investments as an inducement to relocate, and so was obligated to buy back their ruined groves, though there is no hard evidence that this actually happened. Like many other would-be real estate magnates in the area at the time, his Florida investments were nearly worthless after the freeze and he returned to his home in the north. DeLand entrusted the academy to his friend John B. Stetson, a wealthy hat manufacturer from Philadelphia and one of the institution's founding trustees. In 1889, it was renamed John B. Stetson University in its patron's honor. Later shortened to Stetson University, it founded in 1900 the first law school in Florida. The various sports teams are called the Hatters.

During the 1920s Florida Land Boom, DeLand's streets filled with fine examples of stucco Mediterranean Revival Style architecture by native architect Medwin Peek and others, many of which have been handsomely restored, one namely being the recently reopened Athens Theatre, which is under the ownership of the Sands Theater Center, Inc.
Since 1992, the city hosts the Deland Fall Festival of the Arts, a two-day event in the historic downtown area. As of 2009, the event has an annual attendance of more than 50,000 over the weekend immediately prior to Thanksgiving each year.

Stetson University

Just north of downtown Deland with 2,200 students and founded in 1883, Stetson University is Florida's first university.


According to Gilbert Lycan, a Stetson history professor who wrote the university's official centennial history in 1983, Stetson University is Florida's first university, public or private. Stetson University was founded in 1883 by Henry Addison DeLand, a New York philanthropist, as DeLand Academy. In 1887, the Florida Legislature enacted the Charter of DeLand University as an independent institution of higher learning. Rollins College was founded and chartered in 1885, thus making it the oldest recognized college, public or private.

DeLand University's name was changed in 1889 to honor hat manufacturer John B. Stetson, a benefactor of the university, who served with town founder, Henry A. DeLand, and others as a founding trustee of the university.
Stetson University was affiliated with the Florida Baptist Convention until the early 1990s, when the university and convention ended their relationship.


The university's College of Arts & Sciences, School of Business Administration, School of Music, and most graduate programs are housed at the DeLand campus, located just north of the downtown area of DeLand, Florida. More than 60 undergraduate majors and minors are offered.

Stetson's campus is just north of the downtown area of DeLand, roughly halfway between Orlando and Daytona Beach, Florida. The 175-acre campus is nationally designated by the National Register of Historic Places as the Stetson University Campus Historic District for Florida's oldest collection of education-related buildings. DeLand Hall, which houses the Office of the President and the offices of other administrators, was constructed in 1884 and is the oldest building in Florida in continuous use for higher education.

In 2003, the Lynn Business Center — housing much of the university's School of Business — was Florida's first green building certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Elizabeth Hall, named after John B. Stetson's wife, houses a number of departments in the College of Arts & Sciences. The School of Music performs in Lee Chapel in the south of the building. The cupola atop Elizabeth Hall — modeled after the one on Independence Hall in Philadelphia — is used as the official symbol of the undergraduate campus.

In 2010, Stetson became a pet-friendly campus, and the university also invested $6.5 million to renew landscaping in the campus core, upgrade classrooms and add energy-saving lighting, all at the DeLand campus. Improvements included a new coffeehouse. In the past 3 years, over $17 million in new construction took place at the DeLand campus. Sage Hall, home of the departments of natural sciences, received an $8.5 million renovation, while the Homer and Dolly Hand Art Center, the Rinker Environmental Learning Center, and Mary B. McMahan Hall — rehearsal space for the School of Music — were new constructions. Along with student exhibitions, the university's extensive collection of paintings by American modernist Oscar Bluemner are housed in the Hand Art Center.

Downtown Deland

Formed in 1985, Main Street Deland is celebrating more than 20 years of success. In fact, Deland was the first community to receive the Main Street designation. Moreover, the community was the sole recipient of the “Great American Main Street Award” and has been voted as the best Main Street in Florida from 1999-2003.


In the past, the word brought to mind an image of bustling centers of commerce and activity. Too often today, the image is of vacant, deteriorating buildings. Now cities are discovering that with help from Florida Main Street, downtown can thrive again.

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 mandates that every State Historic Preservation Office provide technical assistance to local governments, organizations and individuals. The Main Street Program is one of the most important methods by which this agency meets this requirement. This mandate is also reflected in Chapter 267 of the Florida Statutes. The Florida Historical Resources Act specifically mentions the Main Street Program as a method for the Division of Historical Resources to provide technical assistance.

Revitalizing Florida' Downtowns

Throughout Florida there is a growing interest in improving the appearance and economic stability of historic downtown business districts. In many communities, the main street is in a serious state of decline. Effective solutions to the problems of deteriorating building stock, loss of business, and the waning economic strength of downtown are crucial to the survival of the city itself.

There are many reasons for a community to actively encourage the revitalization of the downtown. An economically healthy downtown:

* Builds a positive image for the community.
* Reflects a community's confidence in itself and its future.
* Creates job opportunities.
* Attracts new industry and strengthens service and retail job markets.
* Saves tax dollars.
* Stabilizes and improves the area's tax base, and protects the investment already made in downtown infrastructure.
* Helps to control sprawl.
* Preserves the community's historic resources.
* Enables property owners to maintain historic commercial buildings and preserve an important part of the community's heritage.

The Athens Theatre was designed by prominent Orlando architect Murry S. King. It first opened its doors in January 1922. Originally a vaudeville house it featured live stage shows by touring performers. After it fell into disrepair, the citizens of DeLand, organized by the MainStreet DeLand Association, leads restoration efforts.


Looking down Indiana Avenue from the Athens Theatre.

In 1888, Volusia County voted to move the County Seat to the City of DeLand. The first courthouse was replaced by this building in 1929. Three thousand people attended the dedication. The 60,000 square foot structure with its Corinthian columns of Georgian pink marble is covered by a copper dome.

120 North Woodland - After chatting a spell, the menfolk could make deposits, check on accounts or send their wives to do the same. The Volusia County Bank k Trust Company served its customers from this location when it was built in 1909.

The building is a testament to the Greek Revival style of architecture, which was popular at the turn of the century. Notable features include a full-length portico, displaying an overhanging pediment supported by Ionic columns and Tuscan pilasters. The side facade offers a dropped cornice that protects the structure with wide eaves and hooded windows on the second story.

128 South Woodland - Constructed in 1921, Pick & Pay grocery would relieve any fears of getting a bad apple. Customers strolled through the store and picked their own produce and staples. The only caveat was that they remember to pay on the way out. The building has Prairie style influences. It has rectangular brick panels flanking the sides of the entry and a curvilin-eared roof still based on a masonry vernacular parapet.

142 South Woodland - This masonry vernacular structure was bui It in 1892. The original occupants are unknown. However, in the 1920s it was the home of the Masonic Lodge. The group lost the build- ing during the Depression. In the late 1930s it was home to the Florida Motor Lines Station.

The First United Methodist Church, at the corner of Howry Avenue and Woodland Boulevard, began as early as 1876. The first building was constructed in l877 with the congregation being officially organized in 1880. The ''new'' building was constructed in 1883. The stained glass window was added in 1919.

215 S Woodland - Care to check in? Spend the night? Rise early and see the town? This is the former home of the DeLand Hotel. Built in 1921, the building has masonry vernacular features and Mediterranean Revival ornamentation. Smooth plaster walls, semicircular arches and a tile roof, characterize the building's style.

101 N Woodland - Completed in 1924, the First National Bank was DeLand's first skyscraper. it housed the bank until it declared bankruptcy in 1929. Watch your step, but slow down, you might catch a glimpse of Clarence Hayes footprints. As a local policeman, he was known to stand out front and greet passersby while keeping an eye out for crime and disorderly conduct.

The Putnam Hotel was the place to stay in Deland when it opened in 1923.  88 years later, it is in need of restoration.

Deland City Hall.

About Florida Main Street

Florida Main Street is a technical assistance program administered by the Bureau of Historic Preservation, Division of Historical Resources, Florida Department of State, for traditional historic commercial corridors.

The Bureau conducts statewide programs aimed at identifying, evaluating, and preserving Florida's historic resources. Main Street, with its emphasis on preservation, is an effective strategy in achieving these goals in Florida's historic retail districts.

Since 1985, the Bureau has offered manager training, consultant team visits, design and other technical assistance, as well as the benefit of experience gained by other Florida Main Street programs. Main Street communities receive up to three years of technical assistance from the Bureau.

Florida Main Street is a self-help program. The Bureau of Historic Preservation supplies technical assistance, but the credit and responsibility for success rests with the many community leaders who offer their time, expertise, and enthusiasm to revitalizing downtown.

Florida Main Street is incremental. Using the Main Street four point approach, community leaders work together to bring about many small but positive improvements downtown. Together, these improvements revitalize the downtown.

Florida Main Street works! Florida's Main Street cities are bringing people and commerce back downtown.

Deland is located halfway between Daytona Beach and Orlando, along the I-4 corridor.

Article by Ennis Davis.