Saturday, July 4, 2009

Preserving America

It seemed like no one I knew was working on Friday, July 3rd so I decided to take the day off and take a little road trip to see a little bit of America. My wife and I headed to Volusia County, two counties north of our home in Orlando, and spent most of this hot summer day exploring historic sites. First, we stopped at the Bob White Citrus packinghouse in DeLeon Springs. Located just off Hwy 17, this abandoned facility is on the National Historic Registry, but is also listed as one of the top ten threatened sites in Florida by the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. According to the website, this collection of interesting buildings, marked by a large "for sale" sign by the road, is "threatened by vacancy, lack of financial resources for their preservation, and proposed demolition."

My wife's grandfather and uncles all worked in citrus packing houses like this, maintaining the machinery and keeping things running. While we didn't venture inside, I imagine that in its heyday, it didn't look all that different from this photograph of the Dr. Phillips Citrus packinghouse in Orlando.

Image from the Orange County Regional History Center

Next, we headed south to DeLand, home of Stetson University. DeLand has a wonderful little downtown, somehow it managed to remain vital and relevant through the years and we love to visit there. On this trip, we stopped at two restored historic homes. First we visit the DeLand House Museum, a little beauty a block off the main drag with a gift shop and citrus display in the back. Part of the display is memorial to Lue Gim Gong, a Chinese immigrant who was a pioneer in citrus horticulture.

Just a little ways from DeLand's downtown is the Stetson Mansion, the former home of John B. Stetson of Stetson hat fame. This 10,000 foot beauty is only open for private tours of 12 or more people and I hope to return one day to see the inside for myself!

Down the road from DeLand is DeBary, (not sure why all the towns in southern Volusia start with "De", there is Deltona too), home of the DeBary Hall. The former winter estate of German-born immigrant Frederick de Bary, this restored home is kept up wonderfully by Volusia County. Built in the late 1800s, this magnifcent structure held a commanding view of Lake Monroe, and it is a intersting place to visit. DeBary, an avid hunter, made his fortune importing Mumms champagne, but built great wealth creating an empire that included orange groves and a fleet of 13 steamships that worked up and down the St. Johns River.

The "Frederick de Bary" steamship from the State Archives of Florida

Vintage images of DeBary Hall from the State Archives of Florida

What a vivid contrast to visit historical sites in dire need of preservation and those that have been lovingly restored. Historic preservation can trace it roots to the efforts of a group of dedicated ladies who bought and then restored Gerorge Washington's home, Mt. Vernon. The results of their efforts and others, who champion historic sites, is a gift to us all. Let us hope we have the wisdom to preserve more of America for future generations to enjoy and learn from.


  1. Did they tell you about the pool on the DeBary Hall tour? I heard a couple of weeks ago that they've acquired the property and there are plans to add it to the tour one day. It's about 1/2 a mile from the Hall. I found it by riding my bike through the area and spotting a chain linked fence through the woods on a side street.

  2. Yes they did tell us about the pool- I saw your images on Flickr and was envious that you got to see it!

  3. If you ever want to see it I can tell you right where it is!