DeLand is a city in and the county seat of Volusia County, Florida, United States. The city sits approximately 34 miles (55 km) north of the central business district of Orlando, and approximately 23 miles (37 km) west of the central business district of Daytona Beach. As of the 2020 U.S. census, the population was 37,351. It is a part of the Deltona–Daytona Beach–Ormond Beach metropolitan area, which was home to 590,289 people as of the 2010 census.
The city was founded in 1876, and was named for its founder, Henry Addison DeLand. DeLand is home to Stetson University, Florida’s oldest private college, as well as the Museum of Art – DeLand. The DeLand Municipal Airport serves as an uncontrolled general aviation reliever airport to commercial operations at Daytona Beach International Airport (DAB), Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) and Orlando International Airport (MCO).
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. Henry Addison DeLand, a baking soda magnate from Fairport, New York, visited there in 1876, and envisioned building a citrus, agricultural and tourism center. That year he bought land and founded the town, naming it after himself. He sold his northern business and hired people to clear land, lay out streets, erect buildings and recruit settlers, most of whom came from upstate New York. (DeLand never lived in the city year-round.)
In 1877 DeLand built a public school for the town. To enhance the community’s stature and culture, and to enhance the value of his local real estate holdings, in 1883 DeLand established DeLand Academy, Florida’s first private college. However, 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 took place. As for 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. In 1900 it founded the first law school in Florida(which relocated to Gulfport in 1954). Its various sports teams are called the Hatters.
The City of DeLand was officially incorporated in 1882, and became the county seat of Volusia County in 1887. It was the first city in Florida to have electricity. According to city officials, minutes of the first City Commission meeting in 1882 show the city decided to create a seal with the emblems of “Faith, Hope and Charity,” namely a cross, an anchor and a heart.
The city seal was briefly the object of a controversy in 2013, when the national group Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent the city a letter in which they argued that the seal unconstitutionally promotes Christianity, thus allegedly breaching the First Amendment Establishment Clause. The controversy faded after the city refused to change the seal.
During the 1920s Florida Land Boom, fine examples of stucco Mediterranean Revival architecture by native architect Medwin Peek and others were constructed in DeLand. Many of these buildings have been handsomely restored, including the restored Athens Theatre.
Since 1992, the city has hosted the DeLand Fall Festival of the Arts, a two-day event held annually in the historic downtown area on the weekend before Thanksgiving. As of 2009, the event has an annual attendance of more than 50,000 during the weekend.
Downtown DeLand’s main street, Woodland Boulevard, has a number of notable 19th-century buildings. It is officially known as Downtown DeLand Historic District.
The Garden District is a mixed-use neighborhood adjacent to downtown DeLand, which is officially known as Downtown DeLand’s Historic Garden District. The neighborhood was originally developed between 1900 and 1920. It fell into a long period of decline after World War II, and by the 1980s, had become blighted.
In 2001, Michael E. Arth, a California artist, urban designer and filmmaker, bought 27 dilapidated structures, renamed the area the Garden District, and lobbied to create a new historic district. During the following eight years, he restored or rebuilt 32 homes and businesses, which have become the core of a neighborhood revival. The feature-length documentary film New Urban Cowboy: Toward a New Pedestrianism tells the story of DeLand and the Garden District. The film premiered in DeLand in January 2009 at the newly restored Athens Theatre. Previously, the film had appeared in seven film festivals and received the Audience Choice Award at the Real to Reel International Film Festival in 2008.
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