DeLand's history began in 1874 when Captain John Rich built a log cabin in the area then known as Persimmon Hollow. It was so-named for the wild persimmon trees that grew around a natural springs in the area. At that time, it was accessible only by steamboat up the St. Johns River. In 1876, a baking soda magnate from New York named Henry A. DeLand visited his brother-in-law who lived in Persimmon Hollow. DeLand liked what he saw and quickly bought a $1,000 plot of land where he envisioned building a citrus and tourism center. He founded a city that he named after himself, and set about to clear land, lay out streets and erect buildings. He convinced settlers to buy land from him by guaranteeing that they could sell the land back to him within two years, if they didn't like the area. Interestingly enough, Henry DeLand himself was never a full-time resident of Florida, although he was a generous benefactor to the town. The town prospered and incorporated in 1882. In the winter of 1885, there was a bad freeze and settlers lost all their crops and couldn’t stay in the area. True to his word, Mr. Deland bought all the land back from them. became the county seat in 1888.

Part of the beauty of the city of DeLand are the old oak trees that line the streets. These trees were actually planted in the late 19th century in hopes of a tax break. In 1886, DeLand residents were allowed to take 50 cents off their taxes for each oak tree they planted that lived for one year. It was a popular campaign and residents planted so many trees, the city had to repeal the tax break because not enough money was collected from taxes to pay the town marshal. Little did they know, the oak trees would later become one of the most beautiful attributes of the city.

New roads were constructed in DeLand in the early part of the 20th century, which added to the prosperity of the city. In the 1920s, DeLand saw tremendous growth; sidewalks were installed in the downtown area, the city limits were expanded and new subdivisions were built. During this building boom, many fine examples of stucco Mediterranean Revival Style architecture were build in the city by native architect, Medwin Peek. One example is the restored Athens Theatre. Unfortunately, in 1928 the Great Depression brought hard times to DeLand, as to the rest of the country and the city limits were reduced to one-square mile. Eventually, things recovered and DeLand bounced back and continued to prosper. One of the old, mixed-use neighborhoods of the city fell into decline after WWII and by the 1980s had become blighted. In 2001, Michael E. Arth, a California urban designer, bought 27 dilapidated structures in this neighborhood. For 8 years he worked to restore and rebuild and successfully created a beautiful new historic district that is known today as The Garden District.


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