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New DeLand Walking Tour Spotlights Stetson

When Henry A. DeLand decided to start a community here in the late 1800s, he envisioned a place that was industrious and educated with a “center of learning,” like Athens, Greece.

“So he started the DeLand Academy. It was the first college in the state of Florida and is the oldest building in continuous educational use,” a narrator says during a new historical walking tour of DeLand.

historical shot of DeLand Hall

DeLand Hall opened Oct. 13, 1884, and was part of the DeLand Academy. The original cost of the building was $4,000. Today, it is the oldest building in Florida in continuous use for higher education.

That 1884 building, Stetson’s DeLand Hall, will be the second stop on the Walk DeLand self-guided tour. The tour also talks about Elizabeth Hall and Flagler Hall, and will showcase the rich history of Stetson University, said Larry French, executive director of the West Volusia Historical Society.

The Historical Society will launch the free phone app for the tour at noon Saturday, Nov. 12, in the patio area beside the Rinker Welcome Center and facing Palm Court. French said the event is timed to take place after DeLand’s Veterans Day Parade on Saturday.

The Walk DeLand tour will have 12 stops along a 1-mile route downtown. At each stop, a narrator will give a short history of the site – sometimes a minute or less, and no more than five minutes. Historical photos and links to more information will be displayed on people’s smartphones, which will use GPS to track their progress along the route.

Stetson University President Wendy B. Libby, Ph.D., suggested the Historical Society feature DeLand Hall on the tour and hold Saturday’s launch on the campus.

“I encouraged the walking tour and the stop at DeLand Hall because DeLand Hall is one of the most historic buildings on our very historic campus,” she said. “Also, anything we can do that supports our community is a great thing for Stetson University to do.”

Larry French, executive director of the West Volusia Historical Society.

Larry French, executive director of the West Volusia Historical Society, stands in front of DeLand Hall, which is the second stop on a new DeLand historical walking tour.

During the tour, the narrator gives a brief history of Stetson University as a piano plays softly in the background. Once DeLand began to prosper in the late 1800s, famed hat maker John B. Stetson built a mansion here and served on the university’s Board of Trustees, providing vital financial support. In return, the university was named in his honor in 1889.

Elizabeth Hall, built in 1892, was named after his wife and modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia. In 1902, Flagler Hall was built across the street with a gift from railroad tycoon Henry Flagler and built in the same Mediterranean style that Flagler used in St. Augustine and Palm Beach.

“But the building was not named Flagler Hall until after his death in 1913,” the narrator says. “Flagler’s contribution was kept secret for fear others might ask him for money.”

The tour joins others created under the Florida Humanities Council’s Florida Stories Walking Tours. Cities, like DeLand, are invited to participate and receive a $4,500 grant – which they must match through in-kind services – to develop a walking tour and rack cards to promote it. Similar tours already exist in St. Augustine, Tampa’s Ybor City, Bartow, Lake Wales and Pensacola. Coming next spring will be ones for Key West, Tarpon Springs, Fort Pierce and Fernandina Beach, according to the project’s website.

At Saturday’s ceremony, the phone app will go live. Those who attend can download the app, receive coupons to local businesses and free earbuds in goodie bags to listen to the tour on their phone, French said.

Other DeLand stops on the tour include the Athens Theater, the Artisan Inn, downtown DeLand murals, the historic courthouse and the West Volusia Historical Society house on West Michigan Avenue.

“I think Stetson will get a lot more people visiting it from this tour,” said French with the West Volusia Historical Society.

-Cory Lancaster

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