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‘A Little Piece of DeLand History’ Comes to Stetson

When a collector offered to donate a Native American dugout canoe to Stetson, Sue Ryan wondered where she would display such a large item on campus.

A crew carries the Native American canoe into the duPont-Ball Library in late June 2019. Photo by Matt Adair/Stetson

At 22 ½ feet long, the handmade canoe is a piece of DeLand history and hung for decades in the old Hotel Putnam in downtown DeLand, said Ryan, the Betty Drees Johnson Dean of the Library & Learning Technologies for Stetson’s duPont-Ball Library.

“I really wanted to save it,” Ryan said. “I was a little trepidatious about the length of it. Where the heck are we going to put this thing? We knew we’d have to hang it, like they had it hanging in the hotel.”

Matt Adair, director of Project and Construction Management in Facilities Management, and a private contractor studied possible options over several months. In late June, a crew hung the canoe from the ceiling in Stetson’s library.

Sue Ryan, Stetson University
Sue Ryan

Suspended from wires, the canoe looks as if it’s gliding through the water, Ryan said and noted that people can see inside the canoe from the library’s mezzanine level.

Believed to be a Seminole Indian canoe from the late 1800s or early 1900s, state records in Tallahassee call it the “The Cypress Room Canoe” and say it was donated for the Florida Exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933-34. The canoe served as the centerpiece for a Seminole Indian village display at the exhibit, according to a recent appraisal of the canoe.

Hanging from the ceiling by wires, the cypress dugout canoe looks as if it’s gliding through water. Photo by Ciara Ocasio/Stetson

Former DeLand Mayor Earl W. Brown, a Stetson alumnus, was vice president and manager of the Florida Exhibits at three World’s Fair from 1933 to 1940. After the Chicago World’s Fair, he brought the canoe back to DeLand and hung it in his Hotel Putnam.

Former DeLand Mayor Earl W. Brown was a Stetson alumnus. Photo courtesy of Stetson University Archives.

The historic hotel closed long ago and is now undergoing renovations. Local collector Jim Cara wanted to save the canoe and finally purchased it from the new hotel owner, removing it in April 2018, according to a story in the West Volusia Beacon.

A few months later, Cara offered it to Stetson because he was moving to Georgia and the canoe was too large to take with him.

“Jim wanted it to stay in DeLand. It was nice of him to do that for us,” Ryan said. “It is us preserving a little piece of DeLand history and state of Florida history.”

The canoe is not the only item to end up at Stetson from Brown’s time overseeing the Florida Exhibits for the World’s Fairs.

Former DeLand Mayor Earl W. Brown, a Stetson alumnus, also helped bring the Holler Fountain to the university after it appeared in the Florida Exhibits at two World’s Fairs from 1937 to 1940.

Holler Fountain in Palm Court was built for the Florida Exhibit at the Great Lakes Exposition in Cleveland in 1936-37 and used again in the New York World’s Fair in 1939-40, according to the campus history book, “Stetson University,” by Stetson alumna Maggi Smith Hall. 

The Holler Fountain was given to the university in 1951 by Brown and William E. Holler Jr., who donated it in memory of his father, William E. Holler Sr.

Linda Dorian, granddaughter of Earl Brown, said her “Paw Paw” loved Florida and its natural beauty, and wanted to promote the state and tourism through the World’s Fair exhibits.

The old canoe sits on the carpet in the library with workmen around it.
The handmade cypress canoe dates to the late 1800s or early 1900s. Photo by Matt Adair/Stetson

“Paw Paw was in awe and deeply appreciative of the beauty that Florida has — the lakes, the rivers, the oceans. He thought it was outstanding,” said Dorian of DeLand.

She does not know who donated the canoe to the state or where it originally was made. But she remembers it always hanging in the family’s hotel, back to when she was a little girl in the 1950s.

“I certainly think it’s lovely that it’s going to Stetson,” said Dorian, a former Washington attorney for 25 years and deputy director of the Federal Trade Commission. “For a lot of people older than I, this canoe was synonymous with the old Putnam hotel. It was such a beloved feature.”

The Mezzanine level of the library offers a view inside the Native American dugout canoe. Photo by Ciara Ocasio/Stetson