Crossroads Series — DeLand, Florida

“The Athens of Florida”

North of Orlando and southwest of Daytona Beach, the City of DeLand is a historical town with rolling hills, centuries-old oak trees, and beautiful classic homes.

DeLand is technically land-locked, but a chain of lakes sits just to the east of town, and the St. Johns River is just a few miles to the west of town.  Lake Beresford is also to the west of town.

The City of DeLand was founded in 1876 and incorporated in 1882.  Despite the land being settled in 1874 by steamboat captain John Rich, Henry DeLand two years later came upon the settlement, bought land, built a house, and the city was named after him.  There, with the help of workers from his native New York, land was cleared and a street grid was laid out.  Plots of land were sold with the help of recruitment measures, mostly to New Yorkers.  DeLand was the first Florida city to have electricity.

First accessibility into town was from the St. Johns River.  The Atlantic Coast Railroad was built on the western edge of town around 1900.

In 1918, DeLand built its own train station on New York Avenue a few minutes west of town.  The station is located on what it now Old New York Avenue; old but charming and still maintaining the rural character it’s had for the past 98 years.  The station is built among the trees, complete with a dirt parking lot, and hardly a house or building in sight.  Today, the DeLand station serves as an Amtrak passenger train stop.

DeLand Train Station. Image courtesy of I.E. Xam on Flickr
DeLand Train Station. Image courtesy of I.E. Xam on Flickr

Today, the city is served by several major highways, starting with US Highways 17 and 92, built in the 1920s.  State Road 44 is an east-west, coast-to-coast route, which runs through the city’s center along New York Avenue.  The Florida Department of Transportation named State Road 44 in 1945.

College Town

DeLand is the home to Stetson University, which houses approximately 4,300 students.  In a move to draw more people from New York and elsewhere, Henry DeLand built this school in 1887 and originally named it the DeLand Academy.  In 1889, it was renamed after hatmaker John Stetson, a co-founder of the school.

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Downtown

The intersection of Woodland and New York.
The intersection of Woodland Boulevard and New York Avenue.  Note the “no turns” signs.  Turns can be made by driving to the next block.

DeLand’s downtown district is centered around the intersection of Woodland Boulevard and New York Avenue.  The attractions and century-old buildings attract a mixture of college students, residents looking to spend an evening out, and visitors.

The downtown area was listed by the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.  Main Street DeLand was established in 1985 to help preserve the historic buildings and attract business and visitors.

Historic Volusia County Courthouse, built in 1929. A new court house was opened in 2001.
Historic Volusia County Courthouse, built in 1929.  A new courthouse was opened in 2001.
Alligator -- an example of downtown DeLand's abstract art.
Alligator — an example of downtown DeLand’s abstract art.

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Local brewery, bearing the city's original name.
Local brewery, bearing the city’s original name.

 US Highway 17/92 Northbound

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Starting out at the intersection with New York Avenue, 17/92 continues through the downtown district.  On-street parking and lots are abundant, providing parking to the downtown destinations.  Once crossing Michigan Avenue, the Stetson University campus sits primarily on the east side of the road.  17/92 is tree-lined and still has its decades-old concrete surface.  The DeLand Museum of Art, one of the city’s top attractions, sits near the northern edge of the Stetson Campus.

US Highways 17 and 92 part ways on the northern edge of town, where Woodland Boulevard and International Speedway Boulevard intersect.  A turn to the east puts you on International Speedway Boulevard along US Highway 92 and towards Daytona Beach, home of the Daytona International Speedway.  A fairly short 20 mile drive gets you there.

You will remain on US Highway 17 by continuing north on Woodland Boulevard.  Highway 17 becomes more rural for a long stretch after this point, traversing tiny towns such as DeLeon Springs, Barberville, and Pierson.  The next sizeable city to the north is Palatka, a 55-mile drive.

US Highway 17/92 Southbound

To the south the highway is a little more non-descript.  More chain restaurants, box stores, and strip malls line the landscape, and the road turns to a 4 and 6-lane divided highway.  An overpass to State Road 472 provides direct access to nearby Interstate 4 and the adjacent town of Deltona.

Before crossing the St. Johns River into the City of Sanford, 17/92 runs through the historic City of Orange City, and the City of DeBary, more recently incorporated in 1993.

State Road 44 Eastbound

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State Road 44 is a Florida coast-to-coast highway and saltwater adventures can be found by going either as the sun rises or as the sun sets.  To the east, State Road 44 continues out of DeLand and towards its junction with Interstate 4.  After Interstate 4, it’s approximately a 15-mile drive along a new stretch of 4-lane highway to an interchange with Interstate 95.  Virtually unspoiled, pine trees are the main scenery between the interstates.  From there, the City of New Smyrna Beach lies ahead.  The beach itself can be accessed by going straight ahead onto Highway A1A and the South Causeway.  Downtown New Smyrna Beach is on the inland side of the Indian River, and is three blocks north on Canal Street.  The eastern terminus of State Road 44 is with Canal Street’s intersection with US Highway 1.

State Road 44 Westbound

State Road 44 continues out of town and has its own crossing of the St. Johns River along a 1950s drawbridge.  A rural drive in old Florida countryside will be in front of you until reaching the City of Eustis, 30 miles to the southeast, in Lake County.

A typical view of State Road 44 between DeLand and Eustis. In the heart of black bear habitat, as the yellow sign suggests
A typical view of State Road 44 between DeLand and Eustis. In the heart of black bear habitat, as the yellow sign suggests

Eustis is known for its bass fishing and its numerous lakes, namely Lake Eustis.  Lakeshore Drive meanders along the southeastern shore of Lake Eustis, providing beautiful views of the lake before ending near the City of Tavares.  The Eustis alternate route is in red in the map above.

A newer configuration of State Road 44 bypassing downtown Eustis makes a turn south towards the City of Mount Dora.  From State Road 44’s intersection with US Highway 441 in Mount Dora, 44 follows 441 through the cities of Tavares and Leesburg, where it splits from 441.

Highway 44 continues into Citrus County through such places as Wildwood, Inverness, and Lecanto, before reaching its final destination of Crystal River.  Crystal River is home to springs which attract manatees due to their constant water temperature of 72°.  A beach can be found west of US Highway 19 along County Road 44W at Fort Island Park.  This final section is marked in red on the map above.

DeLand Points of Interest

  • Skydive DeLand: DeLand is considered by many to be the skydiving capital of the world, and Skydive DeLand has been representing the area since 1982.  The facility is located at DeLand Municipal Airport, 1600 Flight Line Blvd.
  • DeLand House Museum: This house built by Henry DeLand in 1886 is now a museum run by the West Volusia Historical Society.  DeLand did not live in the house, but instead the house was built for first city attorney Arthur Hamlin.  The museum is located at 137 W. Michigan Avenue, just northwest of the main downtown district.
  • Athens Theatre: Opened in 1922, the Athens Theatre became a key hub for in-town entertainment.  During the Great Depression, the theatre prided itself in providing affordable entertainment to the hard-hit city’s residents.  For decades after, the theatre’s owners attempted to keep up with the times architecturally.  The theatre was restored to its original architectural style in the 1990s.

Miscellaneous DeLand Facts:

  • DeLand is the county seat of Volusia County, despite Daytona Beach being the county’s most well-known city and Deltona being the county’s largest city.
  • Over 500 residents of DeLand and the immediate area are employed in the skydiving industry.
  • Parts of the 1999 movie The Waterboy were filmed at DeLand’s Spec Martin Municipal Stadium.
  • DeLand was previously known as Persimmon Hollow.
  •  Blue Spring State Park in nearby Orange City features natural clear springs and is located near the east shoreline of the St. Johns River.

For a look at more DeLand photos, please click here to visit the Take the Highway Photography Facebook page.

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