Friday, April 6, 2001
Steamboats, trains helped open the way
By MORRIS SULLIVAN
It's hard to imagine life in West Volusia without Interstate 4. Many residents today spend a good deal of time on that crowded highway, and expend more than a few epithets complaining about its bottlenecks and slowdowns.
The interstate didn't reach DeLand until the late 1960s, however. Early settlers of this area would have considered it an impossible luxury to travel from Sanford to DeLand in less than an hour -- much less 15 or 20 minutes.
And it would have been inconceivable to Helen Parce DeLand, or any other 19th century traveler to this area, that one might get to DeLand from New York in a few hours by commercial airliner. Commercial air traffic didn't start moving passengers in and out of the area in any large scale until after 1946 and World War II, when the Navy turned its local airbases over to municipalities.
Helen DeLand, in her 1928 book of the history of this area, writes of her first visit to Florida with her father, who founded this city: "Down the Atlantic coast, we journeyed in trains that jolted along. The engines had funnel shaped smoke stacks, and they burned wood. One reason they stopped so often was their constant need for fuel and water."
Steam engine-pulled trains brought the DeLands as far as Jacksonville, where travelers boarded a steamboat.
Helen DeLand said "The steamers of the DeBary Line left Jacksonville at 1:30 p.m. reaching Sanford at noon the next day, `a 10 -hour journey. They reached Palatka that evening, she wrote, and "the next day the width of the river had changed from a mile or more to a few hundred feet, and it twisted about so much the passengers expected the boat to ground turning the curves ... noon brought us to Enterprise and the Brock House."
While the trains had "jolted along" and the steamer had crawled through narrow winding passageways, those first two legs of the journey must have seemed luxurious compared to the final trip from the shore of Lake Monroe north to the place that would become their new home.
"From Enterprise, my father went with my uncle, Mr. Terry, to see his homestead," she said. "Their horse dragging his way through the sand must have gone a little faster than the gophers they may have seen crawling lazily from their holes by the side of the road, for they reached the Riches' before noon and had come 14 miles."
By 1928, when Helen DeLand published her history of the area after being away for 17 years, much had changed. She was met at the local train station and "whisked up" to her hotel, she said. "The next morning, I could not believe my eyes! Paved streets, north, south, east, and west..."
The streets by then had automobiles traveling across their bricks and the train came into town. A paved road, "Million Dollar Drive," outlined a triangle from DeLand to New Smyrna Beach to Daytona Beach and back to DeLand. Steamboats still carried much of the freight from the area, and by then, airplanes were landing on open ground near DeLand.
Between the arrival of DeLand's first settlers and the boom years of the roaring '20s, however, changes in transportation came slowly. Steamships had plied the St. Johns since the 1850s, but the first regular local service came in the 1870s, when Frederick deBary, a wealthy wine merchant from New York, established a steamship line. DeBary had settled near Lake Monroe and had purchased a small steamship to carry himself and his dogs for hunting trips upriver.
Locals soon began tagging along with DeBary, paying him to transport them up and down the river, and he eventually contracted to carry the mail between Enterprise and Jacksonville. DeBary entered into partnership with Col. H.T. Baya in 1883, and the DeBary-Baya Merchants Line grew to a fleet of 13 steamboats and a crew of 3,000.
Among the corporate officers was Capt. Charles Brock, son of Jacob Brock who operated the first steamboat on the St. Johns. DeBary-Baya sold its boats and business to the Clyde Steamship Co. in 1885; the line continued to operate until competition from trucks, buses and trains put it out of business in 1928.
Trains didn't make the trip across West Volusia until 1884, when the Orange Ridge, DeLand, and Atlantic Railroad finally opened. The narrow gauge train, according to Helen DeLand, "consisted of one engine, two flats, three box cars, and one passenger coach." As unimpressive as that may have seemed, she said "many people came to look at the `big train,' for they had never before seen any other means of travel other than the two-wheeled cart and the steamboat."
Over the next decade, she continued, the line expanded, junctions were created with other lines, and by 1890, DeLand was connected to Northern cities by rail.
According to Bill Dreggors, the first automobiles to appear in DeLand, "were little cars with a tiller on them. The first one showed up around 1908." The first car dealer, he thinks, came to the area in the early teens, and probably sold Fords or GM autos. "I remember my dad talking about running a cab," he said. "He would pick up people at the Putnam, carry them to Lake Helen and drive them around other places. This would have been 1915 or '16."
Around that time, the state permitted counties to require autos to have county license tags. "Then the state took them over and started putting out tags in 1918," he said.
In 1916, the county first started bricking its roads.
"They started bricking the road to Daytona in 1917," Dreggors said. "It took a while to get the first road," but within a few years, the Million Dollar Drive more or less followed the path now taken by U.S. 92 to U.S. 1, down to State Road 44 in New Smyrna Beach, and back to DeLand. Motoring became a pastime for tourists and for local families who would load up in someone's car and drive on these new hard surface roads, enjoying the scenery.
While major roads were bricked, Dreggors said, city streets were, at first, paved with a layer of shell. The shells were "mined" from Timucuan Indian middens, where over centuries the natives had discarded the shells of snails they harvested from the river.
"Wherever there was a mound, they'd excavate it for a street," Dreggors said. Many of the Indian artifacts in museums like the one at Hontoon Island State Park were collected by local children as the arrowheads and spearheads fell off the trucks. Also, Dreggors said, "the streets would get rough, like washboards, and they'd scrape them" to level the surface. "Then the kids would walk along picking up up artifacts that had been uncovered."
Beneath the layers of brick and asphalt of today's streets, there are still layers of those ancient shells and artifacts.
"The roads first built were only 8 feet wide," Dreggors said, "so if you met someone coming the other way, one of you had to get off the road. A few years later, they added a few feet of cement on the sides of the road."
A short section of that slightly widened Million Dollar Drive still exists. It veers off on the north side of U.S. 92 about halfway to Daytona Beach.
Airplanes first appeared in DeLand after the first world war, Dreggors said.
"The first one landed at the College Arms golf course in 1919. They had a flying school in Arcadia," he said, and pilots would bring riders to this area, landing on the beach when the tide was low enough. If they arrived at the wrong time to find ample sand for a landing strip, Dreggors said, "they would land in DeLand and wait for the tide to get low enough.
"They finally built a little landing strip outside of town," he said, "cutting palmettos down where the airport is today; that was around 1920 or 22." Much of the air traffic, he said, came from "a little plane called the Sparrow; there was a flying school out there," and they trained on the Sparrows.