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The Florida Quest - Unlock the Legacy of the Walls

Two more structures on course for historic designation

By Bob Koslow
Staff Writer

ORANGE CITY -- The unofficial historic district here is becoming better defined with the expected addition of two structures to the National Register of Historic Places.

The state Division of Historical Resources last week nominated the Seth French House for listing on the National Register. The nomination for the Orange City Colored School should go out early next week, said Gary Goodwin, a state historic preservation planner.

"They both deserve the recognition. That's great news for Orange City," Mayor Ted Erwin said Thursday. "We're putting a district together slowly, piece by piece."

About 99 percent of the state's nominations are approved for the National Register, said Barbara Mattick, deputy state historic preservation officer. A nomination for the DeLeon Springs Colored School also is being completed. The Keeper of the National Register has 45 days to evaluate the nominations.

City officials and historic preservation enthusiasts have talked for several years about creating a historic district centered at the Graves Avenue and U.S. 17-92 intersection. Two nearby structures -- Dickinson Memorial Library and Town Hall -- are on the National Register.

Historian Sydney Johnston researched and completed the recent applications for state review. The Volusia School District sponsored the school application. Seth French's great-granddaughter, Harriet French Boyd, submitted the other.

Listing in the National Register is honorary, Johnston said, but does enhance renovation grant applications to ensure the structures' long-term survival.

The Orange City Colored School was built in 1927. It served as the black community's elementary school until the early 1960s when it was renamed Marian Coleman Elementary School. Coleman was one of Orange City's early black educators and a school principal. The school is now the Coleman Head Start Center at 200 E. Blue Springs Ave.

"It provides an important architectural and educational link to the heritage of Orange City. The school retains its early 20th century character and integrity to a high degree," Johnston said.

Dr. Frances Dickinson donated the land for the school while the Julius Rosenwald Foundation and school district shared the $9,200 construction cost. Rosenwald was president of Sears-Roebuck in the early 20th century. After meeting Booker T. Washington in 1915, Rosenwald established a foundation to develop black schools, primarily in the rural South. Between 1915 and 1932, the foundation spent more than $4 million to build about 3,500 schools in 15 Southern states, including the two in West Volusia.

"I don't recall the school much, but it was a center for the community and I'm sure the neighborhood is pleased it's being recognized," said Francine Frazier, a former student and current Head Start teacher.

The school closed in 1969. The Orange City Interaction Committee leased the site in 1970 for various functions including a community center, recreation facility and church. Volusia County acquired the site in 1984.

The Seth French House at 319 E. French Ave. was built in 1876 with alterations in 1905, 1915 and 1925.

A former Army surgeon during the Civil War, French came to Sanford in the 1870s and was a partner in the Wisconsin Co., which developed Orange City. He was elected a state senator in 1879 and appointed Florida Commissioner of Immigration. He became a well-traveled promoter of Florida.

He sold his property in Volusia County in 1881 and died in 1896. His great-granddaughter purchased the property, where now stands a plaque honoring Seth French as a Great Floridian.

Published in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Sunday, January 5, 2003

Unlock the Legacy of the Walls