“We are called the best-hidden gem in Volusia County!” said Mary,
our tour guide at Debary Hall. A friend and I, along with our four
children decided to take a tour of this historic home which actually sits
right within my own neighborhood.
I talk a lot about getting out into your community through parks. Parks can also be
in the form of historic homes that have such rich history it will astound you. I want
to share with you what we learned today that can be a springboard to a full on unit
study of history beginning in 1868 up to present day.
Debary Hall was owned by Fredrick Debary of Europe. He came from a wealthy
family and became a distributor of Mums Champagne in America. His daughter had
what we might call asthma today, and he wanted her to be in a better climate
during the winter months. He was told of this new and wild land called Florida,
where the weather was tropical like the islands.
Debary came for a visit on a steamboat up the St. Johns River, he had
found a new paradise for a winter hunting lodge. The lodge he built is over
8,000 square feet, eleven bedrooms and servants quarters situated
on 400 acres looking out at the river.
This grand home employed many area workers had an operating orange grove,
that was the largest producer of oranges for many years and a working hunting
camp for the rich and famous to visit and be taken out on hunts.
Our tour began as we boarded a steamship with a movie that put
us back in time, complete with a moving floor like we were really on the boat!!
It was fascinating with stories of guests, family members and the ultimate
decline and sale of the home to the Proctor family, of Proctor and Gamble.
The plan was to create a grand subdivision in the 1950’s and parceled
outland in 1/2 acre plots to begin Debary Village.
It went bankrupt a few years in and the project along with the mansion was
abandoned. In 1996 my husband and I moved to the sleepy town of Debary.
Our neighborhood is a mish-mash of planned ranch homes and then a variety
of owner builds that span the next twenty years. I learned that Debary Hall,
which I would walk past, was being restored by the county and
preserved as a park and museum. It was not until I had children and began
homeschooling that my interest peaked into this beauty.
I have learned that when history becomes personal, the interest and curiosity of
it can soar. My boys and I learned today that every major event in history
has left its mark in our area if we look for it. We love our town, it has roots
to us and therefore my children take a bit more interest in where they grew up.
What about you? What hidden gem is right around the corner, that you may walk
or drive past often yet not give a second thought? Could it be the next great
history study for your children? A connection to the past that gets them excited
As a coincidence, That evening after the mansion tour, we went to a lecture with
my inlaws in the next little town on the history of steamboats on the St. Johns River.
The boys were not exactly thrilled to be in a room full of “older” people for a
lesson on old boats since they had already had a history lesson today.
However, it all tied in with what we had learned earlier in the day. The boys would perk
up their ears and give me looks as in they knew what this guy was talking about. They
“got” it. It was all related. It was making sense. The pieces were fitting together.
This is a real education for all, not just for homeschoolers.
Our history shapes our future. Learning from the past, those who lived and learned
without the vast technology of today, were pioneers of invention and necessity. It laid
the groundwork for the luxuries we take for granted today. When children and
adults can grasp that and see the connection, it all has a new meaning.
What I did notice from today’s events is that all the people who are trying to preserve,
educate and pass on history, are older. They will not be around for the next generation.
We must take up the responsibility to pass it on.
My challenge to you this school year is to visit at least two historical venues. Read
about the event, share what you have learned with others. Create an excitement to
keep it going. Head down a rabbit trail of historical fiction, movies and inter-
active events that will make an impression beyond the pages of a textbook.
Maybe we will meet up one day, you and I, when our kids are grown
and a new season of life begins for us. I just may be the volunteer you meet
when you come visit Debary Hall for a tour. I will be working to ignite
excitement about history for a future generation.
P.S. If you have my book, Blaze New Trails,
There are other ideas on how to find these locations where you live and how to make the most of your visit.