Exploring the Athens of Florida

Wed, Feb 01, 2017 at 2:55PM

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After he saw the strides his city was making in terms of art, culture and infrastructure, DeLand’s founder Henry DeLand affectionately dubbed the town “the Athens of Florida.”

Those may be big shoes to fill—after all, Athens was one of the ancient world’s most innovative, pioneering cities—but we say DeLand has more than earned the title.

In today’s blog, we’re taking a reflective look at the innovations that have characterized DeLand’s past 140 years (and counting!).

Modern touches

Without the arrival of some very influential people, DeLand (and Florida as a whole) might not be the modern place it is today. John B. Stetson (the namesake for our local university, as well as a close friend of city founder Henry DeLand) came to the state with northern amenities in tow, arriving to build the first electric plant and ice plant in the entire state! This was in the 19th century, a time long before Florida was a thriving southern state (and not long after the state’s inception just a few decades before!). It’s hard to imagine our home without the electricity and amenities we so easily enjoy today, but those modern innovations weren’t always a part of our history.

A new kind of sport

In addition to innovations in infrastructure, DeLand has played host to the growth of a new sport entirely—skydiving. While the sport may not have begun here (with some sources pointing back to skydiving attempts in the late 18th century), DeLand did give it a place to grow and thrive. Our flat landscapes, pleasant weather, and fun-loving culture have helped to make our little city a skydiving powerhouse.

Natural beauty

One of DeLand’s most notable natural features is our abundance of foliage that dot city streets, including large, beautiful oak trees that aren’t quite as “Floridian” as, say, the palm tree. We have an early tax law to thank for this, that gave residents a tax break for every oak they planted. While too many oak trees were planted for this law to continue economically, its mere existence points to the city’s longtime commitment to natural beauty alongside modern life.

Strides in education

Today, Stetson is an acclaimed university at the heart of our city—in 1900, it was home to the first law school in the state! This focus on education has served as a strong precedent for all levels of education in DeLand, making us a center of learning before the rest of Florida followed suit.

An everyday history

Just like the city of Athens is home to a wealth of ancient ruins, preserved relics of a monumental culture, DeLand has its share of history, too—something you can sense whenever you walk down the street past our storied buildings (like the Downtown Historic District). DeLand is by no means quite as old as Athens, but our recollection of our roots is displayed for the entire city to see for visitors and locals alike.

DeLand may be a small city—but it’s got big achievements under its belt! Seeing these past innovations only makes it that much more exciting to wonder where the coming century will take us.


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