Monday, July 22, 2013

DeBary Hall

On Saturday we decided to tour one of the local historic sites and to sign up for a program that we will use in conjunction with our homeschooling this coming year.  The site is called DeBary Hall.
It was the Winter retreat and hunting lodge of a European born wine merchant and wealthy New York aristocrat Frederick DeBary.  He completed his 8000 square foot, 20 room retreat in an area that was the first territorial capitol of Florida known as Enterprise in 1871.

DeBary House front 1874 

DeBary house front today

Born Baron Samuel Frederick DeBary, January 12, 1815 in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany he was friends in his youth of the Mumm family, known for their champagne.  When he was 25 they asked him to introduce their product to the United States and act as a distribution agent to a new wealthy class that lived in New York. 
He came to the U.S. in 1840 and quickly became quite wealthy.  He returned to Germany in 1844 to marry his wife Julie.  They became a popular pair of hosts in the social circles of their day and an invitation to one of their parties was a sign of being in the truly upper circles of society.

Frederick DeBary

The couple had two children, their son Adolphe and daughter Eugenie.  Adolphe married and had 4 children, two who died in their early childhoods and the other two a son, young Adolphe and daughter Leonie. His sister, Eugenie married at 19 and moved to Europe where she remained the rest of her life.

Eugenie Von Mouch (her married name)

Frederick DeBary began buying his steamboats as a means of getting himself and later his guests down to Florida for hunting trips and Winter getaways.  He would later purchase more and provide a ferry service that included getting a mail contract to bring mail to Florida.  His steamboats were a life source for residents for materials and travel to this location that was the last site of "civilization" this far South in the U.S.  The area known as Enterprise was the last developed area before miles of Florida swamp lands.  It would be years before developments would grow further to the south that are now so much larger and well known like Tampa, Palm Beach and further on to the Florida Keys.

DeBary steamer with passengers 1890

Ad for the steamer line

Scenes from the film shown at the beginning of our tour.  Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote of travel on this steam line.

Old postcard of the DeBary steamer on the St John River

Frederick DeBary divested his steamboat interests by selling at the height of their popularity, because he could see the age of the railroad was coming.  Again he added to his vast fortune.  He used the 10,000 acres of land he owned to plant orange and pecan trees that he transported up North to the markets there.  He was in his late 80's when a devastating freeze wiped out the majority of his trees,
and decided not to reinvest at that point in his life to maintain this part of his business.

1800's view from front of house looking over orange groves towards Lake Monroe

View from front of house today

Poster sized old picture of laborers in the stable area with antique wagons and equipment on display

The orange sorting equipment used to sort by size and weight for packing and shipping

Leonie with the old hunting wagon and hounds in the 1930's. This wagon dates back to her grandfather's time.

Wagon in the stable today

Stable complex picture from 1937

Stable entrance today.  Antiques are on the left hand side and interior of barn has been fixed up to use as a rental hall for weddings and other group events.

Barn door with antique equipment and wagons inside

Old guest travel wagon

At his death his property here in Florida was passed on to his two grandchildren young Adolphe and Leonie.  After Adolphes graduation from Harvard he was with friends out to dinner when he saw a motor car about to hit a young woman.  He dashed out to push her out of it's path and to safety, but was struck and killed himself.  Leonie was then sole heir to the estate.  She would marry a childhood friend named Benjamin Brewster.  Both had a love of airplanes and would regularly fly from the East down to their Florida estate to vacation.  They did not have any children and when both died in 1941 when their small plane crashed into a mountainside in bad weather the estate was left to linger for quite awhile until it was sold to two developers. 

Leonie's studio portrait in her early 20's

Hot air engines on property used for irrigation and pumping water from a rain water collection cistern underneath the house to a 500 gallon copper holding tank in the attic of the home for inside running water, quite rare and ingenious back in it's day.

The acres of property that had the estate on it was divided into lots and sold as a retirement community called, Plantation Estates in the early 50's.   This development included the control and maintenance of the large house and it's remaining land.
The upkeep was too much and the community and they donated it to the Florida Arts Center.  They too found this too expensive to keep and the estate fell into disrepair. It was slated for demolition after the arts community donated it to the State of Florida, but a group that sought to conserve it made friends in high places in Washington and in 1971 it was listed on the National Registery of Historic Sites and protected from demolition.  It wouldn't be until the 1990's though that any serious restoration began and tours could begin of this site.  We found our time there fascinating and look forward to returning to participate in educational programs they will host at this facility and in conjunction with other arts, cultural and environmental places of interest in this county.  This is part of a program called the ECHO rangers I signed the girls up for and will tell about in another post.

Tenant house moved from a remote part of DeBary property to this location.  There used to be many of these homes to house the workers who managed the many acres of the DeBary land.

Side entrance to the home today. The original part of the home is to the right and just past the ramp in the center and to the left is the second part of the home added during Frederick Debary's day.

Caretakers home as it is today.  Still houses current caretaker.

Old ice house.

Visitors as they dressed to "relax" back in the 1800's at this home.

Our kids visiting on Saturday.

Love finding there are really some places of rich history and significance so close to home!!


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