West Volusia: The Other Side of Daytona Beach

When you mention Volusia County to tourists and even most Florida residents, their first images are of the hard packed sands of Daytona Beach and the Daytona 500 Speedway.   If you ask “What else is in Volusia?” – some will add Ormond Beach or New Smyrna Beach, both Atlantic vacation spots.

There is another Volusia on the west side of the county that is often overlooked as a travel destination.  West Volusia actually contains the county seat (DeLand) and the largest Volusia city (Deltona).

I wrote an article mainly about the steamboat towns north of Volusia off US17 and several people asked for more information so I thought I would expand my comments and locations.

People who boat and fish in Florida, however, know about West Volusia.  The entire western side of the county is freshwater with two of Florida’s largest lakes: Lake George in the north and Lake Monroe in the south.  The two lakes are connected by Florida’s longest river: the 273 mile St. Johns River.

FLORIDATRAVELER shady oaks rest on st johns

Boating Along St. Johns and Rivcerfront Restaurant

In the summer the fish camps and houseboat rental places are still active, particularly north of DeLand.   There are also three state parks with a water recreational orientation.

Blue Spring State Park has the largest spring on the St. Johns and while the manatees are gone in the summer that means people can use the clear 73 degree water for swimming, snorkeling, and boating.

FLORIDATRAVELER Blue-Spring-State-Park

Blue Spring Waters With One Manatee

Hontoon Island State Park is connected by ferry service to preserve its Indian heritage and boating facilities.   My favorite Volusia park is DeLeon Springs State Park on the lovely Spanish Garden River.   You should come early to make your own pancakes at the famous Sugar Mill Restaurant.

DeLand on the St. Johns River was founded in 1876 by New York baking soda king Henry Addison DeLand, whose home is a museum also featuring a tribute to Lue Gim Gong, the Chinese-American citrus horticulturalist.  DeLand thought steamboat tourism and orange cultivation would boom the St. Johns Valley.

FLORIDATRAVELER deland _Athens_Theatre

A series of freezes would undermine the orange industry but tourism continued.  Deland also started Florida’s first private college and later got friend Philadelphia’s John B. Stetson of hat fame to develop “Stetson University.”  Next to the beautiful campus is the 1886 Stetson Mansion and there are three other museums at the school that founded Florida’s first law school.

FLORIDATRAVELER Stetson Mansion deland

The Stetson Mansion Is The Oldest of Florida’s Big Houses

The DeLand house is just one of several historic buildings and museums that dot the town and getting a map here for a driving tour is beneficial.

FLORIDATRAVELER cassadega houses

Welcome Believers to Cassadega

At the southern end of  US17 before it reaches I-10 is the river town of DeBary with its great DeBary Mansion, featured in an earlier article.  But let we mention Volusia’s weirdest travel destination.

FLORIDATRAVELER Cassadaga hotel

Off the Lake Helen exit of I-10 is Cassadega, the famed winter home of the American Spiritualist Society.  The Church, the old hotel with restaurant, the Victorian houses, and Spirit Lake are a real experience.  It is such a peaceful place that out of curiosity, I went to Zillow to see what these old houses sold for and discovered there were NO HOUSES on sale that week in the village.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About floridatraveler

Historian and travel writer M. C. Bob Leonard makes the Sunshine State his home base. Besides serving as content editor for several textbook publishers and as college professor, he moderates the FHIC at www.floridahistory.org
This entry was posted in adventure vacation, attractions, environment, florida history, Florida parks, florida vacations, Historic Buildings, Historic Hotels & Inns, mcbobleonard, museums, Restaurants, small towns, travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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