DeBary Hall was the winter retreat of a European-born wine merchant who chose the St. Johns River country for his hunting estate. Beginning in the 1870s, New Yorker Frederick deBary acquired lands near Lake Monroe, built a large vacation house, and tried his hand at orange growing and commercial steamboating. He completed his hunting lodge in 1871. (View video)
But above all, this Florida estate became a center of sport hunting and hospitality. Entertainment,” said one relative, “was a very simple matter at DeBary Hall. Most guests were asked because they enjoyed the out of doors, with swimming, hunting, and fishing.”
When deBary’s last American heir died in 1941, the retreat had grown to more than 6,000 acres with many outbuildings. Today’s historic site is a little smaller—ten acres. But it still includes the 8,000-square-foot main house, stables and other structures, plus artifacts from a kind of working farm, even if the crops were bobwhite quail.
DeBary Hall also offers glimpses of larger things: America’s long romance with Florida, a nineteenth-century tourism boom, orange fever, and steamboating on the St. Johns. And since local African-American and white workers kept the estate going year-round, their lives are central to the storytelling here.
If this sounds interesting, please visit us at DeBary Hall Historic Site. You’ll find remarkable buildings, a treasure trove of historical images, and many good stories. It’s a place worth exploring.
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Picture sources: DeBary Hall Historic Site image collection; Special Collections Department, Florida State University Libraries; Florida Photographic Collection, State Archives; Imagicom Inc.; A.G. Phillips; Olin Library Archives; and Special Collections Department, Rollins College.