More Than Just a Hat House – Orange County Regional History Center
By Kara Kovalev, Registrar
John B. Stetson is famous for his design of the modern cowboy hat. What is less well known is the impact he had on DeLand, home of Stetson University. His gilded mansion on Cavour Lane is a reminder of his influence.
The style of hat bearing the Stetson name dates back long before he came to Florida. Born in 1830, Stetson was diagnosed with tuberculosis as a young man and traveled west to Colorado, where he saw drawbacks to traditional hats and hats, including a lack of shade and an inability to withstand rain. In 1862, he designed his own wide-brimmed, waterproof hat and returned to Philadelphia in 1865 to begin production. He ran a successful business and was known for paying fair wages and providing extensive benefits to his employees.
In 1885, Stetson’s friend, Henry DeLand, invited him to visit Persimmon Hollow in Florida – present-day DeLand. Stetson was impressed and purchased 300 acres of orange groves on which to build a house. Construction began in 1886 and took two years. The 18-room, three-story mansion was originally planned to be 17,000 square feet and a full-time residence; However, it was limited in size to 10,000 square feet because Stetson’s wife, Elizabeth, did not want to live in Florida full-time, making the Stetsons among the first snowbirds in Florida.
The home has 16 different patterns of wood and mosaic parquet flooring, 10,000 panels of antique glass by Tiffany, handcrafted wood trim, six fireplaces featuring Italian marble, and a copper bathtub. It was the first house in Florida, and one of the first in the world, to be built using Edison electricity, steam heating, indoor plumbing, and a calling bell system. An 800-square-foot school was built on the property for the use of Stetson children. Also on the property are gardens, gazebos, fountains, patios and a swimming pool. Henry Flagler even built a private railroad to the land to deliver building materials.
Stetson Mansion has played an integral role in the growth of the community and increased tourism in the area. Stetson’s presence attracted other influential people such as the Astor family, John D. Rockefeller, Frederick DeBary, and Thomas Edison. He hosted gatherings almost every weekend for local residents where the DeLand Municipal Band appeared, and his house became a meeting place where business was discussed and decisions were made.
In addition, Stetson used his own resources to improve DeLand by building an electric power plant, hotels, and a golf course. He also encouraged the expansion of railways in the region. Not only was he a successful business leader, he was also a philanthropist; When Henry DeLand was having financial problems, he turned to his friend Stetson to help finance the school, which was later renamed Stetson University.
After Stetson’s death in 1906, the mansion was abandoned but remained in the family for two decades before changing hands between several owners. Through each owner, it has always remained a private residence. The current owners, who purchased the house in 2005, have renovated it to its former glory while also introducing modern amenities. Over the course of 18 months, careful updates were made, along with converting the school building into guest quarters and adding a three-car garage.
Time did not stop in the palace because it is not a museum. Instead, the house was updated as necessary while honoring its original owners and preserving its historic charm. It remains a private residence, although its doors are open for tours in the spring and holiday season. The mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. More information is available at StetsonMansion.com.
Pictures of Stetson Mansion.