Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Persimmon Hollow: What's in a name?

Historic photo of downtown DeLand in the early 1880s
The Wild West? No, early DeLand. This view from 1882 shows the corner
 of Indiana Avenue and Woodland Boulevard. (Credit: Volusia: The West Side)
Before saleratus manufacturer Henry A. DeLand came down from New York in 1876 to create an "Athens of Florida," and before his settlement was incorporated as the City of DeLand in 1882, the area was known as Persimmon Hollow. The name has a quaint quality that appeals. My entire historical Catholic romance series, Persimmon Hollow Legacy, is built around a town of that name (yes, that is a shameless plug). A DeLand-based craft brewer, Persimmon Hollow Brewing Co., adopted the moniker (not a shameless plug; I'm more of a wine drinker, but I do like to support local businesses). Otherwise, vestiges of the early name are slim to none, locally.

Several years ago, when I purchased domain names for future use for my novels, PersimmonHollow.com was already taken. I was lucky to get persimmon-hollow.com and persimmonhollow.info. That first URL belongs to a boutique in, of all places, Oklahoma. There's also a Persimmon Hollow Village, again in Oklahoma. It's described, on its website, as a collection of stores grouped together to resemble an "1880s Western Village."

DeLand once looked like an 1880s Western village, a real one. You need only view the West Volusia Historical Society photo that accompanies this post to get the idea. The 1882 view of DeLand shows the corner of Indiana Avenue and Woodland Boulevard, looking west. The image appears on page 243 of the historical society's 1986 book about local history, Volusia: The West Side, edited by William J. Dreggors, John Stephen Hess, and S. Dick Johnston.

One of the book's chapters is titled Persimmon Hollow. However, a clue to the origin of the region's early name is found in the previous chapter. It's the best explanation I've yet come across, and the book's authors attribute it to a man named "Hugh Vernon Bracey, who came to Beresford with his father in 1870" (page 237).  He reportedly explained Persimmon Hollow as:
...a place where the spring water caused wild persimmons to grow in abundance. When the fruit ripened, deer, quail and other wild animals would gather there to feed ... It was one of the prime hunting spots of the few adventurous souls who had settled here at that time ... (237)
What an idyllic verbal portrait, marred for my 21st century sensitivities by the mention of hunters. I do understand that homesteaders in early 1870s Florida hunted as a means of survival, not for sport. That would come closer to the turn of the 20th century, when tourists delighted in slaughtering our wildlife just because they could, and locals decimated bird rookeries so society matrons could decorate their hats with feathers.

I digress. DeLand today doesn't have a spring, and wild persimmons aren't common - at least not in my part of town. Springs bubble to the north -  DeLeon Springs in the eponymous town - and to the south - Blue Spring in Orange City, Green Springs in Enterprise, and Gemini Springs in DeBary. That doesn't mean an equally jewel-like pool of water never existed in the immediate vicinity of DeLand. Perhaps one did 150 years ago. The allure of the term Persimmon Hollow lingers, despite the coldness of the trail. As with some mythical Shangri-La, we cling to what we can of a place none of us has ever seen.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Dressed for success

photo of group of women taken in  late 19th century
These professional ladies were called "women's editors."
This Orange City Library Association photo appears on
page 57 of Our Story of Orange City, Florida 
The heroine of my work-in-progress (Stitching a Life in Persimmon Hollow) is a skilled seamstress and 19th century fashionista. Or as much a fashionista as one could be in a pioneer town a few hours from urban civilization. So, lately, I've been thinking a lot about how women dressed in frontier Florida.

Then, as now, the range is vast. Our perspective is distorted because people donned their best for photo-making sessions in the early days. Even so, we can note interesting distinctions by looking at a few photos, shared here.

Full-length photo of Florida pioneer Mary Ann Thursby
West Volusia Historical
Society photo of pioneer
Mary Ann Thursby is on
page 8 of Our Story of
Orange  City, Florida
A trailblazer like Mary Ann Thursby dressed to get the job done. She settled at Blue Spring  with her husband and children in the mid 1800s. Their nearest neighbor was eight miles away. We're talking wilderness. Her story in the fourth edition of Our Story of Orange City, Florida (Village Improvement Association, 2000) includes a picture of her in a no-frills garment, matched by a no-nonsense attitude. But even she put on a clean white apron to pose for the camera.

The hotelkeepers in another of the book's photos are ready for a different kind of business. The ruffles, tucks, bows, and pleats of the women's outfits speak of starched fabric and hours at the ironing board. Cinched waists tell of the corsets underneath. Every hair is in place - no easy task in our frizz-inducing humidity. The Freeman women are polished and professional, and waiting to welcome guests.

Family business activity was acceptable for 19th century women, particularly when based at home. Ladies who went out to work often faced discrimination, low pay, and social disapproval. You wouldn't guess it from the photo of the "women's editors" of the Orange City Times, an early newspaper. The editors smirk for the camera. Their attire resembles that of the hotelkeepers in style. But the dresses aren't as starched. Wrinkles can be detected. And the hats are positively frightful. Perhaps they were the height of fashion. Or maybe they hid the frizzy tresses of a crew too busy breaking barriers to style their hair.

End note: You can visit the historic Thursby House at Blue Spring State Park.

19th century photo of family on porch
The Freeman family is poised and professional as they wait to greet guests
at their hotel. West Volusia Historical Society photo is on page 22 of
Our Story of Orange City, Florida.