- Volusia County
Orange City had its beginnings as “internal improvement land,” given to the state by the national government to be sold for not less than $1.25 per acre. In the mid-1870s, some businessmen from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, were encouraged by Dr. Seth French, a retired Civil War surgeon who had been to Florida, to purchase 10 square miles that would eventually become Orange City. Dr. French built a home that still stands on East French Ave.
Early settlers came by steamboat up the St. Johns River from Jacksonville to be met by Louis Thursby at his dock, Blue Spring Landing, in what is now Blue Spring State Park. By the early 1880s, Blue Spring Landing was on the schedule of 5 boat lines. Upon arrival, early settlers stayed at the DeYarman Hotel, which opened for business in 1876 and is still a hotel called the 1876 Heritage Inn.
Orange City was one of the first towns in central Florida to be served by a railroad. In 1881 a narrow track connected W.W. West’s store on East Graves Ave. to Blue Spring Landing, which made getting supplies easy and quick. In 1887 a full gauge railroad was extended east on Graves Ave. to New Smyrna.
Commerce was dominated by oranges. By 1880 there were 170-180 orange groves in the town. Even as early as 1876 when townsmen gathered to form a school, oranges were on the minds of many. They decided that enough men were present at that meeting to vote on an official name for the town. Some, including a Mr. Stillman who ran a store, thought the name “Orange City” would be good for advertising purposes; others wanted “Blue Spring”. Blue Spring won the vote that evening. However, Mr. Stillman was later in charge of filing paperwork for a post office, and he submitted the name “Orange City”.
Shipping oranges slowed after freezes in December 1894 and February 1895 when the ground reportedly froze 2 feet deep, and the orange trees died. Orange groves were started again but at a smaller scale and now appear only in residential yards.
In 1886, nearly 600 people lived in Orange City—a sizable town for its time. Seasonal residents and tourists arrived by train and steamboat. Among these, beginning in 1894, were members of the Dickinson family from Chicago.
Albert and Emma Dickinson gave land and money for a library and a park, both prominent features in the center of Orange City today. The Melissa Dickinson Memorial Library is on the National Historic Register.
Town Hall, also on the National Historic Register, was built in 1928. Edward B. Alling, mayor at the time, gave the land for the building and planned and supervised its construction. He had settled in Orange City from Connecticut and purposefully had the building reflect New England colonial architecture.
In 2007, Orange City celebrated the 125th anniversary of incorporation and remains proud of its heritage.
Little Known Facts
- After the big freeze of 1895, when thousands of orange trees were killed and Orange City people hesitated about replanting citrus, people began planting camphor trees, in hopes camphor gum would be the new cash crop. Around 1909, the Federal Department of Agriculture established an experiment station in Orange City with Sam C. Hood in charge. Just as the experiment was turning into a profitable enterprise, the Japanese entered the field, producing and refining camphor so cheaply and high quality, the U.S. abandoned the undertaking.
- Orange City was a potential location for Rollins College, losing out to Winter Park in a 13-9 vote by the General Congregational Association of Florida.
The clock in the tower of City Hall was made and installed by the famous clock firm, Seth Thomas Company. The bell, weighing 517 pounds, was the gift of the Orange City Methodist Espiscopal Church. The bell had a small crack which Mr. Alling repaired in his home foundry before it was placed in the belfry.
Name: Dickinson Memorial Library
Location: 148 Albertus Way
Historical Significance: Land and money given by Albert Dickinson to the Orange City Library Association; dedicated to his sister, Melissa. On National Historic Registrar.
Name: Heritage Inn
Location: 300 S Volusia Ave
Historical Significance: Original hotel in Orange City; opened in 1876. Still in use today.
Name: Seth French House
Location: 319 East French Avenue
Historical Significance: House built by Seth French, who was responsible for early settlers coming to Orange City circa 1870’s.
Name: Drift Inn
Location: 343 E Graves Ave
Historical Significance: Owned by Isabella Dunlap, first woman on City Council, who took in overflow of guests from local hotels.
Name: Dickinson Park
Location: Corner of E Graves Ave & US Hwy 17/92
Historical Significance: Land cleared and given to Village Improvement Association by Albert Dickinson in 1918. Is a City Park today.
Name: City Hall
Location: 205 East Graves Ave
Historical Significance: City Hall; build in 1928
Name: Albertus Cottage
Location: 200 E Rose Ave
Historical Significance: Cottage owned by Albert Dickinson, given to county home extension ladies in early 1900’s. Still in use today.