First Pool in Florida
Backstory and Context
Tucked back off of Fraiser road in DeBary lies a historical sight that seems like it has been long forgotten and abandoned by the small town and historians alike. A place that was originally part of the DeBary Mansion’s 9,000 acres of land and used as a relaxation spot for Fredrick DeBary and his high-status guests. The first pool in Florida. Yes, contrary to St. Augustine’s claim to be the home of Florida’s first swimming pool, DeBary takes home the trophy here as its pool was constructed in 1871, versus 1887 for St. Augustine (King). Before we get to more detail of the pool, lets dive into the history of the surrounding area and daily life of Floridians and tourists during this time.
During the 1800’s DeBary was more than just a town off of Lake Monroe and the St. Johns River. It was a destination that was teaming with life and relaxation and served as a relaxing paradise for visitors and later became known as the river city.(Volusiacounty.org) This began in the early 1800’s where steam boats made the St. Johns River an attractive travel destination for northerners to visit during the winter. Routes ran from Charleston and Savannah, to Jacksonville and Palatka up until around 1860. In 1860, modern day Enterprise was added to the list of route options. A steam boat ride from Jacksonville to the Enterprise took about 18 hours one way but the guests on board loved the natural beauty of the St. Johns and were intrigued by the many birds and wildlife that they saw along the river bank. The St. Johns River was also used to transport cargo up and down throughout Florida and increased trade throughout the state.
In 1870, a man named Fredrick DeBary, arrived to the Enterprise area on vacation from New York and instantly fell in love with the area. He, as well as many others, appreciated the natural beauty of the state and in 1871 bought 400 acres of land and became inspired to build what is the modern day, DeBary Mansion where the first pool lies. When he built the home, he intended it to be used as a getaway home for his family and upper class friends. In 1875, using his entrepreneurial skills, DeBary bought a local steam boat company and began offering tours and shipping cargo to markets within the state. By 1876, he obtained thirteen ships and fully established his company, “The DeBary Merchants Line”, as a leading entity in the steamboat business. (King)
When guests vacationed to the Debary Mansion for a getaway or vacation, there was no shortage of entertainment or relaxation for the guests. When DeBary was present, he would often take guests to his privately-owned spring to swim. The spring is still around today and is better known in the local area as Green Springs. Another area guests could swim was in the first pool in Florida which was located about two thirds of a mile away. The pool was built the same year as the house (1871) and was fed by a nearby spring. The pool was square in shape and featured wooden planks as walls, a natural sand floor, and two wooden changing rooms. The wooden planks were later changed to concrete walls at a future date. Today you can still visit the pool where the original out house still stands by following a small path off of Fraiser road in DeBary, however, it is now fenced off and has since been covered by foliage and other natural debris.
When guests were not swimming or relaxing at the spring, they also had the ability to hunt Florida’s vast wildlife. Contrary to hunting for fun, a majority of the people in the DeBary area relied on hunting as their main source of food. The great hunting grounds also served as one of the main reasons Mr. DeBary choose DeBary as the location of choice for his vacation home. Guests could also ride horses throughout Florida’s landscape as another main activity for fun. The DeBary hall hosted dozens of people throughout the year, but some of the more notable ones include presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Cleveland, the Vanderbilts, and the Prince of Whales. (Debary Mansion)
Knowing a little bit of the background only serves to improve the uniqueness of the first pool in Florida. The possibility that you can go see a place where huge names in history could of swam or walked around is definitely something to check out. While the pool may not be in great condition anymore, it is definitely something you should explore and will also give you a nice getaway of your own to the great outdoors.
Hall, DeBary. "DeBary Hall." Archives. DeBary, 28 09 2018. Public Facility.
King, Aeisha. DeBary Mansion Tour Guide Garrett Cummings. 28. 09. 2018. Speech
Volusiacounty.org. n.d. web. 29 09 2018.