River of Lakes Heritage Corridor
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2021)
- Intrinsic QualitiesHistoric
- Length156 miles
The story of the River of Lakes Heritage Corridor is one of history, culture and opportunity. It spans the time from the very earliest inhabitants in Florida, as told by its parks and museums, to the founding of its many cities as represented through the historic districts and historic properties that thrive in the region’s communities. Local organizations, through their festivals, keep the memories and traditions alive and engage the community in a celebration of its past. Lastly, it is a story of people seeking new opportunities and adventures.
Story of the Byway
The story of the River of Lakes Heritage Corridor (ROLHC) is one of history, culture, and opportunity. It spans the time from the very earliest inhabitants in Florida, as told by its parks and museums, to the founding of its many cities as represented through the historic districts and historic properties that thrive in the region’s communities. Local organizations, through their festivals, keep the memories and traditions alive and engage the community in a celebration of its past. Lastly, it is a story of people seeking new opportunities and adventures.
Native Timucua and Mayaca tribes of indigenous people were the first to interact with early explorers to the region. The Timucua, a historic regional tribe, referred to the St Johns River as the Welaka, which meant “River of Lakes.” The St. Johns River and the series of lakes it connects was the internal lifeline for centuries of tribes, settlers, travelers, and tourists. People as diverse as the Timucua, early Spanish and English settlers, plantation owners, Civil War supply runners, and 1800s steamboat tourists have utilized St Johns and the surrounding region for profit, diversion, and survival. Famed botanist William Bartram wrote about the region in the late 18th Century, as did James Audubon nearly 50 years later. Both described, in their own unique way, the story of this enchanting river.
The St Johns River, designated an American Heritage River in 1998, is the focus of the ROLHC because of its central role in the region’s history. Largely undeveloped though the region, St Johns offers a rare glimpse of how natural, wild Florida looked to the early adventurers.
As residents will tell you and as visitors will learn, the story of the region starts with the river. The early native tribes used St John’s as a food source and as a means of transportation. The river’s banks are strewn with historic shell midden sites generated by these tribes as they ate, lived, and thrived.
Over time river uses evolved. Visitors from the north were transported through the region by paddlewheel boats and steamers. While these visitors were less reliant on the river as a food source, they depended on the river to help them transform their dreams of health, freedom, and wealth into reality. These dreams are at the heart of the byway’s story, with successful ventures and unrealized folly all playing a role.
Today’s explorers can enjoy the byway in many ways. Automobile drivers, cyclists, and motorcyclists ride the corridor throughout the year, enjoying its beauty and partaking in community events that celebrate the region’s heritage. These modern explorers experience connected communities, winding canopied roads, and the off-the-beaten-path experiences that are all part of the region’s personality. And in a way, each of today’s adventurers continues the story of the river. Some still navigate its waters in tour boats and kayaks, fishing, bird watching, or just experiencing the Spanish moss-covered trees, exotic wildlife, and the foundation of the region’s history. Others ride the byway experiencing oak canopied corridors and back road adventures following the path of native tribes, English and Spanish explorers.
Each of today’s adventurers travels in the footsteps of those that have come before them, enjoying the region’s history and heritage as the river continues to wind its way through the heartland of Central Florida to the Cities of Palatka and Jacksonville to the north like it has for thousands of years.
The River of Lakes Heritage Corridor connects travelers to the cities, towns, and the heritage and cultural sites found in this historically significant area. The ROLHC embodies a unique blend of history, sophisticated contemporary culture, and gorgeous natural Florida. For future generations, this byway provides an opportunity to have an experience that brings regional history/heritage, focused on the St Johns River and its communities, to the forefront in a way that is expected of a National Scenic Byway, bringing the story of north-central Florida into national focus.
The River of Lakes Heritage Corridor (ROLHC) is a 156-mile byway located in Volusia and Seminole Counties, Florida.
The byway is situated on Florida’s east coast approximately 50 miles north of Orlando and 30 miles west of Daytona
Beach. Interstate 95 passes north-south and Interstate 4 passes east-west through the corridor. The City of DeLand is
located at the center of the byway. The St Johns River runs through the corridor, while the Indian River Lagoon is just to
the east of byway. The Ocala National Forest is located approximately 10 miles to the west (SR 40 @ SR 19).
Points of Interest
DeBary Hall Historic Site
A mansion once owned by DeBary is now a museum with features that recap the history of the river and a glimpse of Florida’s bygone lifestyle.
Blue Spring State Park
Blue Spring is recognized for its rich history of involvement with man begining as the Timucuan Indians place of home.
Barberville Pioneer Settlement
Aims to educate and entrust the public and future generations with knowledge of the pioneer lifestyle of our forefathers, through hands on experience, folk life demonstrations, preservation and historical exhibits.
Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp
Cassadaga (a Seneca Indian word meaning "Water beneath the rocks") is a small community known for having many psychics and mediums and has consequently been named the "Psychic Capital of the World".
The clear lakeside view of Lake Helen is captivating and the history buffs will also enjoy Euclid Avenue, which is lined with spectacular old houses and churches of all styles.
Enterprise Heritage Center and Museum
The museum serves as the focal point for the Town’s long history offering stories, pictures and volunteers. It also serves as a byway visitor center offering many of the byways information materials and docents that can offer guidance on the byway.
Volusia County Historic Courthouse
This landmark was built on property donated by the city's founder - Henry DeLand and replaced the first Volusia County Courthouse.
late-1800s homes of the Hatton Tumor family and a guest cottage known as the Caretaker’s House
William Bartram Trail
The Bartram Trail follows the approximate route of 18th-century naturalist William Bartram’s southern journey from March 1773 to January 1777.
Three Days of History
Start your journey in DeLand with the Deland Historic Mural Walk, which presents a history of the community when viewed in chronological order. Each of the 12 murals tells a story, vividly portraying the arrival of Henry DeLand, the great St. Johns River, steamboats, statesmen, wildlife, first hotels, the Spanish sugar mill, the DeLand Naval Air Station, the citrus industry, the traditional African-American settlement (Red City), and more moments, places and characters from the community’s past. Then visit the home of Henry A. DeLand, who founded the city. After stopping for lunch, spend an afternoon at the Museum of Seminole County, the historic gateway to the interior of Central Florida before stopping for the night.
Drive to DeBary to visit DeBary Hall, which will take about half a day to visit. DeBary Hall was the winter home of the noted merchant Frederick DeBary, who chose this site on the St. Johns River as his hunting estate. Built in the 1870s, the place became a center for entertainment and hospitality for DeBary’s guests. Today the 10 acre site has a renovated 8,000 sq. foot house, stables and assorted building to preserve the time and culture. Then spend your afternoon at either Cassadaga and Lake Helen, a spiritualist community in a historic area or at the Barberville Pioneer Settlement for the Arts, which preserves the cracker life of the early 1900s.
Drive through Enterprise to see some historic buildings from the 1800s and 1900s, then return to Deland to visit the Deland Naval Air Station Museum. The museum has become home to an impressive collection of historical artifacts, veterans’ mementos and military art that has grown steadily over the years. Then, tour Florida’s first luxury home, the Stetson Mansion. End your journey in Sanford, where you can enjoy a lovely self-guided walking tour of the historic downtown.
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