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Powell, W. Harry
Collection of Letters by W. Harry Powell, of Syracuse, New York, to his wife, Kittie, written while in Florida, primarily DeLand, Volusia County, Florida, describing his interactions with Henry Addison DeLand, the city’s founder, and business conditions in South Florida, 1889-1891

20 letters, 120 pages, most with their original mailing envelopes, in very good, clean, and legible condition. Accompanied by Powell’s courtship letters to his fiancé, and future wife, Kittie A. Emmons, of Binghamton, New York, 78 letters, 569 pages.

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Powell was a traveling salesman, selling, pens, ink, and other stationery items, for A. S. Barnes & Co. of New York, when he found himself in DeLand, Florida in the winter and spring months of 1890, here he made the acquaintance of Henry Addison DeLand, the founder of the town. DeLand was impressed with Powell’s business abilities and for several months dangled potential employment as his secretary, as an agent selling lots in DeLand, or as an overseer in his orange groves before him. A deal was nearly consummated when a spring freeze in 1890 nearly obliterated the citrus crop and blighted the real estate prospects of DeLand. Powell left DeLand but was back in 1891 working for DeLand.

 

Known as Persimmon Hollow for the wild persimmon trees that grew around the natural springs, (these wild persimmons are mentioned in the correspondence) the area of DeLand was originally accessible only by steamboat up the St. Johns River. DeLand is now the county seat of Volusia County, approximately 34 miles north of Orlando and 23 miles west of Daytona Beach. It was settled in 1874 by Captain John Rich, who built a log cabin there. Henry Addison DeLand, a baking soda magnate, from Fairport, New York, visited there in 1876, and envisioned building a citrus, agricultural and tourism center on the site. He bought land that year and founded the town, naming it after himself. DeLand never lived there year-round, spending the winter months in Florida and the summer months in New York attending to his business there. He hired people most of whom, like Powell, came from upstate New York to clear land, lay out streets and lots, erect buildings, and recruit settlers. One source states that DeLand was wiped out by a similarly devastating frost in 1885 and abandoned DeLand at that time, however, as the present correspondence shows he was still very much active in promoting the town, and fully engaged in the real estate and citrus business in the 1890s.

       Sample Quotes:

DeLand Fla. Jany. 31st 1890

My dear wife,

… I spent a couple of days trying to make arrangements in Sanford, but could not do so without going contrary to Hawkes orders, i.e. sell the outfits to a dealer. I made my plan with the knowledge of the mayor and marshal and another stationer submitted the plan to Barnes and Co. received my answer today approving of the plan and winding up with “rest assured we shall stand by you as long as you obey your orders, no matter what the results”. I will send you the letter dear after I am through with it at Sanford. I want to show it to the mayor and others who have taken up for me I could not allow myself to be driven out of town by such a person as if I was a fraud – he wanted to quarrel with me when I told him that I could not sell him the outfits – I had made up my mind at the outset not to wrangle with him, so I told him that as we were both gentlemen we could not have any words about it, if the law was against me I could gracefully submit, for I was there neither to quarrel or break any of the laws, he cooled down at once we had a little talk I bade him goodbye and have not seen him since. I have an order from A.S. Barnes and Co. to deliver outfits to Mr. Cohen. Mr. Cohen has all his licenses. Mr. Cohen will either sell the outfits himself or send his agent out to do so. I shall remain in Mr. Cohen’s store to direct, instruct and give necessary information to Mr. C. and his agent. I shall not sell or offer for sale an outfit or box of pens in Sanford, and I hope to get rid of 40 or 50 outfits there. I received notice today that the 100 ordered for there – here and Orlando, have arrived. I shall leave here on the first train on Monday morning and stay there till the business is closed up. I shall probably send 55 up here I have met with better success here than I expected I shall finish up here tomorrow. I had much rather stay here over Sunday than in Sanford I came here sooner than I should if all had been well in S. but the result will be the same I shall have to adopt the same plan in Orlando as in Sanford – if I go there – as they are both in the same county, and I am going to keep my eyes open and not let this man get the start of me. … What would A.S.B. and Co. think of me if I gave up my route and turned back without consulting them because a man threatened me with arrest if I sold their goods – to others beside himself as it would interfere with his business. … I have been busy here working, visiting, and seeing the place and its surroundings – the more I see of it the better I like it. It is the nearest like a northern place of any I have seen yet as all the business men are from the north – no crackers here – I have made a number of pleasant acquaintances I have been offered a partnership in a real estate business today shall see Mr. DeLand and talk with him about it tomorrow. … Harry”

 

 

 

“Sanford Fla. Thursday Feby. 6/90

 

My darling,

… I have already written you all about the offer I had what Mr. DeLand said etc. etc. and I shall not know anything more about it until I see them again which will be very soon. I think now I will go there tomorrow and stay over Sunday and deliver my goods which I have shipper there already. I think Mr. DeLand will fix it so that I will go there. I wish you were here now darling – it would not take us long to decide the matter if you liked the place as well as I do. I should not expect you to stay here in the hot weather even in the event of me going into business there I should be delighted if you were only here. … Harry”

“DeLand Fla. Saturday Night Feby 8/90

My dear wife,

… I went to see Mr. DeLand by appointment this evening – he is not ready to say definitely what work he will give me to do provided I go in with Cook … but he said if I could not wait until the last of this coming week for a definite proposition from him he would give us as much work as he gave anyone else – four parties are now doing his work May and Hibbard the major part of it he is much displeased with them at the way they have treated him this week – they promised to commence setting trees on a certain piece on Monday – they did not begin until Thursday – the rain has come on and very little of the grove set. He thinks seriously of putting all his work in one firms hands and we can get it I think if we can furnish horses to do the work he said if understand it as well as I would after a years experience that he would furnish everything and give me a good salary to attend to and oversee it for him … I think he means to make us some kind of a proposition the coming week his work is a good revenue if we do nothing else – I secured the caring for in setting out of a hundred trees to replace that number which had died of 5 acres of grove … there is a good deal more to this attending to groves than one would think at first sight. To illustrate a man buys 5 acres that has to be cleared, set out, cared for, each year and when it comes into baring the fruit has to be picked boxed and shipped according to the owners Cook says he packed and shipped 5m boxes last winter – so you see there is lots to see to and lots of work to have done the point is to have it well and satisfactorily done and make a profit out of it. Many of the people who have nice groves here and elsewhere have made them by caring for others groves – I thought it was much better to let Mr. DeLand work out his plan in his own way and not hurry him … I told Cook that I was willing to oversee but did not propose or expect to any of the manual labor he replied that my work would be in the office or showing people lands that we had for sale except perhaps on extraordinary occasions to look after grove work for a short time if he was sick or had to be away etc. … The people here are all northern people and this is the paradise of Florida in point of health if Rice does not take the lot next to ours … we will have one and a half acres land enough to grow every kind od fruit and vegetables I have no desire to own a large grove now that I am getting posted a little ground set with the choicest varieties of all the fruits grapes etc. and one can not ask for more … Harry”

“DeLand Fla. Feby 13th 1890

My darling wife,

… I cannot tell how it will come out DeLand is with and for me – his work is my inducement for an established man to take me into the business and we may not come to terms even if I can secure DeLand’s contracts but you see I can’t dictate terms until Mr. DL decides. I think with what assistance I could get from Mr. DeLand that I could get a good living out of R.E. business alone and if Cook and I can’t make a deal I shall try Mr. DL for a salary and if that will not work then think of the RE business on my own account provided he will give me a com. and the privilege of selling any land for property he may have to sell … Harry”

“DeLand Sunday Feby 16th/90

Darling,

… Yesterday was a busy day here and kept us all busy. I was in the swim with the rest of the DeLand people, there were about 300 out of the 400 excursioners here, the balance stopped in Jax – St. Aug. and other places by the way all getting back to Jax at 8:30 to resume their journey – it was the intention to run the train to Sanford from there to Tampa, and they were ready for them all the way, here they changed their plan – returned to Jax and started from there for Pensacola on their way to New Orleans, where they will be in time for the Mardi Gras. Sanford, Orlando and Tampa people will be disgusted as arrangements had been made at each of those places to entertain them. The people here scored a point and the crowd said this was the first place they had sat down to square meal since they started and I heard several say they listed DL better than any place they had seen in the south – as I said before I was pressed into service and did duty as a citizen of the place. The RE business is not settled yet and will not be until I get back from Sanford, there is lots and I do not propose to start wrong. If I can’t start right, I will not go into it at all. … I shall see Mr. DL in the morning and have a plain talk then see Cook or write him if he is away and go to Sanford and close up business there in my interview with Mr. DL (whom I shall in future in writing allude to as H.A.) will determine whether I go to Orlando and Tampa before seeing him again or whether he will have his proposition ready for the time I am closed up at S. …

I now will write you all there is to the RE business as fast as I get it myself but H.A. is rushed from morning to night and I have done the best I could to expedite matters without seeming to hurry him as I do not want to risk offending him, that is the reason I did not go last Friday to Sanford, he asked it as a favor to stay and help him, three of the party asked my address and wanted to know if I would answer letters from them in regard to purchases here. … Harry”

“Orlando Fla. Feby 25th 1890

My darling wife,

… Perhaps you would think I had better give up the business – return to DL – decide definitely on business in DL and if I could not make arrangements satisfactory to me, go home, you will have time to tell me what you think best before I am ready to leave here. There are several phases to the DeLand business – if I can get the situation with H.A. in Reynolds’ place I should have to accept board wages until Reynolds’ was through in May. If I went into the RE business with Cook I would have to stay till the first or middle of May – then I could go home till fall, if I went in with Cook in R.E. and also in the caring for groves I would have to stall till October 1st and perhaps later. … Harry”

 

“DeLand March 4th 1890

My darling,

… We have had some very severe weather here for the last three days mercury at 27˚ the vegetables all frozen, so far it has done no harm to the orange crop. I saw DeLand yesterday told him what Reynolds said he had heard nothing of it and was sure of a change he seemed to want to keep a man when he gets used to him I saw him again this morning he wanted to know how much salary I would want etc. I did not set a figure but told him he could judge better what I would be worth after I had shown him that I could do the work required he seems disinclined to tie me up to office work as he has an idea that I can help him make sales if I am out around he offered to pay my expenses if I would go to St. Aug. for a few days and advertise DeLand and Lake Helen and if I induced anyone to come and they made any purchases of him he would give me the full commission on the purchase i.e. 5%. I told him I would rather have the situation, then he could send me where he liked. I asked him for grove work cause that would give me some viable means of support. I told him I was going to decide at once as to what I was going to do as I had been keeping you on uncertainties for a long time and that I must know at once. Cook will be here this p.m. we will see DeLand once more together and know whether we are to have grove work or not. I spent yesterday and last eve until bedtime with a man who has 5 acres which he has put into my hands to sell. I showed DL my plan for dividing the piece into lots he was pleased with it and will cut up three pieces of his and give me the sale of them. I also took a 5 acre grove to sell this a.m. it belonged to a lady in Mich. she is dead and it must be sold to close the estate. I am going out 1 ¾  to look at it as soon as Cook comes in with the horse. I have picked up about 20 pieces to sell already 2 houses several lots in the city, one store, several orange groves – there is no lack of property to handle – buyers are in demand however. Sargent the RE man has sold several thousand dollars worth in the last few months and is doing a very paying business. The selling of a block of cheap lots will advertise a concern wonderfully as soon as Cook comes we are going to see the lady who owns 15 acres next to the 5 acres which I have plotted and get her to put hers in that will give us 520 lots all within 5 minutes walk of the P.O. Cook is very anxious for me to go into the R.E. with him and later if there is grove work which we can get to go into that too but I can’t decide until I see H.A. tonight. I think however that there is a good living for me in the R.E. business although I can’t expect great returns at once. … I am sure I could with H.A.’s assistance do well here in the R.E. business – he will give me a commission on all he has to sell – some would not want a better chance than that. … Harry “

“DeLand March 7th 1890

My darling,

Another day has come and I am obliged to repeat the chestnut that H.A. has not disclosed his plan in fact he went away immediately after telling me not to bind myself in any way until today when he would see me I have just returned from his office and he has not yet returned although expected back this morning, in the mean time I have been very busy, have now 20 acres marked out in city lots we have had to measure and divide them up and then get a rough plan on paper all which I have done. I have also had a Chicago man out to see an orange grove he seemed pleased with the grove and the price but I make no account of anything until the deal is closed up. I sold a lot yesterday and made $5 on it – another party had it to sell and he is to give me half the commission which is $10 in all. If I can sell the grove we will make at least $150 on it too good to come true still there is a possibility after supper I am going to H.A.’s office and will see him tonight if he returns before bed … Well darling I am back in H.A.’s office he sent word that he could not be back until morning when I shall see him and send the news such as it may be in this letter I am as much put as by this waiting as you can possibly be dear but I have done my very best … I sometimes think that H.A. has a notion to pay me a salary – furnish me hands that understand the business and have me oversee them. I hope his plan will eventuate in something that will pay me well and keep me out of doors a good part of the time, I feel so strong and well now that I should hate to risk the confinement of an office provided I could do as well or better in some out of doors occupation. … Mrs. Gage must be losing her mind to think you would board her it would take all your time and then she would not be satisfied what has become of her friends the Barbours I believe Mrs. B does not like her however you are right dear the women is crazy and does not know what she wants. I read something of the gathering in Washington they had trouble when they were there before Mrs. G. does not get on with the temperance or Christian Women’s rights women at all, she is opposed to anything that that class of women want to forward, she is in favor of a married couple changing of if someone suites them better and she has no respect fort Christians as such Christianity or the Sabbath she would be and is termed an immoral women and I am told that one of the leaders, Mrs. Stanton I think is going to withdraw herself from them and take up her residence in England with her daughter – with anyone who Mrs. G. had influence with I think her society would be prejudicial … Mr. DeLand’s wife is in the asylum it became known to the people here as proceedings had to be instituted in the courts and her brother appointed to sign her name so as to make the many transfers of land legal. DeLand’s life is any but a pleasant one with all his wealth and landed possessions – his wife in an asylum and his son an invalid who had to give up his collegiate course on account of his health – who is not well enough to assist his father in any way in business. H.A. worships him … the general impression is here that consumption has claimed him as a victim and that his days are numbered he is stopping at Lake Helen and appeared to me to be very feeble … Harry”

“DeLand Fla. March 10th 1890

My darling,

I had seen H.A. for a few minutes and he said I would have to wait two or three days longer that he had a big deal in hand that was requiring all his attention and he thought he would perfect the arrangement of the sale within that time – he said he had had a short talk with Reynolds who had told him that he would not take his wife north again as she had had a stroke of paralysis he could not go north and leave her. The secretarys services are as much required in Fairport = near Rochester as here and is on duty year round sometimes there is a great deal to do at other times very little. I think but do not know that Reynolds is going into partnership with Mr. Sargent the real estate agent here. Sargent and DeLand do not get on together and the combination of R. and Sargent would know all about DL’s and their own business too. Reynolds has a house and lot beside a 5 acre grove for all of which he may thank H.A. but that would make no difference if he could still better his condition even at H.A’s expense – so goes the world. H.A. will have another talk with Reynolds as soon as he can spare the [time] which he is spending at the cost – Lake Helen and other places to which he goes with the party or parties with whom he is making the deal – he intimated to me that it was a 50 thousand dollar deal quite a little trade and I do not wonder that he does not attend to anything else for the present he said he had already lost a large sale recently by not attending to it closely and personally. I am better satisfied now that I have a notion that he is at least going to try me as secretary. I know I can please him after I learn the ins and outs of the business … I suppose there must be a great deal of suffering among the poor people now – what a blessing the warm open winter has been to them though. Clara Barton is raising money for the destitute and starving people of Kansas. I hope Frank Baum will be remembered. I guess they are poor enough by this time, I certainly should not have been so well and able to work if I had stayed at home and if I get the situation with Mr. DeLand, I shall always think there was a providence in my coming … Harry”

“DeLand Fla. March 12th 1890

My darling,

… I was waiting with about a dozen others for H.A.’s arrival today – he said watch out and do the best you can (meaning for me to look out for strangers to whom property might be sold) make yourself useful and ornamental = matters will be as you wanted them to be – then somebody caught him and I did not get any talk with him as he returned immediately to Lake Helen. I inferred from what he said that he was going to give me the secretary ship, such being the case I can afford to wait a few days longer. In the meantime I am not idle but working up the real estate business. I had a party looking at this house yesterday and today, price $7000 the party looking was well satisfied of the place and price but as there is a partner who also is to see it, so I make no calculations on it, and shall not on any deal until the papers are signed, in Syracuse the com. is 2% here 5%. Yesterday we got authority to sell any of the lands belonging to the J.S. and K.W. railway they have thousands of acres some of it as low as $1.50 per acre, so you see we are getting equipped for business independent of H.A. I settled the price of the lots with the lady who owns the 15 acres making up the block of 20 acres all of which I have platted into city lots with prices ranging from 40 to 100 dollars the understanding is that we are to have $10 on each lot sold when all are sold if they ever are our part of it will be about $1000. If I go into H.A. DeLand’s office Cook will either have to run it alone or get someone else to help him, as I am going in for a sure thing if I can get it which I now have no doubt of and it will just suit me too employment in the north in the summer and here in the winter … Harry”

“DeLand March 19/90

My darling,

The frost has settled my business here I saw Mr. DeLand and I think he is as blue a man I ever saw – this second freeze has killed a great many of the young groves and the probability of the crop of oranges will be very light although the old trees were not damaged as badly as in the big freeze. I have come to the conclusion that I can’t make it pay to stay here until May as I had intended as the people are going to the Indian River St. Aug. and home – there are but few here now and they laugh at the idea of property ever selling again here the country looks as if fire had run over the trees, the loss to Florida will run up into the millions … I shall now go to Tampa and from there probably to Ocala from there to Tallahassee and then I think I will be through with the state and ready to go home, the last goods they shipped me instead of sending in small boxes of one set each they sent 50 outfits in bulk i.e. put 50 bottles of ink in a box … I had a long talk with DeLand today he wanted to delay a decision – Reynolds wants to have him let his son Harlan do the writing at Fairport and he take charge of matters here so I saw there was no certainty of a situation then as for the grove work if I took that it would keep me here all summer and I would have to raise a lot of money to buy mules plows cultivators and other tools a good pair of mules are worth from 3 to 400 dollars, so I told D.L. I would not hang around here any longer – he said he was sorry to have me go was sure he could arrange if he had time etc. I told him I would keep him posted as my whereabouts there can be more Florida property sold in the north than there could possibly be sold here – all the R.E. men here are blue – the freeze may not have done as much damage as we think but it has stopped any prospect of selling any property here for awhile … Harry”

 

“DeLand April 9th 1890

My Darling

I returned last night from the phosphate country – I wrote you that the parties who were going to take the land were going to send a man with me to verify the samples & judge as to whether it is a paying thing to work  we went – dug & found phosphates in quantity – but as this fellow is a lawyer I do not know what he is going to report, we expect the samples here to day – we shipped them by freight 100 pounds. If these people don’t take it I shall sell my option to parties in Sanford. I have a good thing and I shall hang on to it for all I can get out of it so I may not be able to start North until next week… I shall wind it up and start for Geo. As soon as I possibly can. I sold the South Florida Railroad $ 58.50 worth of ink yesterday – comn $ 19.50… H”

“DeLand April 10th, 1890

My Darling,

… my phosphates arrived this afternoon & in the morning I will know whether these people take the option or not – if not I think now I will transfer it to a party here and let him try & see how much he can get out of it if anything & divide. The truth of the business is that South Florida is a solid phosphate bed – and that that is near the surface will sell for working at the present time – mine is rather deep – although a very rich deposit. The option cost me nothing so I will not be out any if I do not find a buyer as far as staying and wasting time on it is concerned I would not think of such a thing… somehow the prospect of making some money out of my option has seemed of so little a/c for the last week – I had to return to Bartow because I agreed to – but there has been no enthusiasm in the matter… Harry”

“Opelika Ala April 13th, 1890

My Darling,

Here we are at this out of the way place which does not think much of our chances … there are no tourists here or in any of the places he has been in – this being entirely different from Florida. – What I have seen of Georgia and Ala. I do not like as well as Fla. They are entirely different the cities are larger both in Ga. & Ala. But the country itself is not as attractive… Harry”

“DeLand Feby 12, 1891

My Darling Wife,

Does it seem to you dear that it is three months since I left home? It seems to me like three years and very unreal ones at that. Today has been a tiresome day and although I am perfectly well I am tired – lame and footsore. I have tramped & rode over the whole surrounding country within the last three days and business is not settled yet… DeLand has had Cook visit the different groves for estimates as to their care & he as a matter of course expected me to go with him I did not say once that I was tired from start to finish. I am really in hopes to perfect a satisfactory arrangement all round but as yet the final settlement has not been reached so I can give you no more definite information than I could three days ago. De Land will not tell me what he will give us to do – then Cook & I will make our bargain…Harry"