Listed in the National Register of Historic Places and designed by the noted architect George T. Pearson in 1886, the Stetson Mansion was built in the frame vernacular style. A blend of cottage, Gothic, Tudor, Moorish, and Polynesian details were incorporated into the building of the Stetson Mansion which presents an excellent example of the high style Victorian architecture.
The large 3 story home is reportedly half the size Mr. Stetson wanted to build on his 300 acre orange grove. Mr. Stetson's beautiful and much younger wife Elizabeth was not a huge fan of the Florida venture so when she came to Deland during the construction phase she convinced John B to scale down construction of the mansion to a mere shadow of Mr Stetson's original plans. The home is now just under 10,000 sq ft and sits on over 2 acres adorned with gardens, gazebos, fountains, patios, and a pool. There have always been rumors of a secret tunnel or wine vault but to date the new owners have not yet found it...the key word is yet.
The School House
Next to the main house is an 800 sq. ft. school house built in a Polynesian style featuring a beautiful ceiling that soars to over 15 feet high. This schoolhouse was built exclusively to educate Mr. Stetson's children during their winter stay at the mansion although Mr and Mrs Stetson would allow some of the worker's children to occasionally join in on the lessons. The Stetsons traveled every year to Florida with not only servants and a governess but a headmaster or headmistress for the children as well and they would reside in the rear quarters of the schoolhouse. The high planked arched ceiling is not only striking but takes one's imagination to the waters of the South Pacific. It is now believed that the schoolhouse was the primary kitchen for all the workers while the mansion was being built.
The schoolhouse has now been converted to a beautiful one bedroom zen guesthouse/ retreat with a spa bath and gourmet kitchen but still retains a lot of the charm and architectural elements that make it so special.
A meandering meditation garden (Sophie's Garden) has also been installed right next to the schoolhouse for visitors to dream, contemplate their life's journey or just relax and enjoy nature.
The Carriage House
The only new structure at the estate is a new three car garage/carriage house that we completed in 2009. We took several months to find a design that would blend seamlessly with the mansion’s original architecture and compliment the estates inner courtyard. The original carriage house is across the street from the mansion and was paired up with another structure to form the home that is presently there now. This property is no longer part of the estate.
The Green House
Behind the pool area there was a brick building sunk into the ground to house the original steam heating furnace. It originally had a glass hip roof. This building had no roof for decades and was used as a compost bin. Now the walls have been fortified, the furnace removed, a new roof has been added and this building is now used to store some of the original details of the mansion and to house some of the Christmas decorations.
Friends of Stetson
It is reported that between the years of 1887 and 1906 the Stetsons hosted such notables as the Astors (John Jacob Astor was one of the many unfortunate victims aboard the Titanic), the Mellons, the Vanderbilts,the Carnegies, Henry Flagler, Baron Frederick DeBary (of famed DeBary Hall), President Grover Cleveland, and King Edward VII (then Prince of Wales). Another of Stetson;s noteworthy friends was none other than one of the world's most well known and prolific inventors Thomas Edison, who actually supervised the electrical install at the mansion. In fact Stetson Mansion is one of the first homes in the entire world to be designed and built with Edison electricity.
The Stetson Mansion is regarded as one of America's top 300 historic homes, an obvious point of pride for its new owners. As J.T. Thompson explains, "The house is in the top 300 due to its architecture and history: architecturally because it incorporates so many styles into one home creating this spectacular structure, and historically because the notable guests the Stetsons frequently entertained."
Another of the mansion's claim to fame is the fact that it is Florida first luxury home. This is one of the few remnants of the Gilded Age that adorns the sunshine state and the opulence is apparent immediately when you walk in the front door. This was probably a feature not overlooked by Mr Stetson's A-list guests.
Although Elizabeth was not overjoyed with her winter visits to Florida she did bring some of the culture and arts from the Philadelphia area with her on her yearly treks. The lack of culture and society life at the time was something that Elizabeth was especially unhappy about. Deland would later be called "The Athens of the South" thanks to the foresight and infusion of culture and ingenuity by visionaries like the Stetson's.
The mansion was known for hosting grand parties and receptions for some of the society's most elite members and one can only imagine what it was like back than to experience the abundance and privilege of those select few. Well the chance to step back in time is here and the mansion has been infused with a breath of fresh air so that each and every one of us can now have the opportunity to be guests at this American masterpiece all the while realizing that anything is possible.