Friday, May 24, 2013

History of Lake Beresford Park

William Beresford
An English plantation, paddle boat landing, water bottling plant and an early pioneer road. All are part of Lake Beresford Park's story and evidence of their presence can be found during a visit......if you know a little local history, which trail to hike and where to look.

The historical use of the park begins in 1774 when the King of England awarded William Beresford, who was the Earl of Tyrone, 20,000 acres. The Earl turned the land into the Beresford Plantation and hired Charles Bernard to manage it. The plantation was an active place. Slaves filled the swamps and developed the plantation to grow cotton, indigo, corn and sweet potatoes. It also contained a number of buildings that included numerous barns, a blacksmith shop, horse stables, a store, slave housing and a mansion. The land remained in agricultural use through the mid 1800s. Today, there are no (publically) known remnants of this plantation to see. And despite his name being on everything in this area, there is no record of William Beresford ever visiting his plantation.

Remnant of Early Pioneer Road

If you pass under the railroad overpass, you will see a trash can, dog poop bag dispenser and two unmarked trails at the intersection of the Spring-to-Spring Trail. Both trails takes you to the shore of Lake Beresford, but only one takes you back in time. At first glance, the more developed path on the right looks like any other old jeep road converted into a hiking trail that you might find in a park. However, this path is the first visual sign you will encounter of this area's past. This trail is actually a 120+ year old remnant of a very busy transportation road for the early pioneers (see photo below). The road connected the pioneers living in Orange City and DeLand to Deerfoot Landing...and via the landing to the rest of the world via the St. Johns River.

Gathering at Deerfoot Landing in 1901. The building in the background is the Deerfoot Springs Bottling Plant
(photo courtesy of the West Volusia Historical Society)

When you follow the road/trail to its end at the lake shore, the second thing you might notice are some old, rotted pilings sticking out of the water. Before there were cars and trains, people and freight came to this area via steam-powered paddle boats on the St. Johns River. Various landings were established along the shores of Lake Beresford to connect the inland cities in this area with the rest of the world. Deerfoot Landing was established as an intermediate landing for Clyde Steamship Company's (see flyer left) paddle boats plying the St. John's River from the late 1800's to the turn of the century. The paddle boats would drop off homesteaders and tourists then pick up mineral water from the nearby Deerfoot Spring Bottling Plant and other supplies.  Railroad service would be the death of this landing, causing its slow abandonment by the 1930s. Today, rotting piers are the only thing left behind to remind us the landing ever existed. Take a moment to look at this piece of history, it will likely vanish within a few years.

Deerfoot Landing Circa 1890 (Photo courtesy of the West Volusia Historical Society)

Deerfoot Landing 100 years later (Circa 1991) (Photo courtesy of the West Volusia Historical Society)

Deerfoot Landing as it Exists Today (2013)

When the trail ends at Lake Beresford, you will notice a wood rail fence back in the woods. Behind that fence was the location for the Deerfoot Springs Bottling Plant. Around 1890, DeLand entrepreneur J.B. Taylor decided to tap the spring and sell the water under the Deerfoot Water Company name. His company first marketed the water for sale as a medicinal supplement. Later on, the paddle boats used it as their water source. Mr. Taylor later installed a 100-foot well that, according to the USGS’s 1913 publication Geology and Ground Waters of Florida , yielded a sulphur water also believed to have medicinal properties. The old bottling plant has since been reclaimed by nature. If you are willing to do some bushwhacking, you can find the foundation/outline of the building, bricks from the walls, some old well piping and some (probably septic) tanks. Sadly, the spring that supplied the water and gave this area its name is now dry (photo courtesy of the West Volusia Historical Society). 

The bottling plant area as it looks reclaimed by nature today

Spring run and old pipe from plant on top of bank

Old Bottling Plant Tanks

A 1951 Aerial Photograph of Lake Beresford Park.

As this 1951 aerial photograph suggests, the land kinda sat there for 70+ years waiting for its next purpose. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection purchased the property in 1991 and under the Florida Communities Trust Program turned it over to Volusia County for use as a regional park. Then in 2007, a one million dollar contribution from the county ECHO program paid for the development of the amenities we see today within the park.The last step to becoming a park was finding a name. Three options were considered that included (1) Deerfoot Landing Park, (2) Beresford Lakeshore Park and (3) Lake Beresford Park. The County Council selected Lake Beresford Park....and that is how the park got its name and the story behind the name.

And if you took the time to make it to the end of this article, hopefully you've seen there is a lot more to Lake Beresford Park than a few trees and trails. It's a place steeped in 230+ years of history that is just waiting to tell you its story!