By Debi Lander

Most folks think of cowboy hats when they hear the name Stetson, but founder John B. Stetson made a fortune selling all kinds of hats, manufactured in his Philadelphia plant. He discovered DeLand, located north of Orlando and west of Daytona Beach, on a trip to Florida and fell in love with the area. He had his DeLand mansion built in 1886, and also established a college — now Stetson University, home to some beautiful Victorian brick buildings and 3,000 students.

Today, Stetson’s opulent mansion (not on the campus) is the site of the annual Christmas Spectacular Holiday Home Tour. The home, listed on the National Registry, runs guided tours (only) until Jan. 15 at 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 5 p.m. The event has become so popular that online reservations are required.

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Owner JT Thompson said, “Word-of-mouth is spreading. We expect about 12,000 visitors this year.”

Florida’s first luxury estate is a blend of cottage, Gothic, Tudor, Moorish and Polynesian architectural details and elegantly decorated rooms. The Christmas Spectacular goes way above and beyond all expectations.

Co-owner Michael Solari said, “We close the mansion for two months so JT can devote every day to the installation.”

Call him Mr. Particular; he insists every painstaking detail be to his liking.

Thompson designs a new theme and elaborate scenes each year with designer decorations from around the world. No design is ever repeated, except you’ll always find a peacock inspired room (as they used to roam the estate) and a display dedicated to the military.

I had a sneak peek just as he was beginning to get to work. It’s an understatement to say I was gobsmacked, overwhelmed by the task and sheer number of boxes containing Christmas cheer. Don’t miss this local sensation.

“The Victorians started the tradition of Christmas trees, cards and decorations, so what better place to see and experience Christmas than a Victorian mansion dedicated to the holiday,” said Thompson. “Our tours bring you through all the rooms on the first and second floor and even include the owners bedroom, bathroom and closet.”

Guests marvel at the 16 different intricate original parquet floor patterns and 10,000 panes of antique window glass. Thomas Edison, who gave Stetson one of the first strings of Christmas tree lights, installed the mansion’s electricity.

This year, rooms will draw their inspiration from the traditional songs: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “We Three Kings,” “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Deck the Halls,” “Let there be Peace on Earth” and “We Need a Little Christmas.”

“I see why they call it spectacular!” said Mary Corey, a visitor from Ormond Beach, about last year’s Christmas extravaganza at Stetson Mansion. “The tour puts you in the Christmas spirit. The decorations are amazing and the mansion itself is a jewel.”

Guided tours also include insights into the house restoration.

Make plans to tour the Stetson Mansion now to Jan.15, 2019. The cost is $25 plus tax for adults; $15 plus tax for youth aged six – 22 and parking is free. Ticket holders will also receive a free chocolate covered strawberry at Pat and Toni’s Sweet Things in downtown DeLand. Reservations are required and can only be booked online: The Stetson Mansion is located between Orlando and Daytona in DeLand at 1031 Camphor Lane.

Please note: Wheelchairs and walkers are welcome; however, you must bring your own. Due to the historic nature of the home there is no elevator or ramp. There is a flight of stairs to the second floor. Gates open 25 minutes before tour time.


Photo courtesy Debi Lander

Stetson Mansion at night

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