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Dutton House | Photo © 2015 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

John Dutton House

Location Class:
Built: 1911 | Abandoned: 2008
Historic Designation: Historic District (November 20, 1992)
Status: AbandonedEndangered
Photojournalist: David Bulit

John Dutton House

The John Dutton House is located in the West Deland Residential District, a historic district in Deland, Florida, added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 20, 1992. The district encompasses approximately 1,000 acres and contains 375 historic buildings. It is Deland’s oldest and most historic residential neighborhood with buildings dating back to 1884.

John Wesley Dutton was born on April 14, 1868, in Statesboro, Georgia. He was a prominent businessman who made his fortune in the turpentine and lumber business. Dutton also became a real estate developer later in life, starting the Westwood Subdivision in 1924 where a street, Dutton Avenue, was named after him. He began plans to build his mansion in 1908 when turpentine, lumber, and citrus were Central Florida’s main industries. The Classical-Revival style house was designed by Cairns & Fitchner, a local architectural firm, and is considered their greatest design.

john dutton parlor room
An early photo of the parlor inside the John Dutton House

Built in 1911 at the cost of $25,000, it was constructed under the supervision of local contractor Gus Lauman whose portfolio includes the 1925 Landis-Fish Building in downtown Deland. The two-story house features Corinthian Columns that support tiered verandas, ceramic tiles on the roof and gable ends, and scroll brackets, modillions, and dentils along the frieze. The house also features a variety of exotic woods procured through Dutton’s business connections. He lived here with his wife, Lilla Hart Dutton, and their seven children until 1921. Dutton died on October 28, 1925, and is buried alongside his wife in Oakdale Cemetery.

In a letter written by Dorothy Douglass Dickey in May 1992, she explained how she and her family moved to Deland in 1918 and lived across the street from the College Arms Hotel, now the site of the College Arms Tower apartment building. In 1921, she wrote that her father traded their house for the Dutton family home. It’s not clear how long they lived in the house as she explains, “The last six years before I married my Stetson sweetheart, we lived in 7 states and 13 houses, three of which were in Deland. We left at the end of July 1924.

dutton house
Some of the Dutton children with their nurse on the porch and steps of the Dutton House, 1911. Courtesy of the West Volusia Historical Society

Griffith-Stith Funeral Parlor

After the Douglass family moved out, it became known as the Griffith-Stith Funeral Parlor sometime around the 1920s. Jesse Milton Stith was born on August 19, 1868, in Hardin County, Kentucky, and died on February 24, 1955, and is buried in Oakdale Cemetery alongside his wife, Mercedes Stith. By the time of his death, Jesse M. Stith had retired as a funeral director and owned a furniture store where he presumably sold caskets.

The rest of his family was in the funeral business as well. His brother, Jack Achilles Stith, came to Deland in 1902 after graduating from the Louisville School of Embalming and practiced funeral directing and embalming in Deland for the next six years before moving to Atlanta. He opened the Stith Funeral Home in Danville, Kentucky in 1926. Around the same time, a relative of theirs by the name of Charles Bonar Stith began selling coffins out of his general store located in Butler, Kentucky, as well as practicing embalming and funeral directing within the community. It wouldn’t be long before he owned his own funeral homes in Alexandria and Dayton, Kentucky.

Jack A. Stith with his brother, Jesse Milton, and wife, Stella Brown. Photo via Stith Funeral Home

Colonial Guest Home

In later years, the Dutton house was converted into the Colonial Guest Home which rented rooms out to visiting tourists. Last known as the Colonial Arms Apartments, the city condemned the building for numerous code violations. First Union Bank, now Wells Fargo, foreclosed on the property in 1990 and was put up for sale for $129,000. When no buyer could be found, First Union applied for a demolition permit in 1993 which the Deland City Commission approved. Just before its impending destruction, Peter Warrick, a publishing executive from Fort Lauderdale, purchased the home for $90,000.

dutton colonial
Postcard for the Dutton House when it operated as the Colonial Guest Home. Photo from Deland, Postcard History Series

Future Plans and Preservation

With plans to restore the home, Warrick soon fell ill and asked the City of Deland to take over the house’s restoration. The City felt a non-profit organization would be a better fit for its restoration and in 1995, Historic Deland Inc. was established. The group was awarded several grants through the state, allowing restoration to resume. By 2005, the organization’s board of directors had diminished and a new board was established, changing the name from Historic Deland Inc. to Dutton House Inc. After applying for more grants, restoration continued until 2008.

According to the organization’s website: “Although Dutton House Inc was approved for several State grants in 2008 because of the recession no historic restoration funding was allocated. We were allowed to reapply for 3 consecutive years all with the same results. By the time the State was once again allocating funds too much time had passed and our previous spent funds were now too old to use as matching funds for the grants. Without matching funds, we can’t apply for new grants to continue the restoration. We are actively seeking any and all possible avenues for matching funds. Unfortunately, we have not been successful to date. But we continue to try.”

In 2023, after failing to acquire further funding, Dutton House Inc. sold the home to DeLandite Tyler Spore, owner of the local business VirTech Systems, a full-service information technology company. Spore formed Dutton House Restoration LLC in January 2023 to purchase the John Dutton House to restore it, after watching it sit partially restored and vacant for 15 years.

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David Bulit is a photographer, author, and historian from Miami, Florida. He has published a number of books on abandoned and forgotten locales throughout the United States and continues to advocate for preserving these historic landmarks. His work has been featured throughout the world in news outlets such as the Miami New Times, the Florida Times-Union, the Orlando Sentinel, NPR, Yahoo News, MSN, the Daily Mail, UK Sun, and many others. You can find more of his work at davidbulit.com as well as amazon.com/author/davidbulit.

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