150 years ago, John B. Stetson created an empire based on his chic and legendary hats. He was a pioneer for his time and one of the most elite names in American history. Stetson chose Deland, Florida to be the site of his winter residence and built an opulent mansion for his bride, 26 years his junior. Their home, the Stetson Mansion, was custom designed from the most expensive materials (some imported from France) and Stetson’s affluent friends were regular guests there. Thomas Edison personally stayed at the mansion as did several US Presidents. Three of Edison’s light fixtures are on display and still working at the mansion.
Fast forward 140 years, the estate was in rough condition until JT Thompson and Michael Solari found it, saved it from the wrecking ball and decided to restore this historic icon to its full grandeur. Through much love and hard work, the Stetson Mansion is now beaming with shiny intricate woodwork, impressive inlaid floors, elegant stained glass windows, and longing to be admired.
The owners host year round tours of the mansion and it is no wonder that they have won numerous Trip Advisor awards. Between November 15 and January 15, the mansion offers “Christmas Spectacular!” tours. JT himself pops in on almost every tour to welcome guests and the guides are so friendly and personable, you will feel like part of the family before leaving. Guides also share personal stories about the owners’ vision and detailed work they did in restoring this gem as well as explaining the Christmas themes of the rooms and pointing out things you might otherwise miss. Tours are approximately 75 minutes long and take all the beautiful rooms on the first and second floor as well as the schoolhouse. 2015 marks the 10th year of Christmases at the Mansion and it is my favorite time to visit.
Christmas at the Stetson Mansion
I could go on for hours explaining all the beauty inside, both permanent fixtures and holiday decorations, but I will highlight a few of the most impressive.
- Visitors love the mansion so much that they donate special artifacts and crafts that they want shared with the public. This year a contributor offered her incredible handmade animal collection, another her intricate appliqué quilts, which have 3-d effects and were made with no pattern. Soldiers service memorabilia were given on loan of this year’s display.
- Stetson hats of all styles (they are not just cowboy hats!) adorn each room in some sort of original design.
- JT has created a beautiful display of Americana through his tribute to painter Norman Rockwell. A contributor loaned them about 30 collector plates which he wove into the garlands; impressive and clever. My daughter and I left wondering “How did he do that?”
- My favorite room was the dining room. This years simple focus was a hand-crafted nativity scene and figurines (which belonged to JT’s mother) within a huge gold-dust “flocked” evergreen tree. The room was filled with fragrance from the tree and the sprayed dust made the lighted nativity sparkle and prevented the needles from falling. The entire focal point of the room was directed towards that beautiful nativity scene.
- The kitchen at the mansion was decorated to showcase Paris, which I found most appropriate after all of their sadness this year. Simple designs and a small tribute to the “I Love Lucy Show” (the Paris episode) made it festive and light-hearted.
- The bridal suite was decorated to commemorate peacocks, a symbol of wealth during the Stetson era, and had a most beautiful wire dress rack adorned with a unique peacock dress that shown in the reflection of the full-length mirror. Lights, feathers, and flowers ran through the dress and it was gorgeous!
- My favorite decoration was in the master bedroom. JT always pays tribute to the servicemen of the armed forces and this year he brilliantly designed an entire room, complete with dog tag garland, a USA tree with glittered states throughout, a hand-carved guardian angel watching over the fallen soldiers at the bottom, and the US flag interwoven through the branches. Gold stars poked through the top of the tree and the twinkling white lights made it look all the more solemn. The room was so touching and special; I wish all soldiers could see this devotion to their hard work and our freedoms. Well done JT!
- For the first time, the schoolhouse was decorated for a 2016 happy New year’s Eve party. I loved this schoolhouse; it would be a cozy place I could live and enjoy each day. The entire grounds have that same feeling and will leave you wanting to return year after year.
To conclude, another successful year of tours under their belts and delighted customers are a recipe for success. If you live in or are visiting Florida, this is a most recommended tour that is good for all ages. Often home tours can be very boring but I even brought my 23 year old daughter along and she loved the tour guide’s stories and all of the beautiful decorations. Come see for yourself and spread the holiday spirit. JT, thank you for your hard work, sharing your wonderful home with us all, and have a very Merry Christmas.
Tours of the Stetson Mansion are $25 plus tax. I have personally done this tour and feel it is for adults and/or adolescents. It is not recommended for those under the age of 7 as young children might disrupt the small groups.
Holiday tours run through January 15th and can be booked here. Reservations Required as space is limited.
Parking is free.
Photography is not allowed inside the mansion so I am using their images.