The Land Around Us: New Smyrna Beach

By Louise Caccamise
Photographs by Bob Dunham

This month we will visit New Smyrna Beach, a town on the east side of Volusia County with a long history. One hundred and twenty years before the town was incorporated in 1887, Dr. Andrew Turnbull, a Scottish physician, and a number of indentured settlers established New Smyrna Colony as part of the British attempt at the colonization of East Florida. An experienced traveler, Turnbull had lived in Smyrna, Asia Minor, and married the daughter of a wealthy Smyrna merchant. New Smyrna was named in honor of her birthplace. The Turnbull name still appears on landmarks throughout New Smyrna.

Turnbull and two other men obtained grants of land from the British crown with the idea of creating a settlement and producing crops such as indigo, hemp and cotton on coastal plantations. After nine years, the original number had dwindled and problems arose that led to the termination of the plan.

An extensive network of canals was started in New Smyrna by Turnbull, who had been impressed by the Egyptian irrigation canals along the Nile River. He used the canal system in New Smyrna to help drain the marshes. Vestiges of these canals can still be seen. The present historic district centers around Canal Street.

New Smyrna Museum of History

The New Smyrna Museum of History vividly tells the story via interesting displays beginning with the early settlers and continuing through the years. The Sheldon Research Library is on the second floor and the building serves as the home of the Southeast Volusia Historical Society that welcomes members and visitors and presents historical programs. A small gift shop features local and Florida history books and other items. The museum is located at 201 Sams Avenue in a building that is almost 100 years old and served as the New Smyrna Beach Post Office for almost forty years.

Today an emphasis on cultural activities abounds. Doris Leeper, internationally known sculptor and painter, founded the Atlantic Center for the Arts at 1414 Art Center Avenue in 1977. It serves as an interdisciplinary center for creation and collaboration of visual, literary, music and performing arts.

Atlantic Center for the Arts

Harris House at 214 South Riverside Drive is a community outreach arts education program of the Atlantic Center for the Arts for children and provides cultural enrichment for adults. The building was restored by trustee Ed Harris and his wife in 1991. In 1999, an annex was opened across the street to expand the program.

The Hub on Canal

The Hub on Canal, 132 Canal Street in the historic district, provides a central location where artists can work in a wide variety of mediums. There are classes for all ages and skill areas. Gallery space
provides opportunity for display. Arts on Douglas at 123 Douglas Street was started in 1996. It holds eighteen exhibitions of Florida artists a year in an area that encompasses 3,500 square feet.

Little Drug Co. on Canal Street

The Little Theatre of New Smyrna Beach at 726 Third Avenue uses local actors and musicians in Broadway-style productions. Formed in 1947, it is managed entirely by volunteers. Little Drug Co. has been a full-service pharmacy and soda fountain since the 1920s at 412 Canal Street. It has received many awards through the years and continues to keep its special place in the hearts of both residents and visitors.

Sugar Mill Ruins

Cruger-dePeyster Plantation Sugar Mill Ruins is a seventeen-acre site that features a sugar mill, built in 1830 and raided in 1835 during the Second Seminole War. Here both syrup and sugar were made. The ruins are located at 600 Mission Drive, and now include informative displays, a nature trail and picnic area. Old Fort Park at 115 Julia Street is an archaeological site near downtown New Smyrna that was added to the United States National Register of Historic Places in 2008. No one knows for certain what these coquina ruins were, but visitors continue to enjoy the mystery.

Mary S. Harrell Black History Museum

Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum is housed in the 19th century old Sacred Heart/St. Rita Building dating to 1899 and was once the worship place for Black Roman Catholics. The museum is the cornerstone of the West Side Community and officially opened on the centennial celebration of the building to increase awareness and appreciation for the African American culture and history. In 2007 it was added to the United States Register of Historic Places. It is located at 314 North Duss Street.

Smyrna Dunes Park at 2995 North Peninsula Avenue covers 73 acres at the northern tip of New Smyrna. With water on three sides, there is a wide variety of animals, birds and marine life. Activities available are fishing, swimming and picnicking. Two miles of elevated walkways, nature trails and an observation tower add to the enjoyment. Dogs are allowed on leashes.

New Smyrna Beach retains its history and joins the modern world with an emphasis on the arts, making it a charming place to visit.

‘Til we meet again, Happy Trails!