By Louise Caccamise
Photographs by Bob Dunham
This month we will visit the town of Ormond Beach in an area of Volusia County that has a history dating to the 1500s when the Timucuan Indians occupied the land. As history unfolded, both Spanish and British rule occurred with attempted settlements and land grants by each. There were tumultuous periods with the Seminole Indian Wars and burning of plantations.
The earliest pioneers who remained came in 1868 when brothers John Andrew and Charles Bostrom arrived to homestead government land. Their home which was built on land that is now Riverside Drive, sold for two dollars an acre. Three men from New Britain, Connecticut, came looking for a place to retire and plant orange trees. They named their settlement New Britain in 1875. John Anderson, for whom John Anderson Drive is now named, came from Maine during this time. Also coming was James Ormond III. He was a descendant of the Ormond family who had received a 2,000-acre grant in the early 1800s for a plantation that had been abandoned.
Anderson and Bostrom convinced the people in the New Britain settlement to rename it Ormond in honor of the Ormond family. It was agreed and the original town seal had the inscription, “Ormond, Florida, Incorporated April 22nd, 1880.”
Dedication plague honoring Nicholas Fortunato for his years of service as Ormond Beach city commissioner and mayor.
Shortly after the incorporation of Ormond, limited transportation began to improve with the arrival of the St. Johns and Halifax Railroad and the first wooden bridge across the Halifax River. This opened the door for growth. John Anderson and Joseph Price built the first 75 rooms of the Hotel Ormond that opened on January 1, 1888. This became the focal point for development on the Halifax River and brought many affluent winter visitors. After Henry Flagler’s purchase of the hotel in 1890, it expanded to 300 rooms and for over 100 years graced the corner of John Anderson Drive and Granada Avenue. Today the cupola from that stately hotel is on display in Fortunato Park at 2 John Anderson Drive.
The Casements – former home of John Rockefeller
One of the winter visitors coming in 1914 to Ormond was John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil fame, then considered the world’s richest man. For four years he rented an entire floor of the Hotel Ormond. Then he purchased a home across Granada Boulevard, a few hundred yards south of the hotel. His new home was named “The Casements.” There he lived for over 19 years until May 23, 1937, when he died at age 97. Known simply as “Neighbor John,” he handed out shiny dimes to all the children that he met on his daily walks. The Casements now is owned by the city of Ormond Beach and serves as a cultural center and park. In 1972 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a Florida Heritage Site.
MacDonald House at 38 East Granada Boulevard was built in 1895. It was named for Billy MacDonald who purchased it for his residence in 1939. In 1926, he had purchased a nearby business that became Billy’s Tap Room and Grill, still in business today as one of the area’s most popular restaurants.
MacDonald House now serves as the home of the Ormond Beach Historical Trust and the Ormond Beach Welcome Center. The Ormond Beach Historical Society has a Museum Shoppe there that features historical books and sponsors two-hour guided tours that include the major historic sites in Ormond and the surrounding area.
The Gardens at Ormond Memorial Art Museum
Ormond Memorial Art Museum and Gardens at 78 East Granada Boulevard was started in 1946 to commemorate service of World War II veterans. Veterans are still honored there with different functions throughout the year. There are changing exhibits of works of Florida and international artists. The tropical gardens feature nature trails.
In 1903, the first timed races were held on the beach at Ormond where it earned the title, “Birthplace of Speed.” The Ormond Garage, built in 1904 for the racers and their mechanics, unfortunately burned in 1976. Now a plaque commemorates the site at 113 E. Granada Boulevard. In 2013, 110 years after the first race, Birthplace of Speed Park was dedicated. A small replica of the garage, built by the Motor Racing Heritage Association, is in the park.
Surrounding Ormond Beach are many historic areas. Fairchild Oak is located north of Tomoka State Park in Bulow Creek State Park. It is an ancient tree, about 30 feet in circumference, formerly called the
Ormond Oak. In 1955 it was officially named Fairchild Oak after the botanist, David Fairchild, who often visited it. James Ormond II is buried nearby.
Three Chimneys is an archaeological site of the oldest successful British sugar plantation, sugar mill and rum distillery in the United States. Established in 1768, it was originally known as the Swamp Settlement. It is located at 715 W. Granada Boulevard and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
At Tomoka State Park at 2099 N. Beach Street, over 160 species of birds have been noted on nature walks. There are campsites and fishing opportunities as well as picnic areas and a boat ramp.
Environmental Discovery Center
Environmental Discovery Center is a recent addition to Ormond Beach with groundbreaking in 2015. It provides hands-on selfguided educational programs as well as guided tours.
The Loop is a drive through the natural beauty of Florida as it used to be. At a leisurely pace, for over 30 miles native vegetation and wildlife can be seen. A drive here is the perfect ending to a visit to Ormond Beach.
‘Til we meet again, happy trails!