I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t always the best student in history class. I always found it a little difficult to focus on learning about places that I had never been to. As an adult who loves traveling, though, I can get down with the History Channel or a good documentary now and then. But my favorite place to learn about history is right where it happened.
History tours are always at the top of my to-do list when visiting a new city. And New Smyrna Beach is a beautiful beach town in Florida that has just the spots for the perfect history tour. Here are the stops I’d recommend to get your history fix.
The first stop on our history tour is Mary McLeod Bethune Park. It’s named after the African American educator who helped to establish this as a beach that black men and women could go to back when Florida was segregated. For this reason, the park is included in the Florida Black Heritage Trail, which highlights many other significant locations in black history throughout the state.
The park sits between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River, making it the perfect spot for swimming, fishing, picnicking, or animal spotting. The fishing pier is known to be great for laying your eyes on some manatees that get close enough to the water’s surface. Or you can watch the many birds that flock to this natural habitat.
Another great spot for more black history is the Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum. It’s an honorable celebration of black culture, containing a collection of artifacts and photographs from years gone by. The museum also represents the history of equality for black men and women in Florida throughout the 20th century and educates the public on the challenges many faced.
Who doesn’t love a history mystery? Well, Old Fort Park delivers just that. The park consists of old coquina ruins made of sedimentary rock, but the origins and purpose of the structure are still unknown. And it seems it may remain that way. Some believe the edifice was the original Castillo de San Marcos before the one in St. Augustine was built, making it a Spanish fort. Others say it was likely a mansion to Dr. Andrew Turnbull, the Scottish physician who colonized the town. You can come to your own conclusion.
If you really enjoy ruins, then continue over to the Sugar Mill Ruins. Similar to Old Fort Park, you’ll find old coquina ruins that made up the sugar factory of the Cruger-dePeyster Plantation that operated here in the 19th century. Both a steam-operated sugarcane mill and sawmill allowed for the extraction of juice from the sugarcanes. In 1835 during the Second Seminole War, Native Americans destroyed the buildings. Now all that is left are the building remains.
To get all of the ins and outs of New Smyrna Beach history, head to the New Smyrna Museum of History. Here, you can find information about the small town since Mediterranean colonists founded it in 1768. But the history even takes you through pre-historic Florida as well. Its collection of artifacts consists of photographs, clothing, tools, and other remnants from earlier settlers. The upstairs exhibit carries many items gathered specifically by the notable local historian Zelia Wilson Sweett. Make sure to watch the video presentations that highlight everything you need to know about New Smyrna Beach.