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Why does the City of New Smyrna Beach have historic preservation efforts?
The City of New Smyrna Beach and surrounding areas have a rich and unique history. Over time, enough citizens felt strongly enough about preserving the City’s historic resources that the City Commission adopted Chapter 50, Historic Preservation, to ensure historic preservation efforts were made moving forward. Multiple initiatives including but not limited to those listed below have advanced the City’s historic preservation efforts:
- 1986 – The City adopted Chapter 50 which among many other things established a Historic Preservation Commission and general guidelines for historic preservation.
- 1986 – The City achieved Certified Local Government status with the National Park Service.
- 1990 – The City applied for the New Smyrna Beach Historic District with the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places and was approved.
- 1997 – The City applied for the Coronado Historic District with the National Park Service’s Nation Register of Historic Places and was approved.
- 2007 – The City applied for the Turnbull Canal System with the National Park Service’s Nation Register of Historic Places and was approved.
- 2020 – The City adopted an update to the Historic Preservation Element of its Comprehensive Plan.
- 2020 – The City Commission updated the City Charter which further established the direction of the City’s historic preservation efforts.
- 2021 –The City sent three rounds of letters to property owners within both National Registered Historic Districts to unofficially gauge residents' interest in creating Local Historic Districts. Two-thirds or 67% or property owners within each district would have to agree to participate before a local district would be created. The results were inconclusive with a significant portion of residents not responding.
City Charter Sec. 6.03. Historic preservation.
The City of New Smyrna Beach, in order to preserve and enhance the historic quality of the city, foster economic development, manage growth, improve property values, and add to the quality of life of its citizens and visitors, shall strengthen the city's commitment to historic stewardship by:
- Updating the regulations pertaining to historic properties.
- Creating and expanding upon local historic districts.
- Developing guidelines that will assist owners in obtaining historic preservation property tax exemptions.
- Assist and facilitate owners of historic properties to access existing grant sources.
For some 10,000 years before the arrival of the Europeans, Native Americans inhabited the area, initially on a nomadic basis and later in more sedentary camps and villages. Until the early twentieth century, the coastline was strewn with mounds of ancient refuse that testified to the presence of the Native Americans. Most of the mounds were destroyed, the shell used for roads and building construction material. However, much evidence of prehistoric habitation remains hidden under ground and water within the corporate limits of New Smyrna Beach and beyond.
The first European visitation to the New Smyrna Beach area was made during the First Spanish Colonial Period (1565-1763). Located on the fringe of the primary Spanish settlement at St. Augustine, New Smyrna was visited by missionaries sent to convert the indigenous Native American population to the Catholic faith. Toward the end of that period, the Spanish Crown conceded a number of land grants in the area.
New Smyrna Beach occupies a notable place in history as the site of the largest attempt at British colonialization in what is now the United States. Dr. Andrew Turnbull, a Scottish physician and entrepreneur, obtained a grant of land from the British Crown. In 1768 he established a settlement with approximately 1,500 Greeks, Italians, and Minorcans heeded the promise of new opportunities in Florida as indentured servants. This settlement produced corn, indigo, rice, hemp, and cotton. Nine years of difficult colony life reduced the settlers to 600. In 1777, a group of the colonists petitioned the English Governor in St. Augustine to be released from their indentures. The governor offered land grants north of St. Augustine to the colonists, and many of their descendants still live there today.
Second Spanish Period
Some measure of settlement persisted after the departure of the disaffected colonists, despite the menacing presence of hostile Native Americans and occasional mercenaries of various stripe. The Spanish reclaimed East Florida from the British in 1784, but encountered difficulty in securing control over the vast and essentially unpopulated land. The United States acquired the colony from Spain in 1819 and established the Territory of Florida in 1821.
Territory of Florida
During the following two decades the New Smyrna area hosted several large plantations, which concentrated primarily on the production of sugar. All gains made toward settlement here, however, were lost during the first year of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), when many of the plantations were attacked and destroyed by Native American raiding parties. A measure of order was reestablished when the United States Army set up a military base at New Smyrna in 1837, but few settlers returned to the area.
State of Florida
Resettlement began in earnest after the Civil War. In 1887, with a population of 150, the Town of New Smyrna was incorporated. The arrival of Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway in 1892 spurred development of the area's economy, which was based on the tourism, citrus, and commercial fishing industries.
The town counted 543 inhabitants at the turn of the century and proceeded to grow fourfold in the next two decades, reaching a population of 2,492 in 1920. The principal areas of business and residential development lay along Canal Street and Faulkner Street. Residential development during that period of expansion occurred mainly in the blocks surrounding the intersections of Washington Street and Orange Street and about two blocks inland from the river between Lytle Avenue and Clinch Street.
Florida Land Boom
New Smyrna Beach, like most other Florida communities, experienced a period of intensive speculative development during the Florida land boom of the mid-1920s. During the boom a significant collection of buildings was constructed in the area extending from Louise Avenue, eight blocks north of Canal Street, southward to Sixth Street. After the collapse of the land boom in 1926, the State of Florida fell into a protracted economic depression. Development slowed to a virtual halt in New Smyrna Beach during the Great Depression years of the 1930s and did not recover to its boom-time levels until after World War II.
There may be about 800 buildings in New Smyrna Beach that remain from the historic period. They include buildings on the mainland, west of the Intracoastal Waterway, and on the peninsula, the former community of Coronado Beach, which was incorporated into the City of New Smyrna Beach in 1947.
Few historic buildings in the city date from the late nineteenth century. The majority were constructed between 1900 and 1930. Most of the historic buildings in the city exhibit vernacular designs. Bungalow, Colonial Revival, and Mediterranean Revival were the most common of the high architectural styles applied to residential buildings in New Smyrna Beach during the historic period. Most historic commercial buildings reflect the masonry vernacular designs commonly found throughout the United States in the early twentieth century.