by Dan Smith
On Sunday, March 3, the preservation committee of the Ormond Beach Historical Society will host an open house at the Three Chimneys archaeological site. The event, which only happens once a year, is free to the public, so please come out and visit this historic place in downtown Ormond Beach at 715 W. Granada Blvd. The society's experts will be there from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. to fill you in on this unique piece of local history.
The Three Chimneys is the name given to the first sugar mill and rum distillery in what is now the United States. Constructed in 1766 on a British land grant by the employees of Sir Richard Oswald, an absentee landlord who ordered five plantations built around Ormond. The mill on West Granada operated until about 1780 and then reopened in 1803 to run for seven more years. Although the mill and distillery sits less than a hundred feet off busy Granada Boulevard, it was left mostly undiscovered until the 1990s. Then members of the historical society began to clear away the overgrown brush and investigate the historical significance of the place. Soon the 7.59-acre tract was purchased by the state and a 50-year lease was negotiated with OBHS to care for the property.
Under the guidance of Dr. Philip Shapiro, the head of the preservation committee, much work has been done to stabilize the ruins and in 2011 it was added to the National Historic Register. Recently interpretive signage was added to better explain the history of the nation's first rum distillery. The long-term goal is to turn the Three Chimneys into a state park for all to enjoy.
An interesting sidelight to the Three Chimneys property was the take- over by local entrepreneur Billy Fagin in 1914. Billy was a bit of a character and was half brother to John Anderson, builder of the Hotel Ormond. Mr. Fagin built a log home on the property and made a valiant attempt to turn it into a tourist attraction. He filled a pit with alligators and built a stairway to the top of the tallest oak tree. For a small fee, Billy would allow visitors to view the ruins and climb to the top of the tree to see the Atlantic Ocean a few miles to the east. The brick chimney from his home still stands on the site.
If you have always wanted to visit one of our local sugar mill ruins, but found it to be too difficult; this is a great opportunity. The Three Chimneys is only a short walk from parking and in a compact area.
In other history news, on Tuesday March 5, I will be at the New Smyrna Beach Library to discuss my new book "The World's Greatest Beach."
In the book, I detail the people and events that have affected our beach since the first settlers arrived.
Because racing is a big part of the beach's history I go in depth to cover all the great land speed record attempts and tell how it evolved into a stock car racing venue. I talk about the huge effect the tobacco companies had on the beach and our local economy and the impact of the Great Depression.
Surfing, rock and roll, Bike Week, spring break, hippies, sharks, hurricanes and the rogue wave also are touched on. My talk begins at 2 p.m. and I expect it to be a fun afternoon. Stop and say hello.
Dan Smith is on the board of directors for the Ormond Beach Historical Society and The Motor Racing Heritage Association and is the author of two books, "The World's Greatest Beach" and "I Swear the Snook Drowned." E-mail questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (386) 441-7793.