by Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE -- The city is getting in the historical spirit for its centennial celebration -- with a little fun added to the mix.
An event to mark the centennial -- the 100-year anniversary of Port Orange's incorporation in 1913 -- will be along the Halifax River between Dunlawton Avenue and U.S. 1, where the Riverwalk area is located.
"There's going to be a lot of fun and a lot of history," city spokesman and local historian Kent Donahue said about the centennial.
The March 17 event, scheduled between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., will kick off with a national anthem opening ceremony featuring Atlantic High School's ROTC and speeches from the City Council. The evening's activities include live bands, historical displays, kids games, street entertainers, such as balloon animal makers, clowns and stilt walkers, sponsor booths, and at least six or seven Orlando-area food trucks.
At the end of the event will be a fireworks display, scheduled for around 7:45 p.m. Mr. Donahue said that was the approximate time the decision to incorporate was confirmed, with 30 registered voters -- 27 for incorporation, three against -- casting the ballots. That same day voters also elected Henry K. Dubois as Port Orange's first mayor, Mr. Donahue added.
Parks and recreation director Susan Lovallo said the event might also feature re-enactors of local historical figures such as Mr. Dubois and Gamble Place caretaker James N. Gamble, but could not confirm that by press time.
Port Orange was founded in April 1867 by Dr. John Milton Hawks, who selected the area as the base of operations for the Florida Land and Lumber Co., where about 1,500 freed slaves came to work after the Civil War. It was recognized as a town upon its 1913 incorporation and became a city in 1925.
The city's celebration of its history isn't limited to the centennial, in fact, Mr. Donahue recently looked at the connections between Port Orange and a neighbor that's also commemorating a milestone this year, the town of Ponce Inlet. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the town's August 1963 incorporation.
The connection goes as far back as 1768 with Dr. Andrew Turnbull's settlement of a group of Greeks, Italians and Minorcans known as the New Smyrna Colony, which included areas of Port Orange and Ponce Inlet.
More common historical ground in the two communities was found through the pillaging of two local landmarks in the Second Seminole War, a conflict between U.S. soldiers and the Seminole Indians that lasted from 1835 to 1842. Led by Chief Coacoochee, the Seminoles attacked Ponce Inlet's first lighthouse, which was on the south side of the inlet (it was destroyed by a hurricane), as well as the Dunlawton Plantation in Port Orange, the ruins of which still stand along what is known today as the Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens on Herbert Street.
Mr. Donahue said at the time Mr. Hawks founded the community, the freed slaves who came to work for him landed in Ponce Inlet -- then known as Ponce Park -- before settling in Port Orange. He also said E.A. McDonald, founder and proprietor of a now-demolished building along the Halifax River known as the Port Orange Hotel, traveled to Florida with Bartola Clement Pacetti, an early Ponce Inlet settler who built the historic Pacetti Hotel, once a boarding house for builders of the lighthouse at the inlet before it became a resort.
Phyllis Campbell, chairwoman of Ponce Inlet's historical and archaeological preservation board, said local historians continue to research connections between Port Orange and Ponce Inlet.
"We keep finding more and more things we have in common," she said.
Mr. Donahue is expected to share more about local history with a historical lecture at 1 p.m. Friday, March 8, at the City Adult Center Annex, 3738 Halifax Drive, about the first mayor and the early votes of the Port Orange Town Council.