Throughout Volusia County, local historical societies work to preserve the rich and varied history of our area. One of the main goals is to identify and protect historical buildings.
Back in 1972, one of the most significant dwellings in the state was nearly lost to demolition when a group of Ormond Beach citizens went to work to save it. The Casements, former home of billionaire John D. Rockefeller, had fallen into disrepair and was scheduled to go down. Through hard work and diligence the group convinced the city to buy the building and, in 1976, had it listed on the National Historic Register.
That effort prompted the beginning of the Ormond Beach Historical Society, a group that continues to act as steward of the area's past. The Casements is now the Ormond Beach Cultural Center and is an important asset to the community.
The large house was built in 1912 by the Rev. Harwood Huntington for his wife, an heiress of the Pullman rail coach fortune. It sat directly across the street from the elegant Hotel Ormond owned by Henry Flagler.
At that time, the hotel was the largest wooden structure in the world and each winter was host to wealthy northerners who flocked to Ormond Beach for the mild weather. One of those guests was John D. Rockefeller, Flagler's business partner in Standard Oil. Each winter Mr. Rockefeller would rent a portion of the hotel but eventually believed the costs to be exorbitant. (You don't become the world's wealthiest man unless you are thrifty.) In 1918, he bought the Casements (so named for the many hand cut casement windows) for his winter home.
Through the years Neighbor John, as he liked to be called, would welcome many industrialists to the house. Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and Thomas Edison were frequent guests, and celebrities like Will Rogers often called. Mr. Rockefeller was a fan of the racing on our beaches and hosted drivers Sir Malcolm Campbell, Sir Henry Segrave and Barney Oldfield at the mansion. For the last 10 years of his life, he made The Casements his year -round home. John D. passed away there in 1937 at the age of 98 and soon after his family sold the home.
This year The Casements is celebrating its 100-year anniversary and on Oct. 19 there will be a dedication of the new gazebo that was placed on the north lawn by The Casements Guild. On Nov. 10, there will be a Casements Centennial Ball and silent auction at the Oceanside Country Club. For more information about these and other centennial events, call (386) 676-3216.
These days Director Siobhan Daly and her staff are the caretakers who make sure the grand old lady of the Halifax is always prepared to receive her guests. If you have never taken a tour of The Casements, now would be a great time. The beautiful structure is a welcome glimpse into a more stylish past. As you walk the halls, it is easy to imagine Neighbor John right along side of you.
You know folks, our history is one of our greatest assets. Please support your local historical society and, if you don't have one in your area, now would be a good time to get started. If it had not been for the fledgling Ormond group, The Casements would have been destroyed. The diverse stories of the Native Americans, the Spanish and French explorers, the British colonists and the Civil War are but a few of the things that made us who we are. To that end I will be at the Halifax Historical Museum on Oct. 5 to serve as moderator for the "Growing Up In World War II" lectures. At 10 a.m., I will introduce you to a panel of distinguished speakers who will relive what it was like to be in Volusia County during the war. It promises to be fun and entertaining. Call (386) 255-6976 for details.
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." Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (386) 441-7793.