By Marian Tomblin
As we travel down our busy streets in east Volusia County, it's hard to believe that this part of the world was once wilderness. While black bear sightings are now front-page news, less than 200 years ago our woods were full of them. And wild boar. And panther.
In 1831, acclaimed artist John James Audubon visited J.J. Bulow's magnificent plantation just north of Ormond Beach. In a letter, he noted that as he "proceeded along a narrow, shallow bay, the fish were truly abundant. Would you believe it if I was to say that the fish nearly obstructed our headway?"
The waterway Mr. Audubon canoed was the Halifax River, named in honor of George Montague Dunk, the Second Earl of Halifax.
A contemporary of King George III, Lord Halifax is remembered for three things: the founding of Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia; the fostering of trade with the Colonies; and the Dunk Warrant. Written in 1763 in reaction to a newspaper article critical of the King, the Dunk Warrant's allowance of "unreasonable search and seizure" was rejected and eventually codified into our Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
Want to appear as if you've lived here forever? Just drop this little nugget at your next dinner party: The waterway we call the Halifax River is not a river; it is an estuary: An arm of the Atlantic Ocean. Rivers don't have tides.)
In 1768, physician and entrepreneur Andrew Turnbull started a colony in present-day New Smyrna. His settlers were primarily Greek - Minorcans seeking a better way of life on our shores. The endeavor was doomed from the start: Turnbull was under-equipped and under-funded. Evidence of his effort still exists at "Turnbull Palace," a coquina structure located in the heart of the community.
From 1835-1842, Florida was the site of the Second Seminole War. This series of battles was so bloody that for 20 years after, our state was essentially uninhabited. It wasn't until the end of the Civil War that people, many of them embattled and impoverished farmers from the South, decided to begin afresh. They loaded their meager possessions into oxcarts and pushed their way down our overgrown, dirt trails with the crack of a whip - hence the term, "Cracker."
You might have moved to Florida to begin a new life. Perhaps you're here to spend more time with the family or on the golf course. Billionaire John D. Rockefeller, reputed to be the world's richest man back in the early 1900s, moved here because of his health. His goal? To live to be 100 years old so he could enjoy his enormous fortune. His home, the Casements, has been preserved and is open to the public.
Rockefeller's friend, Henry Flagler, also had a goal: to push his Florida East Coast Railway through to Key West. His Ormond Hotel, once the largest all-wood building in the United States was a magnet for such glitterati as Ned Maclean, the owner of the Washington Post, whose wife owned the Hope Diamond. The Ormond Beach Historical Trust has lots of information about its community's golden era.
And if you think Florida real estate is a bit shaky now, think back to the late 1920s when we experienced our land "bust." The ensuing Great Depression, coupled with Prohibition, lured many a local lad into the activity of "rum running." The Halifax Historical Museum has a wonderful exhibit about Bill McCoy, aka the Real McCoy, King of Rum Row.
While you're in the neighborhood, walk across the park to Jackie Robinson Ballpark. There, you will learn more about how Mr. Robinson, with a crack of his baseball bat on March 17, 1946, dealt a crippling blow to racism. History was made when, for the first time since the color line appeared in professional baseball, Mr. Robinson, a black player for the Montreal Royals, went to bat against the Brooklyn Dodgers' farm team at what was then City Island Ball Park in Daytona Beach.
Regardless of your particular destination in east Volusia County, the area is rich in history and activities for you to enjoy.
Information provided by www.floridastateparks.org/bulowplantation, www.NSBhistory.org, The Casements and the Halifax Historical Museum.
Marian Tomblin is the author of "The Mystery at Hotel Ormond," "Where's Capone's Cash?" and "Manatee Moon," all selected for community-wide literacy campaigns. Her latest book, "Bull on the Beach!," is a compilation of historical anecdotes discovered while researching her novels.
Copies of Mrs. Tomblin's books and others of local interest can be purchased at The Book Store and So Much More!, 410 S. Nova Road, Ormond Beach; (386) 615-8320.
Contact her at www.MarianSTomblin.com or at (386) 615-0493.