By Suzy Kridner
NEW SMYRNA BEACH - When NoraJane Gillespie was first learning to drive, her father had her steer clear of Canova Drive because "of the grave in the middle of the road."
Ms. Gillespie, who was born and reared on the beachside in New Smyrna Beach, said she was aware of the grave of Charles Dummett, even back then. Local drivers will recognize the tree-filled plot of land in the middle of Canova Drive between Oakwod and Columbus Avenues that still exists today.
And now it's the city's latest landmark.
Charles Dummett was a 16-year-old who was killed while hunting on April 23, 1860. He tripped and his gun discharged, killing him instantly, according to the "History of New Smyrna, East Florida" by Gary Luther.
Charles'father, Douglas Dummett, buried his son where he died.
Douglas Dummett was in the sugar business, and also commanded the "Mosquito Roarers" the Second Seminole War. Later he was a peace justice for Volusia County, the first collector of customs for the Port of New Smyrna and developed the strain of oranges that became known as Indian River citrus.
City planner Gail Henrikson said that staff has recommended the City Commission approve a request to designate the grave as a local landmark.
At a recent meeting of the Historic New Smyrna Beach Preservation Commission, Ms. Gillespie made the motion recommending the City Commission designate the grave in the Canova Drive right-of-way as a local landmark. The motion was passed unanimously and the wheels were set in motion for the landmark designation to be approved by the City Commission.
At Tuesday's City Commission meeting, an ordinance establishing the historic landmark had its second reading and public hearing. It was unanimously approved.
Ms. Gillespie said some history needs to be preserved such as the grave. A suitable marker will be added when funds are available, she said.
Ms. Gillespie joined the Preservation Commission last fall and is excited about the progress being made in the preserving the city's historic areas.
"We can't save everything," she said, but she's happy some things, such as the Dummett Grave, can be preserved.
There's other history in that area, Ms. Gillespie said.
Canova Drive and the Canova subdivision are named for actress Judy Canova, who is of Minorcan descent.
The comedienne, born Juliette Canova, was also a Broadway and movie actress, singer and radio personality. She died Aug. 5, 1983 and is buried in California.
At one time the actress was planning to build a mobile home park in the area but her request was denied.
According to historian Gary Luther, Ms. Canova then platted the property as the H.L. Canova Subdivision and it includes the present-day Canova Drive.
When the land was sold by Charles Dummett's father, Douglas, it was stipulated the grave could not be moved, according to City Commission minutes from March 23, 1953.
Commission Hannah D. Bonnet asked then if the grave could be moved to Coronado Cemetery.
City attorney C. Winston Smith said at the time that it would be difficult to locate all the heirs of the boy to obtain permission to move the body. He said the courts bend over backward to preserve a grave.
In the 1960s, the burial spot became a problem for developers. To avoid the legal difficulties in moving the grave, the developers made the road go around it.
Today, drivers are still navigating the grave, said neighbor Peggy Rex, who with her husband Donney has been keeping Charles Dummett's grave site company for 10 years. And she said another neighbor, Shirley McGill, and her husband have been maintaining the site for years.
"Every week people get out of their cars and take photos of the grave," said Mrs. Rex. She said some are on nationwide scavenger hunts they've found on the Internet and need a photo of the grave to prove they were there. Some leave flowers.
Visitors at the Rex home would occasionally back into the grave until they put in a T-drive so they can drive straight out, she added.
Information about the grave is posted on findagrave.com.
Scott Buschlen commented on the website that often the spelling of the family surname comes into question. Some people believe it to be Dummitt, Buschlen said.