By Carla J. Eskew
For Hometown News
NEW SMYRNA BEACH - There's no place like home.
That's what Dorothy said, as well as a number of New Smyrna Beach residents who said they wouldn't live anywhere else.
Mayor Adam Barringer grew up here, left for a while, but had to come back.
"My love for the beach and my fond memories brought me back," said Mr. Barringer, who owns So Napa Grille.
Mr. Barringer and all the residents of New Smyrna Beach enjoy more than 13 miles of white sand beaches, unique shops and restaurants, along with a number of historical sites. For those who want to relax, the city offers some of the best fishing and golfing around. Strong youth programs exist in athletics and the arts.
"From the historical neighborhoods to the traditional downtown on Canal Street to basically an entertainment capitol on Flagler Avenue to the miles and miles of beach - New Smyrna Beach has an amazing amount of attractions all within a city of 23,000 people," said City Manager Pam Brangaccio. "It's rare to find this many amenities in this small geographical area."
New Smyrna Beach is known for its flavorful restaurants, most of which are not part of large, corporate chains but rather locally owned.
"We have these major restaurants from Norwood's (Restaurant & Wine Shop) to The Garlic to PJ's (Sea Shack) to Clancy's (Cantina) and the Flagler Tavern. Where do you see that? These folks are able to operate in the ebb and flow of the tourist industry. It's the uniqueness of the town," Ms. Brangaccio said.
Nearly every weekend, festivals and events beckon to locals and visitors alike. "New Smyrna Beach has evolved into such a town that it has something for everyone," said City Clerk Johnny Bledsoe. "I challenge you to find many weekends with no activities."
On June 8-10, the city will celebrate 125 years of community with a time capsule dedication, fireworks and more.
"It is going to be an amazing celebration. I am so glad to be part of it. It's going to be great few days," said Melanie Emanuel, president of the Southeast Volusia Chamber of Commerce. "New Smyrna Beach has such a sense of pride, a sense of community."
"People help each other here. We try our best stick together and help each other grow," added Ms. Emanuel, owner of Melanie Emanuel & Associates.
That's how New Smyrna started, with people working together helping to build a community, a new life in an unknown area. The main part of the Southeast Volusia Historical Society Museum & Library is an in-depth exhibit dedicated to the founders of New Smyrna.
The exhibit tells visitors their story: In 1768, 1,225 immigrants under the leadership of Dr. Andrew Turnbull, a Scottish physician and entrepreneur, settled here with a land grant from England. It was the largest single attempt at a colonial settlement in the United States.
The colonists focused on crops like corn, indigo, rice, hemp and cotton. Mr. Turnbull's colony made a go of it until about 1777, when most of the remaining settlers moved to St. Augustine.
Florida became a territory of the United States in 1821. During that time, several large sugar plantations thrived in New Smyrna. But most of the sugar mills were destroyed during the first year of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842).
A United States Army base was established in 1837, but it wasn't until after the Civil War that New Smyrna began to grow. With a population of 150, the Town of New Smyrna was incorporated in 1887 (125 years ago). Once Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway came through town, economic development followed based on tourism, citrus and commercial fishing.
Residential development increased bringing the population up to 2,492 in 1920, and commercial development continued up until the Great Depression. It was not until after World War II that the city began to grow and prosper again like it did in the '20s.
Today New Smyrna Beach is made up of a variety of people. There is the weekend population - the mostly Orlando / Winter Park residents who have beachside condos. There's the traditional community made up of families with children, retirees and those who work along the U.S. 1 corridor. And, there are tourists from around the country and the globe who come to enjoy the beaches, the arts community, fine dining and eclectic shopping.
"Tourism is what supports a majority of our local businesses," Ms. Barringer said. "People come here to use the beach. We have one of the top surf breaks on the entire East Coast."
But the 23,000 residents of New Smyrna Beach remain the heartbeat of the community.
"It's the fabric of the close knit community that makes New Smyrna Beach great," Mr. Barringer said. "People are willing to help out whether it's for Relay for Life, a veterans' cause or another charitable event."
Ms. Emanuel said she agrees that the people of New Smyrna Beach are helpful and involved in their community. The Chamber recently ran a successful "buy local" campaign.
"This community took that and ran with it," she said. "I would like to see this continued dedication to helping one another. I'd like to see smart growth so we all sustain - sustainability is important. I want my son to be able to stay and work here if he chooses to do so."
The city and the Community Redevelopment Agency continue to work together improving the city. The 112-bed Hampton Inn and Suites on Flagler Avenue is slated to open in November. It is the first hotel built in New Smyrna Beach in 20 years. Building permits continue to be pulled for new homes on the western edge of town, and there are "houses still selling for three-quarters of a million dollars," Ms. Brangaccio said.
The city will soon be conducting a formal blight study for a new CRA along the U.S. 1 corridor. And, a parking task force will examine the issue of a trolley system, she said.
"There's a balancing act every day when we try moving the city forward to create jobs to make New Smyrna Beach a more prosperous place to live, while still maintaining the charm of the city," Mr. Barringer said.