Around Florida – Daytona Beach and New Smyrna

Water sports of every kind (except skating and ice-boating) naturally play an important part in the picture of life in Daytona Beach, which is lived practically out-of-doors. The long reaches of the broad Halifax River, unobstructed by bridges except the few leading from the heart of the city’s business district on the mainland to the residential and hotel section by the beach, offer an ideal, safe, landlocked expanse for small boat sailing, motor boating, and also for very good fishing. Something like 5,000 motor yachts and commercial motor craft pass through the heart of the city of Daytona Beach annually, going up and down the intra-coastal waterway. Many of them make the city their headquarters for the Winter, and the yacht basins also shelter large numbers of houseboats in which winter visitors make their homes while in Florida.

To accommodate the transient visitors who increase Daytona’s population by more than fifty percent in the Winter, and lately by almost as much in the Summer, so successful has been the city’s Chamber of Commerce campaign of advertising for hot weather vacationists, the merged communities which formerly were Daytona and Daytona Beach and Seabreeze but are now the single municipality of Daytona Beach, have forty-five hotels of twenty or more rooms each, and 283 apartments, lodging houses and boarding houses offering ten or more rooms each, thus being able to take care of more than 6,000 visitors at once, to say nothing of the other thousands who either own or rent cottages by the season, occupy the cabanas along the south end of the beach, or put up in tourist camps, as many of the short-term transient visitors do.

The reader who has never been to Florida may wonder what all of these folk do with themselves besides fishing, bathing, boating, motoring or just loafing on the beach. The tour ist’s days in Daytona Beach and the facilities for entertainment and recreation afforded the visitor are so typical of all Florida resorts that a brief catalogue and calendar, condensed from the city’s weekly “Official Greeter and Guide” may clarify one’s mental picture of life at a Florida resort. Here, for example, are the announcements of the week’s programs at the two big air-conditioned motion picture theatres, showing the same pictures one sees on Broadway, and often before New York sees them. Here is a bathing beauty contest. A baby parade on the beach, open to entries from all over the South, is another featured entertainment. There are open air religious services in the Ocean Amphitheatre at 7:30 every Sunday evening during the summer months, sponsored by the city’s ministerial association. The Ocean Amphitheatre, by the way, is a part of Daytona Beach’s latest municipal improvement for the benefit of its guests. It stands at one end of the new halfmile stone and concrete “board-walk,” along the landward side of the beach. The amphitheatre itself is an open air auditorium which will seat 5,000 persons, facing a great hemispherical band shell, or accoustic reflector, which the community proudly boasts is the largest in the world, and which encloses a stage not only large enough to accommodate the biggest band that ever was, but fully equipped with all of the necessary curtains, scenery-lofts, footlights and dressing rooms for full-sized theatrical performances.

Among the other amusements listed are the four eighteen hole golf courses, where the addict can play on a daily fee basis or take out a ten-game or a season membership, besides a nine-hole course just outside the city. There are public dances every Thursday and Saturday night at the Ocean Pier Casino; a public bridge party every Thursday afternoon, shuffle-board all the time on three different sets of courts; hand-ball courts where anybody can play; an excellent gun club for trap-shooting; free tennis courts, dozens of them. Here are some more bridge parties, every Monday at 2:30, Tuesdays and Fridays at 10 o’clock in the morning, every Tuesday at 8 P. M., every Saturday afternoon; one wonders what the bridge players do on Wednesdays. For those who are old enough to be interested in old-age pensions there is a Townsend Club meeting every Monday evening. The young people have a dance every Friday night, and there is a night club of sorts, with a roof garden, running every night. Five of the nationally organized service and luncheon clubs announce their weekly gatherings with the welcome hand of fellowship extended to visiting members. Members of fraternal organizations will find twenty-four of them having local clubs, lodges, halls or headquarters, while a dozen women’s clubs invite visiting ladies interested in their particular fields of activity to attend their meetings.

Whatever else the visitor to Daytona Beach may do on Sunday he need not look far for a church of his own denomination. They are all here, including the Mormon and the Jewish Temple. There are two public libraries and several lending libraries, three daily and two weekly newspapers and a radio station. And the visitor who still finds time hanging heavy on his hands can always go to the big alligator farm, lately removed from South Jacksonville to Daytona Beach, and enjoy delicious shudders at the sight of the huge saurians, or inspect the birds, plumes and eggs at the ostrich farm.

From the Daytona Beach airport there is passenger plane service daily North and South, and almost continuous bus service in every direction. The back country and the nearby towns along the coast are well worth exploring. Unlike most Florida cities, Daytona Beach has no aspiration to become a seaport or a metropolis. It does not seek industries and is content to let its commerce develop along the normal lines of supplying its own people’s needs. The visitor to Daytona Beach senses none of the jealousy which many Florida communities feel and express toward each other, nor does the traveler often hear any but kind words spoken of Daytona Beach in other parts of the state. In this respect the city is practically unique.

Less than twenty miles south of Daytona Beach, just below Ponce de Leon Inlet, is the interesting old city of New Smyrna, fronting on Mosquito Lagoon, the northerly bayou of the famous Indian River. New Smyrna is connected by bridges with its own ocean beach and the adjacent popular little winter resort of Coronado Beach.

Like St. Augustine, New Smyrna has more than three centuries of history behind it. Indeed there are partisans of New Smyrna who claim that Menendez planted a settlement here nine months before he ever saw St. Augustine. At any rate, there are many relics of the 16th and 17th century Spanish occupancy here among the ancient moss-draped oaks. A huge Indian mound, “Turtle Mound,” is the highest point of land directly on the coast in the Southeast United States. It is said to be the first land sighted by the Spaniards. Here are the crumbling walls of a Spanish mission, the remains of an ancient sugar mill and the foundations of an unfinished Spanish fortress.

New Smyrna was named by a Scotch physician, Dr. Andrew Turnbull, who was given a grant of 60,000 acres by the British government when the English traded Cuba to Spain in exchange for Florida in 1763, and offered a bounty for the production of silk, cotton, indigo and sugar to settlers who would cultivate those crops in Britain’s new possession.

Dr. Turnbull had married the daughter of a Syrian merchant of Smyrna, Asia Minor, then under Turkish rule. He conceived the idea of colonizing Florida with Greeks, who were restive under the tyranny of the Turks. He was unable to get permission from the Turkish government to take the class of Greeks whom he wanted out of the country; but he managed to enlist 200 wild mountaineers from Southern Greece, whom even the Turks were glad to be rid of. Then he sailed to Southern Italy and persuaded 110 Italians, who were about to be deported because of misconduct, to join him.

Proceeding westward through the Mediterranean he stopped at the Balearic Islands. Several successive years of crop failures in Minorca had reduced the peasantry to despera tion, and Dr. Turnbull had no difficulty in persuading twelve hundred of these simple, peaceful people of mixed Spanish, Catalonian and Moorish blood, to cast in their lot with him and his wild Peloponnesian tribesmen and Italian convicts.

He named his Florida colony New Smyrna from the birthplace of his wife.

Dr. Turnbull laid out great plantations of sugar cane and indigo, and planned and constructed a drainage system which is still effective and which modern engineers have declared their inability to improve upon.

Between the struggle to subdue the wilderness, and fighting hostile Indians and the Spanish settlers who resented the invasion of the newcomers the New Smyrna colonists had a hard time of it. In 1777 what remained of them moved to St. Augustine, leaving monuments behind them in the shape of cleared lands, drainage canals and sugar mills.

With the passage of nearly two centuries and the violent political and economic disturbances and changes of territorial allegiance to which Florida has been subjected in that period, a large part of Dr. Turnbull’s rich acres have gone back to forest and jungle, but the land is still there, awaiting the advent of new settlers and ready to enrich them as the adjacent lands of Volusia County are enriching those who cultivate them. For, as Daytona Beach is typical of a Florida seacoast resort city, so Volusia County, in which it lies, is typical of Florida’s agriculture. It grows everything. Other sections, in other parts of the state, may specialize more definitely on particular crops, and there are some parts of the state in which the major agricultural emphasis is upon farm operations of a kind which are not so successful in this region. But as a crosssection of the agricultural background of Peninsular Florida, as distinguished on the one hand from North and West Florida and on the other hand from the essentially tropical country south of Lake Okeechobee, an analysis of Volusia County’s farming gives a fair picture in miniature of the whole.

Even the proportion of farm land to forest in Volusia County tallies closely with that of all Florida. Out of 718,720 acres in the whole county there are 76,796 acres in farms and of these farm lands only 23,000 acres are in crops regularly harvested. About 20,000 acres are in pasture-which in Florida usually means open pine woods-and the rest of the farm area is in unpastured woods and waste land. Some 20,000 acres are listed as merchantable timber. As in all the rest of Florida, the soil of Volusia County is far from uniform. Florida farmers call it “spotty.” Even from one side of a twenty-acre lot to the other there may be such differences in soil content and quality as to make it impossible to grow on one edge of the field a crop which thrives well on the other side. For this reason great stress is laid upon scientific soil analysis.

The farmer coming into Florida from the North has to forget almost everything he has learned about farming in the North, except that it calls for patience and hard work and is a hazardous occupation at best. But there are few parts of the country in which he can get so much sound, scientifically based advice and such hearty cooperation from those who know as he can in Florida. The Florida Agricultural College, an integral part of the State University at Gainesville, under the direction of Dr. Wilmon Newell, has for years carried on intensive experimental and research work, with experiment stations in each important agricultural region. Through these courses have passed thousands of young Florida farmers, so many and constituting such a high proportion of those engaged in agriculture in the state that it is hardly an exaggeration to say that in no other agricultural commonwealth are the general run of farmers so thoroughly imbued with the scientific principles on which their vocation is based, nor so ready to abandon the old ways when better new ways are discovered. Nor, for that matter, will one find anywhere else than in Florida so many farm owners ready to experiment with new crops. The temptation to experiment is ever-present, everything that will grow at all in Florida grows so luxuriantly and so swiftly.

The county agricultural agent, reporting to the Federal Department of Agriculture but working in close cooperation with the State College of Agriculture, is an important and highly respected personage in every county of Florida where agricultural operations are carried on. He is always an Agricultural College graduate and has usually taken a post-graduate course at the Florida Agricultural College in soil analysis and experimental station work. He is the mentor and guide to whom the farmers of his county take their problems, knowing that he is as much of an enthusiast about Florida agriculture as they are. He works in close harmony with the State Bureau of Marketing, which plays an important part in the distribution of Florida’s agricultural products.

With such expert advice and counsel the farmer of Volusia County, or of any other part of Florida, has only himself to blame if he does not find out the precise quality and character of every acre of his land, the kind of crops, if any, which it will grow to best advantage; how and when to plant and cultivate them, where and when to market them and how much he may reasonably expect to receive per unit or earn per acre. All of the knowledge based on years of experience and scientific research is at his command.

Keeping those elemental principles of general application in mind, let us look again at our exhibition cross-section of Florida agriculture, Volusia County. It stretches from the ocean to the upper reaches of the northward flowing St. Johns River. It is, roughly, thirty miles wide and forty miles from North to South. Of its total population of 50,000 more than 15,000 are Negroes. Only a third of its white population are natives of Florida; half of the remainder or about 12,000, were born north of the Mason and Dixon Line. Six-tenths of all of Volusia County’s inhabitants live in the cities of Daytona Beach, in DeLand, the county seat and in New Smyrna. Many of them, however, may still be farmers, for a very high proportion of Florida’s agriculture, like that of much of Europe, is carried on by farmers who do not live on their farms but in a village or city. The Florida State Census of 1935 enumerated only 737 persons giving their occupation as “farmer” in the entire county, although the Federal Farm Census of the same year reports 2,983 farms, nearly three times the number reported five years previously. The answer to that apparent paradox is that in Volusia County, as elsewhere throughout the Florida peninsula, the largest and most important agricultural product is citrus fruit-oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes-and that a very large proportion of the citrus groves are owned by people who do not regard or report themselves as farmers. They may be gentlemen of leisure, living in Florida on the income from their groves, or they may be residents of the northern states who come to Florida only in the Winter and whose groves are managed for them, as a large proportion are, by experts, individuals or organizations, who make a business of caring for the citrus groves of non-residents.

But even oranges and grapefruit will not grow everywhere in this typical county, any more than they will grow everywhere in Florida. Citrus trees are particular. The soil they prefer is the Norfolk sandy loam, which Florida folk call “high pine land” to distinguish it from “flatwood land.” On the high pine land, where the long-leafed hard yellow pine of the South is the natural virgin growth, the sand and clay subsoil and the elevation of these lands above the surrounding level, make for natural drainage. After land of this type has been cleared it is good soil for general farm crops, but particularly for the tree crops.

The flatwood land, on which the native trees are the socalled “slash pine” which yields an inferior quality of lumber and a smaller output of turpentine and rosin than the long leafed pine, is largely used for pasturage before clearing, and generally produces a considerable undergrowth of palmetto. From almost any point of view the palmetto is a plain nuisance. Its economic value as a source of fiber is so slight that the profit remaining after the expense of cutting and processing it is trifling, although a considerable amount of palmetto fiber is shipped out of Florida for the manufacture of coarse brushes and brooms. Getting rid of the palmetto roots after a piece of low pine land has been logged is frequently a more laborious and expensive operation than removing the pine stumps. The market value of slash pine logs is rising, because it is from this variety of pine that the pulp for Florida’s new paper industry is mainly derived.

Once the low pine land has been cleared and adequate drainage and irrigation are provided, its dark loam, usually about two feet thick above an almost impervious subsoil of clay or hardpan, is considered excellent for the production of all crops, except citrus, which are adapted to Central Florida. The flatwood land is tricky, however, and only a chemical soil test will determine whether a given tract, which looks exactly like all the adjacent land, will grow any crops successfully or not.

Around the edges of most of the large flatwood areas are cypress swamps and “hammocks,” as Florida calls the patches of rich muck land and black loam which usually rise somewhat above the level of the adjacent country and which, when cleared and cultivated, provide the richest and most fertile of all farm land. These hammocks frequently occur in the depths of the pine forest. They are usually covered with a heavy growth of oaks, magnolias and other hardwood, which to the trained eye of the Florida farmer indicates land of the highest fertility. Most of the hammocks, however, are too small to repay the expense of clearing them.

Along the east coast of Volusia County is a long and wide strip of hammock or hardwood land, with an extremely rich soil of shell, marl and muck. This is the soil upon which the finest oranges in Florida are produced, the famous Indian River fruit which always commands a premium in the nation’s markets. It was on this hardwood strip that the Spaniards planted their sugar plantations and where Dr. Turnbull established his colony of Minorcans.

Remains of ancient sugar mills are to be found still standing throughout this section. One of them, particularly well preserved, with its huge waterwheel still in place and much of the masonry of the old boiling vats yet intact after a couple of centuries or more, is at De Leon Spring, in the southwestern part of Volusia County.

It is the local tradition, unshaken in the minds of those who believe it by any of the evidence so far put forth in support of St. Augustine’s claims, that this huge spring, from which pour more than a million gallons an hour of cool, crystal clear water, forming a wide, swift river emptying into the St. Johns, was the actual Fountain of Youth of which Ponce de Leon had heard before he left Spain, and that when he landed on the coast which he named Florida on the festival day of Pascua del Florida in 1513, he came ashore at New Smyrna, not at St. Augustine at all, and proceeded at once to visit the great spring which still bears his name.

One may believe that or not; but it is undeniable that the Spanish settlers found the water power generated by the outflow from the spring very useful for grinding sugar cane. Moreover, De Leon Spring has the best authenticated local tradition of buried treasure to be found in Florida.

The Spaniards, if one is to credit the legends which persist, and crop up every now and then all the way from Peru to Georgia, must have had the habit of carrying iron chests full of gold and jewels around with them and either burying them or chucking them into any convenient hole or lake at the least alarm. The De Leon Spring legend runs true to the standard pattern. A party of conquistadors, lugging their treasure with them, camped for the night at De Leon Spring, were surprised by the Indians and threw the chest into the spring.

Whether they were killed by the Indians, or forgot where they had mislaid the treasure, or were not good enough engineers to reclaim it, are points on which the legend is not quite clear. But it sounded plausible enough a few years ago to some adventurous young men to induce them to employ a deep-sea diver to go down in the De Leon Spring and find out if there was anything there. With a good deal of difficulty, owing to the upward rush of water, the diver succeeded in getting down into the deep, dark hole in the limestone at the bottom of the spring. He got his grappling hooks on something which, he reported, felt like a treasure chest, and gave the signal to haul up. They got him back to the surface in safety but the grappling tackle slipped and the treasure chest or whatever it was slid back to the bottom of the cavern, while the diver refused to make another descent.

That sort of believe-it-or-not myths and legends are among the elements that go to make up the lure and the charm of Florida. They even interrupt a dissertation on Florida farming.

Most of Volusia County’s farms are on flatwood land, but along the St. Johns River, the whole length of the west side of the county, is a strip of high pine land, from two to five miles wide, given over mainly to citrus growing.