Editor’s note: Once again, Bill Mancinik’s “Native Reflections” column has inspired another West Volusia resident to write about growing up in this area. Keep them coming! Send your reflections to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I always enjoy The Beacon but more so than usual the most recent issue, and particularly two items: the photo of the College Arms Hotel, and the article about the importance of the St. Johns River before roads or railroads flourished in this area, both included with the “Native Reflections” column by Bill Mancinik.
My response involves a little history, both family and otherwise.
My father’s hobby was fishing, both saltwater and freshwater. We lived in Daytona Beach two blocks from the beach; my family owned the house from 1932 until I sold it in 2015, which I suspect is a record for one-family ownership, especially on “the beachside,” which we called “the peninsula.”
Father also enjoyed fishing in the lakes and rivers of West Volusia.
Normally, to get to West Volusia, we drove Highway 92 from Daytona to DeLand.
But when 92 was rebuilt (to replace the old road, which had twisted and turned to avoid all the cypress ponds), it took quite a long time, and so, for a few years, we had to get to DeLand by way of New Smyrna Beach. This brought us right by the front of the old College Arms Hotel on East New York Avenue.
The hotel, of course, was on the site of what is now the “new” Volusia County Courthouse, but while the courthouse fronts on Alabama Avenue, the hotel faced East New York.
So, I was quite familiar with the hotel from fishing trips. I enjoyed the West Volusia Historical Society’s photo, which gives me my first glimpse of it since the summer I was 16.
My recollection about the second item, if not true, at least should be. lt’s too good not to be.
lt involves Mr. Mancinik’s comment about the use of the St. Johns for shipping goods to or from the Central Florida area, before there were roads or railroads.
lt involves early days at the oldest church in Daytona Beach still using its original building: St. Mary’s Episcopal, on South Ridgewood at the corner of Orange Avenue.
The story goes that, when the main building was new or fairly new, the members were ready to set the cornerstone, giving details of the church name and date of founding, or perhaps of the erection of the building.
Crafting any such item as this was apparently beyond the capability of local stonemasons, if indeed Daytona boasted any stonemasons at that point. (And it was just “Daytona” — Daytona Beach was a separate entity on the peninsula around Main Street.)
So the great day came, and the parishioners gathered round to place the cornerstone, which had come downriver all the way from Jacksonville and then overland from Volusia Landing.
When they opened the package, to their surprise, it read not St. Mark’s, which they had expected, but St. Mary’s.
Maybe the stonemason’s hammer had slipped; or maybe, as the Bible says, “it was the Lord’s doing.”
In either case, there was no question of returning the cornerstone and having a replacement made, with all the time and expense that would involve.
So, in went the cornerstone, and St. Mary’s — not St. Mark’s — embarked on its journey.
If it isn’t true, it should be, don’t you think? I wonder how often this happened with other important shipments down the river.
Thanks again for your good newspaper.
— Fort, who lives in DeLand, is a native of Daytona Beach, where she grew up a couple of blocks north of Seabreeze Boulevard, and attended Seabreeze High School. With bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Florida State University, she taught English in New Jersey while she and her husband, fellow Floridian Robert E. Fort Jr., lived in New York City. While there, Patricia Fort remembers watching the lower level of the George Washington Bridge being built. In 1965, Robert Fort’s college friend Paul Langston lured him to teach at Stetson University in the music school, where Fort stayed for 30-plus years. Patricia Fort directed the private school at First Presbyterian Church of DeLand for about 12 years, expanding it from a preschool to a preschool plus alternative-style full elementary school.