VISIT CORONADO! — This postcard from around the turn of the 20th century encouraged out-of-towners to come and visit the sparkling waters of Coronado Beach in Florida. Pictured in the photo are some of the unwieldy swimwear women wore for beach outings more than 100 years ago.

A beach excursion

On May 25, 1887, the day after Adelaide (Addie) Austin, daughter of Henry and Hettie Austin, turned 18, she recorded a lengthy account of a day trip to New Smyrna taken with her Sunday school group.

Karen Ryder
Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of our feature Better Country Beyond, with excerpts from DeLandite Karen Ryder’s, pictured, book about the early days of the founding of the city of DeLand. The Beacon is indebted to Donna Jean Flood, a DeLand financial adviser with Edward Jones, for the idea for this series, part of our ongoing West Volusia Memories series by community writers. You’re invited to share your memories of West Volusia’s past, for this history series. Send 600 words or so to

“Oh! But I have had the grandest time today,” she wrote. The cost of the trip was “Adults 50 cents, children 25 cents,” which struck Addie as a bargain even then.

The whole Austin family took part in the excursion. They started their adventure early in the morning, taking their horsedrawn wagon from their house near Blue Lake to a livery stable in Lake Helen.

On the platform of the Lake Helen train station, they waited and socialized as more families gathered — some 225 people in all. When the train pulled in, there was a “grand rush” as the travelers boarded the passenger cars. The trip to the New Smyrna station took them approximately 1 ½ hours.

Getting accommodations to carry the many disembarking passengers across the Halifax River to the beach was the biggest logistical complication of the trip. People milled around on the platform as they slowly boarded various watercraft, either a small steamer, or one of several rowboats that were available. Addie’s group went by rowboat to “Ponce Park” on the beach side of the inlet.

CORONADO —In the photo above from the 1940s, a fisherman stands along Coronado Beach’s boardwalk. Less than a decade later, the beach would be renamed New Smyrna Beach. Coronado Beach — the settlement along the beach of the same name — was settled by Californian Foster G. Austin in 1885. According to a historic plaque that now stands where the community once was, Coronado Beach was, used “primarily as a retreat for hunting and fishing during the winter.”

Indecent exposure
No one in Addie’s party actually went swimming that day because there were “no accommodations,” which meant there was a lack of rooms where they could change into bathing wear.

Dressing for the beach was much more of an inconvenience in those days than today’s readers can appreciate. Going for a short dip was no simple matter of just shrugging off a few items of clothing, popping on a small bathing suit and jumping in the water.

First, the bathers had to take off their clothing and, with the voluminous fashions of the day, this was an especially laborious task for the women. Multiple layers consisting of gown, corset, chemise, pantaloons, stockings and garters had to be shed.

Yet, at this point, a woman was still only halfway done. Swimwear had come into use as the expansion of rail lines made it easier for people to travel to lakes and ocean beaches, but the only real difference between swimming garments and any other type of womenswear was that the swimming gown had weights sewn in the hem to keep the long skirts from rising in the water.

Thus, after stripping down, women had to put on the same number of layers and types of swimwear that they had just removed. There was always the option of venturing into the water without a corset, but any woman doing so would have to do her swimming in a location set apart from the possibility of any direct male view.

Although the men had fewer layers to strip off and reapply than the women, their “swim suits” were hardly brief.

They consisted of long-sleeved, long-legged outfits that resembled union suits. If too much of either sex’s upper or lower “limbs” (the euphemistic term used in polite company) were bared in public, an arrest for indecent exposure was almost certain to occur.

Without any changing rooms to use, the only water sport available to Addie’s party was to go wading, and she reports that some did remove their shoes and went “into the surf a little ways.”

After that, they capped the day with a trek to the lighthouse, and Addie reported that she “ran all the way up to the top.” On the way down, however, she stopped at each landing to savor the view.

It was now time to go home, so they walked back to the watercraft station and, this time, Addie took the steamer. Back on the mainland in New Smyrna, they boarded the train for Lake Helen.

THE VIEW FROM THE BEACH — A lone beach visitor stands along the shore of Coronado Beach, which, after being annexed by the City of New Smyrna in the 1940s, became New Smyrna Beach.

The weary tourists fully enjoyed the charms of a relaxing ride home where they were able to take off their hats and feel the cooling late-afternoon breezes now coming through the windows.

Trains were still such a novelty that Addie saw people running out of their houses just to wave white handkerchiefs at the departing passengers who gaily waved back in return.

As twilight deepened, the porter started lighting the lamps. Some of the passengers dozed, and others, including Addie, sang what she called “some good old songs.”

Everyone riding the train that day would have been keenly aware that railroads were now the kings of transportation. Standard gauge service, large locomotives and multiple passenger cars were now the norm.

The train let the Austins off at the Lake Helen depot, and the family “trudged down the road to the store where we had left our horse and wagon at the livery stable.”

After such a long day, they were no doubt eager to make their way to their beds. But, in an excursion that had involved riding a wagon, a train, a rowboat, a steamer and then a second train ride, they still faced a second long wagon ride through the Florida sand before the trip was over.

With complete darkness rapidly descending, the Austins ended up taking a wrong turn.

In the process of trying to get the wagon headed back in the right direction, they fumbled their way through two collisions — first hitting a barbed wire fence and then running into a high pile of sawdust at a mill.

The family was finally rescued from their plight by the mill owner, who got out his lantern and guided them to the right road home.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here