“Early Days in Daytona Beach, Florida – How a City was Founded,” Part 1
This article is compliments of Mrs. Marian Tomblin. I was doing some research on Daytona Beach’s founding father Mathias Day and was stumbled upon this story and my new favorite local writer in Daytona Beach.
“Early Days in Daytona Beach, Florida – How a City was Founded,” written in 1951 by Fred Booth to commemorate the city’s (then) 75th anniversary, takes us back to the beginning.
“Seventy five years ago today (1876), Daytona became a town. Early in the afternoon, the chief men of the settlement gathered at an appointed place on the Halifax River shore. They trudged down the sandy trail they called Beach Street, along lanes and paths under the shadowing live oaks and tall palmettos.
“In twos and threes, talking, smoking, sweating, batting at mosquitoes and complaining against the blazing sun, they came together at William Jackson’s little store.
“They were a handful of men in a wilderness. There were some 70 souls in the little settlement of about 20 houses. Only water and sand trails let to the outside world.
“Earlier that summer – once on June 14 and again a week later – these men had met, and after long talks, they had voted to ‘take steps’ toward incorporating.”
Then public notices were posted in three places asking all qualified voters to meet at William Jackson’s store “On Wednesday, the 26th of July at 2 o’clock p.m. to determine whether we shall incorporate said town and, if so, to determine the name and seal of said incorporation and its metes and bounds and also to select officers and organize a municipal government.”
“So this was the day. There was little doubt what the settlement’s name would be. Once it had been Tomoka -a pretty name.
“Then came another man from the north, whence had come many of these settlers. His name – Matthias Day. His home was Mansfield, Ohio. He had made his living selling sugar mill machinery and farm implements.
But he was a man of imagination. He sought new ventures. He wanted to do something big. He wanted to come to Florida and help resettle and rebuild this once magical land of sunshine and flowers, oranges, indigo, sugar cane and rice – once the land of vast plantations and great living
Mathias Day was a man of imagination. He sought new ventures. He wanted to do something big. He wanted to come to Florida and help resettle and help rebuild this once magic land of sunshine and flowers, oranges, indigo, sugar cane and rice – once the land of vast plantations and great living.
“He knew Florida’s story. How colonies and great plantings had risen and then decayed under the rule of Spain and Britain and the War for Independence. How they had grown great again after the U.S. flag was unfurled over Florida in 1821, then again had been ruined by the Seminole Indian War of 1835 and the great freeze that year. How, after that, the War of Secession had repeated the devastation of earlier times.
“Mathias Day knew Florida was starting all over again, and he wanted to start all over again with it.
“So, in 1870, he came to Jacksonville. There he met Dr. John M. Hawks, founder of Hawks Park, which is now Edgewater. Hawks easily persuaded Day to come down the coast with him on the schooner ‘Rover,’ a six-ton vessel captained by Simmons Bennett.
“Day and two companions spent several days looking around the Halifax Country, cruising up and down both sides of the river. In his diary, Day noted there were ‘10 million fleas to the square yard.’ He took a before-breakfast dip in the ocean and shouted upon the waves, ‘Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll.’
“Then he came upon the little Tomoka settlement and saw what he wanted – an old sugar and orange plantation now abandoned and covered with second growth timber. This was the Spanish Crown’s royal grant to Samuel Williams in 1790. Williams had settled it in 1800, developed it by 1812 with slave labor, dug canals and built a manor house on the river near where Loomis Avenue is now.”
“The land – 3,000 acres – descended to his son, Samuel Hill Williams, who, in 1835, hid behind a palmetto tree and watched the Seminoles destroy his home and the plantation, then at night swam the river and escaped to St. Augustine.
For more information on Mrs. Tomblin’s books or to have her speak at your next meeting, contact her at www.MarianSTomblin.com or at (386) 615-0493.
Copies of Mrs. Tomblin’s books and others of local interest can be purchased at The Book Store and So Much More!, 410 S. Nova Road, Ormond Beach; (386) 615-8320.