Early Days in Daytona Beach, Florida – How a City was Founded — Part II
The story of Mattias Day continued….
“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.
“Day bought 2,142 acres of this grant from Samuel H. Williams and his daughter, Christina Relf, of St. Augustine. The story is he put $1,200 down and gave a mortgage of $800. Then he went back to Mansfield, Ohio, assembled men and machinery to start a colony, and returned to Florida. In his party were his cousin, Calvin Day, and two men named Webber and Skelton, who brought along sawmill machinery.
“The sawmill was set up on Beach Street, near where Cedar Street is now, and the cutting of building lumber began.
“As his first colonizing step, Day began construction on the ‘Colony House’ – a roomy hotel on Beach Street, near the street later named ‘Loomis’ for his son. The building’s name stated its purpose: to house newcomers until they could build their own homes.
“The schooner from Jacksonville failed to bring roofing shingles on time, so a thatched roof made from palmetto fronds was put on the building. Thereafter, until it burned in 1922, ‘Colony House’ was known as the ‘Palmetto House.’”
“By the end of 1871, Mathias Day’s aims were known. They were taking shape under an engineer’s surveying chain as well as in the big lodging house (The Palmetto House) where many of the colonists lived.
“He had come to build a town – a city. Whatever plans he may have had for orange groves and sugar cane plantings were to come later.
“Engineers were engaged- J.H. Fowler and then Romanus Hodgman, whose name still sticks to deeds and plats – to lay the lines of a dream town, later to be a dream city.
“Day laid out Ridgewood Avenue – wide, with broad parkways where great live oaks spread their mighty limbs, and palm trees shot up toward the sun. He laid out the streets that now lie near the middle of the mainland part of the city.
“He platted large lots. He had in mind a spacious city where there would be ample room for houses, trees, shrubbery and gardens in which to enjoy the sun in the winter and the breeze in the summer.
“Meanwhile, another large tract was under settlement – on the Mrs. Frances Kerr grant north of the Williams grant. Alfred Johnson of New Jersey had settled on 1,800 acres of this land in 1868. Johnson and James Sawyer had bought it from Oliver Swift, whose father Elijah had owned it and cut the live oak from it to ship north.
“Johnson’s home was on Beach Street, near where First Avenue now is. Here with him also lived his son-in-law, Dr. George E. Coleman, one of the two doctors in the settlement.”
And here’s where Marian Tomblin interjects a note. The dates Mr. Booth has referenced are immediately after the end of our country’s bloody Civil War. Many people moved to Florida willing to endure life in this wilderness in order to achieve a fresh start for their families. “Live Oaker,” Oliver Swift, probably sold his acreage to Mssrs. Johnson and Sawyer because the market for that lumber (primarily for the building of warships) bottomed out after peace was declared.
Day trip: The (new) Palmetto Club at 1000 S. Beach St. has some wonderful pictures on its wall showing the original building. Call (386) 253-6163 and ask for a convenient time to see them.
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.
Remember, you can’t put a price on a Good Time!!