The Art, History and Culture of NSB
The history of this beautiful Florida destination is as rich as the dark rum that was once produced here.
Jan 14, 2020 at 7:00 AM in Things to Do by
So what’s with the name New Smyrna Beach? If it’s Greek to you that’s because it is Greek, named after the Greek city of Smyrna, which is today the city of Izmir in Turkey. Settled by Europeans in 1768, a Scottish physician by the name of Dr. Andrew Turnbull, established the colony of New Smyrna in this oh-so lush part of the New World. Since he was married to the daughter of a merchant from Smyrna, he named the settlement after her birthplace. What a lovely tribute!
The history of this beautiful Florida destination is as rich as the dark rum that was once produced here. In addition to sugarcane (used in the making of rum), hemp and indigo were also grown here by Dr. Turnbull and other colonists. Plantation life proved to be a failed endeavor and many of the Mediterranean peoples brought in to work in the fields ended up fleeing to Saint Augustine, Florida.
New Smyrna remained sleepy until 1892 when entrepreneur Henry Flagler ushered in the railroad and opened up this glorious Florida destination to the rest of the world. The era of tourism, commercial fishing and citrus growing began, contributing greatly to the wealth of this unique community.
You can learn more about life here throughout the centuries at the New Smyrna Museum of History, a gem of a museum located in Old Ford Park. The Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum, housed in a nineteenth-century church in the historic West Side community in NSB, is also of interest.
To see architectural examples of the prosperity of this nineteenth century town and to capture the flavor of old New Smyrna (before it was renamed New Smyrna Beach in 1947 when the city annexed adjacent Coronado Beach), go to the Canal Street Downtown Historic District and also to Flagler Avenue Historic Business District. (The latter is closer to the beach.) Be sure to look up from street level to take in the full grandeur of these old buildings. Know that you’ll be shaded by beautiful old oak trees and palms that line the sidewalks–very classy.
Both areas make for great places to shop, wine and dine. And sip brews! New Smyrna Beach Brewing Company is a fun gathering place on Canal Street just minutes from the New Smyrna Museum of History and the Intracoastal Waterway. Step into Little Drug Co. at the north end of Canal Street for a whiff of yesteryear. In addition to being a full-service pharmacy, this beloved establishment, founded in 1922, also boasts a soda fountain and restaurant–just like in the olden days.
At the far end of Flagler, you’ll surely enjoy The Breakers, an iconic landmark–right on the beach–since the early 1900s. Just think of all the folks that have gobbled juicy burgers and thrown back beers while taking in the eye-popping ocean views here. You might want to make this your end goal after you’ve strolled the five full blocks of Flagler Avenue from the Intracoastal Waterway to the Atlantic.
In terms of arts, NSB has received accolades from numerous sources and publications for being one of America’s top small towns for the arts. Artists live, work and show here, three factors that give the town a hip and happening feel. Many of the galleries and shops are housed in small cottages, which ups the charms of touring from place to place considerably. One such example is the Clay Gallery that showcases pottery made on the premises as well as stained glass and paintings from other local artists. The gardens here are lovely as well.
Jane’s Art Center also serves as a gallery/garden showcase. They’re an eclectic fine art gallery and ceramics center that features art from American and European artists. They also sell superior table linens from many of the regions of France, including Alsace, Normandy, the Basque Country and other provinces. Works of art in and of themselves, these linens are durable and affordable enough to use every day. Know that Jane’s Art Center also conducts classes in ceramics.
For beautiful photographs of New Smyrna Beach and the outlying area, go to Fernandez Photography & Arts Gallery on Flagler Avenue. If you like cats, you must check out Jonah’s Cat Art Gallery, also on Flagler. And if you’re into jewelry, go to Jewelry of Joy, which is also on this great shopping street.
Quilt making and sewing qualify as art forms–perhaps in the Folk Art genre–and whether you’re new to this craft or an expert, you’ll enjoy visiting Seaside Sewing & Quilts. Here you can shop for supplies, actual quilts and/or take a class.
Arts on Douglas, a gallery affiliated with Atlantic Center for the Arts (ACA), is a must for art aficionados visiting New Smyrna Beach. Located in historic downtown in an old furniture warehouse building, here they put on eighteen shows a year within their 3,500 square feet of exhibition space. At any given time, you’ll find works in a variety of media and styles. Be sure to check out their alt_space that features contemporary artists of various genres from Florida.
Where there are arts, there are also lots of events and gallery openings. You can find out about many of them at the New Smyrna Beach Visitor Center and/or at their events page on their website.