A Brief History of Ormond Beach

Ormond Beach’s rich and diverse history reaches back several centuries. The area was populated by Native Americans and developed by sugar cane planters, ship builders, hoteliers and railroad magnates. It was the vacation home of millionaires and automobile manufacturers in the early 20th century. Known as the “Birthplace of Speed,” Ormond Beach is the site of the first timed automobile race on its hard-packed sandy beach in 1903.

Native American Indians in Florida

Centuries before the Spanish and British set foot on the Halifax peninsula, Native Americans occupied and established a thriving community there. The Timucua (teh-moo-kwa) Indians and several other tribes occupied Florida when the Spanish arrived in the 1500s. Many different dialects were spoken by these natives from southern Georgia and northeastern Florida, including what is now Ormond Beach.

Spanish and British Occupation of Florida

Three Chimneys Sugar Mill Ruins after a stabilization project undertaken in late 2007  to halt moisture intrusion into the bricks. The 18th century section of the ruins is in the  foreground.  The tall chimney is a 1914 addition by Billy Fagen.
Three Chimneys Sugar Mill Ruins after a stabilization project undertaken in late 2007
to halt moisture intrusion into the bricks. The 18th century section of the ruins is in the
foreground. The tall chimney is a 1914 addition by Billy Fagen.

Juan Ponce De Leon and his Spanish Explorers discovered “La Florida” in 1513, but Spain gave Florida to the British in exchange for Cuba at the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. The British encouraged settlement in Florida by offering land grants to interested subjects. One of these was a wealthy Scots merchant, Richard Oswald. His 20,000-acre grant along the Halifax and Tomoka Rivers became a large part of present day Ormond Beach. Parts of his land were developed into several successful plantations. His first plantation, called Mount Oswald, was in present-day Tomoka State Park. Oswald’s most successful sugar plantation, sugar mill and distillery is known today as the Three Chimneys Sugar Mill ruins, 615 West Granada Boulevard, just west of the Moose Club. The Three Chimneys is the oldest sugar mill and rum distillery in the United States.

After the American Revolution, England returned Florida to Spanish control. However, lack of Spanish oversight led to more Indian attacks on the isolated settlements of East-Central Florida.  After the First Seminole War, the U.S. took effective control of eastern Florida.  It became an organized territory in 1822 and a state in 1845. By the early 1830s, tensions with the Indians flared; the Second Seminole War lasted from 1835 to1842.  Many of the plantations and mills in the Ormond area were destroyed.  As a result of this destruction, Ormond’s development languished somewhat until after the American Civil War and the coming of railroads in the 1880s.

Early Tourism and Development

“Bosarve”, Bostrom’s boarding house in 1925, now demolished.
“Bosarve”, Bostrom’s boarding house in 1925, now demolished.

John Andrew Bostrom is considered Ormond’s first settler, having homesteaded land with his brother Charles on the east side of the Halifax River in the late 1860s.  By 1869, Bostrom observed a steady stream of visitors. To remedy the lack of tourist accommodations in the area, the Bostrom brothers and their two sisters expanded their home to make it into a boarding house.  By the1880s, their hospitality had become well-known.  Their venture into tourism had become a success.

The community continued to develop.  In the 1870s, a group of men from the Corbin Lock Company in New Britain, Conn., purchased land on the west side of the Halifax River to be used for employee retirement and vacation homes.  They named the village New Britain.  Soon a wave of settlers arrived from the Midwest.  In 1880, when the town was incorporated, the name was changed to Ormond in honor of James Ormond II, whose 18th century plantation was located north of town.  “Beach” was added to the name in 1950.

Beginning of Boom Times

Hotel Ormond, 1888
Hotel Ormond, 1888

With the building of the rail line to Ormond in 1886 and the first bridge over the Halifax River in 1887, tourism and residential activities began to flourish.  John Anderson and Joseph Price, builders of that first bridge, fulfilled their dream to build a hotel on the beachside.  In 1888, the Hotel Ormond opened with 75 rooms.  In 1890, railroad magnate Henry Flagler bought the hotel, expanded it, and in 1904 added a railroad bridge across the river to bring guests to the hotel.  Anderson and Price continued to manage the hotel during the Flagler era until their deaths in 1911.  John D. Rockefeller spent several winters in the hotel until he purchased the Casements across the street in 1918.  Rockefeller spent his winters at the Casements until his death in 1937 at age 97.  The hotel was demolished in 1992.

Race cars outside the Ormond Garage in 1904
Race cars outside the Ormond Garage in 1904

Beach racing in Ormond was an idea of J.F. Hathaway, a guest of the Hotel Ormond. Hathaway noted the heavily packed sand was perfect for driving his auto.  In 1902, he observed a bicycle race on the beach and became eager to stage an automobile race there also.  He shared his idea with Price, Anderson, and W.J. Morgan, a sponsor of bicycle races and a New York sports writer.  The first race was held on Ormond’s beach in 1903.  In 1904, Flagler built the Ormond Garage just east of the hotel to house the cars brought to participate in the annual races.  Some of the early racers and enthusiasts were Ransom E. Olds, Alexander Winton, William K. Vanderbilt II, Barney Oldfield, Henry Ford, Louis Chevrolet, Glenn Curtiss, and Sir Malcolm Campbell. Unfortunately, the Ormond Garage burned down in 1976.

It did not take long for the phenomenon of beach racing to change the face of the area.  For the next half century, the titles of Birth Place of Speed and World’s most Famous Beach were synonymous with the names Ormond and Daytona.  Race drivers set many records on our beaches.  The race course changed from a straight course to a circular course utilizing the beach and the paved road of A1A.  The cars also changed.  Stock cars from major manufacturers became the racing automobile of choice.  After the construction of Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach in 1959, beach racing ended. However, auto racing continues to draw many thousands of fans to Volusia County throughout the year.