Looking Back …Port Orange's history is rich and unique. Starting with the prehistoric peoples of the land, namely the Timucuan and Seminole Indians, and with Dr. Andrew Turnbull's New Smyrna Colony in 1768 during Florida's plantation period, this area was full of explorers and efforts to tame this wild, unforgiving environment.
Beside the New Smyrna Colony, another attempt to transform this area into a viable cash crop producing land came when Patrick Dean was granted 995 acres in 1804 from the Spanish Crown which later was named the Dunlawton Plantation. The Dunlawton Sugar Mill on Old Sugar Mill Road still stands having withstood these many years and being destroyed twice by Seminole Indians during the Second Seminole Indian War of 1836.
Post Civil War EraThe second major era for Port Orange occurred after the Civil War. Dr. John Milton Hawks, an abolitionist and United States Army Surgeon, along with other Union Army officers formed the Florida Land and Lumber Company and brought 500 freed slaves to public lands along the Halifax River, north of Spruce Creek in 1866. Dr. Hawks moved the settlement he was credited with naming Orange Port in February 1867 from the Mosquito Inlet (Ponce Inlet) to where the community lies today.
By April 1867, not only did the settlement's name change to Port Orange because another town in the United States already had the former name, but the fortunes of the settlement had changed as well. Only nine families remained by 1869 and the hopes and dreams of those freed slaves for a new life went with the economic decline of the settlement due to poor planning and unproductive harvests.
What did remain was the settlement's African-American roots. Unofficially known as Freemanville and now located around the intersection of Orange Avenue and Charles Street, all that remains of this small freed slave community today is the Mount Moriah Baptist Church (built in 1911) on Orange Ave. which still provides a place of worship to the descendants of those original settlers.
In partnership with the Port Orange Historical Trust and funded partly by a Florida Department of State, Bureau of Historic Preservation grant, the City recently published a historic review of Port Orange's past from 1804 to 1954. Researched and authored by local historians Harold and Priscilla Cardwell, this book goes back to the days when Patrick Dean's plantation settled the area in the middle of the Mosquito territory to the prosperity of the post World War II Port Orange.
There is a wealth of information to be found within these covers. Full of photographs and recorded events, this is the first book that completely documents the history of a community that once, for a short period of time, was known as "Orange Port."
For those who call Port Orange home and know it as a city of the twenty-first century, there is something to cherish about this assemblage of pages. It even has a collection of Port Orange stories that gives us a glimpse of the good old days.
Encompassing 29 square miles and having over 56,067 people, Port Orange of today with its gated communities and expanding commercial development, overshadows a town that was known for its citrus, lumber, boat building, oystering, ranching, and farming. Gently blended and concealed among the areas of a twenty-first century city are historic remnants of a different time.
You can purchase a copy of the book from the Port Orange Historical Trust. Find the trust on Facebook or email the trust at [email protected].