This Florida city's split personality makes it twice as nice.

By Carlos Harrison
October 20, 2003
Lee Hickman

If you want glitz, go someplace else," says Judy Burrows. Shemoved from Williamsburg, Virginia, to New Smyrna Beach five yearsago, after her husband discovered the more than 40 golf courseswithin 20 minutes of this Florida city. She says, "He figured he'dfound paradise."

So did Dena Clancy, who arrived in 1928 as a teenager. "We'd goskinny-dipping or ride the turtles down to the ocean, which is ano-no today," she says. Loggerhead turtles still crawl up on thebeach to lay eggs, but now volunteers protect their nests. And, at91, Dena remains here, too, as slender and enduring as the dunegrass. "This is like living in heaven," she says.

Straddling the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, New Smyrna Beachis really two towns in one. It's part island and part inland,oceanfront and riverfront, complete with two downtowns. Luxurycondos tower over "Beachside." But "Mainland" is a historic smallSouthern town. Gnarled oaks draped with Spanish moss line the quietstreets. Folks relax on the wide verandas of 100-year-old clapboardfoursquare homes and admire sailboats anchored on the estuary.

Best of all, locals say, you drive to New Smyrna, not throughit. Interstate 95 between Daytona Beach to the north and CapeCanaveral to the south goes around the town. Civilization stopsabruptly at both ends of Beachside. "The beach is finite," saysJudy. "You've got the [Canaveral] National Seashore on one side andPonce Inlet on the other."

That's what led Bill Roe to leave Ohio for these warm shores in1980. He keeps a sign by his front door: "If you're lucky enough tobe at the beach, you're lucky enough."

Bill found what Gene Sheldon already knew. As a teen in the'50s, Gene rode plywood boards in the surf and drove on the packedsand in homemade "skeeters"―cars stripped to their frames,with wood floors and seats. "The original dune buggy," he says.Today, people still drive on the beach, and surfers crowd the inletwhen the waves are up. Real estate agent and surfboard builder"Inlet Charley" Baldwin heads for those waves whenever he can."When it's flat every place else," he says, "it's usually rideablehere."

Though young families and teens make up much of the beach crowd,New Smyrna remains proudly connected to its past. Aqua lettering onthe Little Drug Company building reminds everyone that it oncehoused Victoria Theater, where Gene watched Hopalong Cassidy moviesfor 9 cents. It now holds a soda fountain that seems straight outof "Happy Days."

That's fitting for a town that still offers simpler, sweetertimes.

(published 2003)