One of the most beautiful pieces of land in Volusia County has perhaps been inhabited since the beginning of mankind.
When the first Europeans arrived in what is now Florida, the little peninsula formed where the Tomoka River meets the Halifax was a thriving Native American village called Nocoroco. Today that land is the central portion of Tomoka State park.
As a fisherman, each time I go there I can’t help but think about what a perfect place the Timucuan Indians had to live. The peninsula is high and hard packed under spreading live oaks draped in Spanish moss.
Fish, shellfish and game of all kinds abound in that area even now. I can only imagine the bounty that was available to them back then. Deer, Turkey, and water fowl plus shrimp, oysters, clams, crab and a wide variety of fish must have been on their everyday menu.
Fresh water springs are still bubbling up in the area. As I fish there, it is not difficult to picture the idyllic life those early residents must have had.
Early settlers described the Timucuan men as fit and athletic, taking part in various games and contests in order to stay toned. The women were said to be uncommonly beautiful and graceful. The name of the Timucuan Princess Issena survives in this area until this day. Tall and lithe she carried herself with the same dignity as European royalty.
When the young French Huguenot nobleman Earnest D’Erlach first came to Nocoroco to trade, he was smitten. A courtship ensued and, in 1566, the young couple entered into the first Christian marriage on the North American Continent.
In the months to come, the Spanish soldiers came down from Jacksonville to attack the French settlement and most of the Huguenots were killed. Princess Issena would risk it all to go into the battlefield and successfully rescue her injured husband. The pair was able to escape to France to live out their lives in luxury. There is a stone marker at the northwest corner of Ormond Beach’s Granada Bridge where the marriage may have taken place.
In 1766, the British crown granted the site of the Indian village and 20,000 acres to Sir Richard Oswald, who would operate a huge plantation as an absentee owner. If 20,000 acres seems like a lot, well, the Mount Oswald plantation stretched all the way south and west to where Daytona International Speedway now sits. Crops on the plantation included rice, sugar cane, indigo, cotton and citrus.
Aside from being displaced, the Timucuans had no immunity to the diseases carried here by the Europeans and, in short order, were mostly gone. A once proud and successful people decimated.
To visit Tomoka State Park, drive four miles north of Granada Boulevard (State Road 40) on Beach Street and then turn east into the park. While there, think about what an uncomplicated and easy life the Timucuans must have had in such a perfect setting.
These days I spend a lot of time kayaking around Nocoroco. If you know what to look for, there are still signs of those early people. While there, I can’t help but be envious of the simple way of living off the land those original residents must have enjoyed.
Dan Smith is on the board of directors for the Ormond Beach Historical Society and The Motor Racing Heritage Association and is the author of two books, “The World’s Greatest Beach” and “I Swear the Snook Drowned.” Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (386) 441-7793.