Take a drive along Faulkner Street in New Smyrna Beach and, if you’re not distracted by the fantastic old-growth oaks or the eye-catching historic architecture, you’ll be greeted by a new sign welcoming you to the Riverside Garden District.
The signs were unveiled Wednesday, May 26, at a gathering to celebrate the “rebranding” of a New Smyrna Beach neighborhood that has a rich history. In attendance were dozens of local residents and city officials, including Mayor Russ Owen, City Manager Khalid Resheidat and several city commissioners.
The geographic area now known as the Riverside Garden District was once owned by Washington E. Conner, who funded the Conner Free Library in New Smyrna Beach in 1901 and the first bridge to connect New Smyrna Beach’s mainland to the beachside in 1894. Mr. Conner’s homestead was on the corner of Ronnoc Lane and Riverside Drive. A large portion of the land between Riverside Drive and Faulkner Street was used by him to cultivate gardens, grow citrus groves and establish grape arbors.
Deb Exum is a New Smyrna Beach Realtor, songwriter and owner of one of the 31 homes that make up the Riverside Garden District. Ms. Exum led the charge in establishing the historic district’s new identity as well as the signs that mark its location.
“It was very important from a historic perspective that we identify this neighborhood, give it a name, give it a brand that had historic value as well as geographic significance,” she said.
The Riverside Garden District’s mission statement says it will “serve to preserve the legacy of our historic neighborhood, expand on the natural beauty of the area, and instill a sense of pride and belonging.”
Ms. Exum spoke at the sign unveiling, thanking City Manager Resheidat for “tirelessly working with the Riverside Garden District committee” as the community worked to have the signs placed on Faulkner Street and Riverside Drive.
Mr. Resheidat acknowledged Ms. Exum and Pam Ison, another resident of the district, for pursuing the neighborhood branding idea, getting support from their neighbors and bringing it to the city commission. Ms. Exum and Ms. Ison are co-chairs for the five-member committee that is seeking to guide the historic district forward.
The nine new signs visible along the quarter mile stretch from Wayne Avenue to Ronnoc Lane along Faulkner Street and Riverside Drive were placed with assistance from the city, but funded entirely by donations from the residents of the district.
Mayor Owen said the city is excited about the establishment of a new historic district and hopes it is not the last. “When people take ownership of not only their property, but beyond to their neighborhood and then even further to their community, that can only make us a better place to live, work, play, and visit. I would love to see this being something that catches fire,” he said.
Other historic districts in New Smyrna Beach include Canal Street Historic District, which abuts the Riverside Garden District on its Ronnoc Lane border, and Coronado Historic District on the beachside.
Ms. Exum and her fellow committee members developed a list of best practices they think will help other local neighborhoods in branding themselves as a historic district. “It would not be a bad problem to have if everyone wanted to do something special and unify their neighborhoods,” she said.
For more information, call Ms. Exum at (407) 341-3737.