Looking for your great aunt’s engagement announcement?
Or highlights from the 'Cuda’s 1964 homecoming game? Or clues about where to find sunken ships off Bethune Beach?
The New Smyrna Beach Museum of History might have what you need thanks to the generous gift of a local business man.
Tom Alcorn, the former publisher of the New Smyrna Beach Observer, has officially released the archives of the newspaper to the museum as well as giving the museum the copyright to the papers’ content. The New Smyrna Beach Observer was published until 2014. The archives include papers dating back more than 70 years as well as copies of the New Smyrna Beach News, which predated the Observer, dating back to 1925.
During a ceremony at the museum Thursday, July 15, Museum Director Greg Holbrook officially thanked Mr. Alcorn and presented to him and his wife a lifetime membership to the museum.
“Now these papers will belong to the community for all time, which is a great thing,” said Mr. Holbrook during the ceremony.
The archives had been stored at the museum under a bailment agreement for several years, which granted access without ownership. Now the newspapers have become part of the museum’s assessed collection, paving the way for them to become more widely accessible.
“Now that we actually own this collection, we can move forward as an organization to start researching different grants that are available to preserve and digitize and make sure that this collection, even though it is in paper form now, will be around in the future,” Mr. Holbrook explained. “We are very interested in hopefully someday having this available to the community where someone can type in the name of their relative who lived in Southeast Volusia County 75 or 80 years ago and see where they showed up in the newspaper.”
The museum is exploring options, including partnering with a university that could aid with the digitization and preservation of the papers, as well as obtaining a grant that would allow the museum to work with a private organization.
The museum currently makes the archives available to the community by appointment, but it is careful with the way the papers are handled. “These are the only copies we have, so we’re cautious,” Mr. Holbrook said. “But we are commonly contacted by people who are trying to research various topics that were going on in the community.”
He cites a recent example in which the papers were used to research the Oak Hill Possums, a baseball team that once played in Volusia County. “It’s a needle in a haystack search right now with it not being digitally researchable the way that we’re used to,” he said.
Information on local shipwrecks is another topic that could be researched via the archives.
The museum also has been sharing information from the archives on its Facebook feed. Recent posts from a 1970s edition showed pictures of families enjoying the beach during Independence Day weekend. “You post that to our Facebook page and all of the sudden you have members of the community who are real-time connecting, not only with their community’s history, but with their history,” Mr. Holbrook said.
Those who take some time to peruse the papers might be surprised to find the level of detail they provide about local life in New Smyrna Beach in days past.
“If there is anything that’s true about newspapers of the past, they documented everything that was going on,” Mr. Holbrook said. “I think people feel like sometimes we have a lack of privacy today. However, in the newspapers of the past, every time you invited somebody over to your house for dinner, it was in the social pages. When your daughter got engaged, it was in the paper. You got arrested, everybody knew. Everybody knew everybody’s business because it was in the New Smyrna Beach Observer.”
The New Smyrna Beach Museum of History at 120 Sams Ave. provides visitors with the opportunity to explore exhibits that include photos and artifacts spanning the community’s 250 year history. Its recently opened NSB surfing exhibit highlights the dozens of world class surfers who have hailed from the community and includes photographs, artifacts and memorabilia.
The museum is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Members received free admission as well as other benefits. For more information, visit nsbhistory.org.