Do you ever wonder why Daytona Speedway is surrounded by water? Of course you do. It is the most recognizable building in Florida, and it has always been surrounded by water. However, did you know that it is actually located underneath the azure waves? Learn more about the fascinating history of Daytona and its connection to the ocean below.
The Early Years
Before there was a Daytona Speedway, there was just a simple crossroad where three county roads met. It was originally called the Daytona Plank Road, and it was originally 23.9 miles long. The first piece of land along this road was sold for $1 to John Church in 1845. This marked the beginning of the “winter sport” that would become so popular in Daytona Beach. Church used his land to build a sawmill and gristmill, which he operated under the company name “Church & Sons.” The Church family would own and operate the sawmill until it was purchased by Arthur Ashe in 1952. It was during this time that Arthur Ashe added extra tracks to the existing track in order to make it more suitable for cars. After purchasing the property, he renamed it “Asheville” and started an automobile racing school, which later became part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Tide Turns
In 1896, the railroad built a line through the area, and in 1900, the Jacksonville Street Railway Company was formed. This was the first time that cars were able to travel from New York to San Francisco without having to stop off in some other city. Traffic on these tracks increased significantly, and in 1906, the first race was held at the then-named “New York Road Speedway.” In 1911, the current name “Daytona Beach” was given to the community surrounding the railroad tracks due to a mix-up with the Florida Board of Health. This same year, the Daytona Beach Hotel was built, and it would later become one of the most prestigious hotels in the area. One of the major attractions at the time was the Black Rock Speedway, named after a large, prominent rock that was found near the site. This rock was said to have fallen from the sky during the Pleistocene epoch, and it became an instant attraction for automobile enthusiasts. It was also during this time of increased popularity that the automobile racing school was started by Arthur Ashe.
The Roaring 20s
The Roaring 20s were a prolific time for Daytona Beach, and it was one of the most prominent destinations in the area during this time. The years preceding and following World War I were a boom time for Daytona Beach. The population grew by more than 50%, and many luxurious hotels and exclusive nightclubs were opened. It wasn’t just cars though that were raced during this time. In the Ocean Race, teams of yacht owners and privateers raced each other across the Atlantic Ocean. The Ocean Race began in 1921, and it was originally called the Transatlantic Race. In 1924, it was renamed the America’s Cup, which was later taken over by the organizer of the Grand Prix, Alfredo de Palma. The America’s Cup was first held that year in Newport, Rhode Island. Over the next decade, the America’s Cup became the most prestigious trophy in yacht racing. In fact, many of the biggest yachts in the world were built during this time, such as the Valhalla, which was the largest privately owned yacht in the world at the time and still holds the record for the largest yacht to ever dock in Manhattan.
The Great Depression
The Great Depression was very hard on everybody, and it didn’t discriminate against yachtsmen. The demand for cars plummeted, and many car races were canceled. However, that didn’t stop people from enjoying the water. The beaches were one of the few places that people could go to escape the economic hardship. As a result, many piers were built along the beaches during this time, as seen in this photo. It wasn’t just cars that people wanted to own during this time either. Many people bought boats in an attempt to escape the economic troubles. The first boat dealership in Daytona Beach was opened by J. Walter Christie in 1932.
World War II And Beyond
During World War II, many Americans had to work together in order to survive. The car industry revived, and many new car models were produced. As a result, the demand for cars increased, and many new roads and airports were built during this time. However, when the war was over, people didn’t go back to their old ways. The demand for cars decreased, and many highways and airport runways were removed. In the years that followed, many of the towns that were built along the railroad tracks began to decline. The Black Rock Speedway was abandoned in 1963, and most of the tracks were removed in the 1970s. However, as the tracks deteriorated, the need for speedway-related amenities increased. In the 1980s, a group of residents and businessmen formed the Daytona Track Commission in order to save the tracks and build an apartment complex and a retail park. Sadly, construction never really took off, and the plans were eventually scrapped. The grandstands at the beach were also demolished in 1985, and the only structure that remained is the historic grandstand that still stands today.
This was a brief history of the early years of Daytona Beach. It was during this time that many of the prominent hotels and nightclubs were built, as well as the grandstands at the beach. However, the most interesting part of this history is how the ocean helped shape this beautiful town. It wasn’t just waves that were breaking on the shoreline. It was the water that helped make this town what it is today. Nowadays, Daytona is not just about cars, and it has a whole other side to it.