As a young girl growing up in New Smyrna, my family was dedicated to making sure we all knew about our local history. I know having access to our local legends every day shaped my life to want to continue their legacy by contributing all of my time to unique spaces like the Mary S. Harrell Museum. This gem is my favorite place in New Smyrna Beach.
The Mary S. Harrell Museum of NSB is Full of Local History
The Mary S. Harrell Museum is conveniently located in the heart of New Smyrna’s Historic Westside community. The museum is one of a few of its kind in the state of Florida. It houses a collection of photographs, memorabilia and artifacts that are displayed to educate citizens and students about the history and race relations in small town Florida over the course of the 20th century.
The museum is housed in a 19th century restored Old Sacred Heart St. Rits building built in 1899. The structure was once a place of worship for a congregation of Black Roman Catholics. The mission is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. One of my favorite spaces in the museum is the library. So many books, magazines and documents of our past, perfectly displayed for anyone to view inside the museum.
I also enjoy the permanent exhibit, the Heritage House also known as the “shotgun” house, located across the street from the museum with period furniture and accessories. Another favorite discovery for me is to see and read about my family’s accomplishments over the past four generations.
Mary S. Harrell and her Role in New Smyrna Beach
In honor of its founder, the museum was renamed the Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum. Mary S. Harrell graduated from Bethune Cookman College and completed her postgraduate studies at Stetson University and Florida A & M University. She was a faithful member of Allen Chapel AME. She retired from Volusia County Schools in 1995 after 32 years of service. She also served as a staff writer for the Daytona Beach News-Journal from 1992 to 1999. Mrs. Harrell was recognized on numerous occasions for her exemplary service to her community. She passed away August 11, 2014. The community was deeply impacted by her leaving us to join her Heavenly Father. Mr. Jimmy Harrell, her husband for 57 years, perfectly held her wake inside the Black Heritage Museum. This experience changed my life forever. Mr. Harrell is now the executive director of the museum and recently was honored by the city of NSB as our Citizen of the Year.
The Black Heritage Festival of New Smyrna Beach
Every year we host our Black Heritage Festival the first weekend in February. We host over 2,000 people and our festival opens with Education Day – a celebration of art, history and culture for students at Chisholm Elementary, surrounding daycares and visitors. We want to expand the festival, but like a lot of small non-profits we need new members to help grow our volunteer base so our festival can handle more people learning from our outstanding history. During Education Day we have interactive displays from Canaveral National Seashore, student art exhibitions, folk music, cooking demonstrations, hymns, African drums, tours of the museum and Heritage House, storytelling and arts and crafts with The Artist Workshop and Atlantic Center for the Arts.
If you’re interested in joining, please visit our website, BlackHeritage.org, become a member and most importantly of all, visit the Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum, located at 314 Mary Avenue, New Smyrna Beach, 32168. You can even call to arrange a tour – (386) 478-1934. Tell them Shy sent ya!
The museum is open to the public on Wednesday through Saturday, from 1 PM to 4 PM.
Admission is free, yet donations are appreciated.