Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum and Heritage House (formerly St. Rita’s Black History Museum)
New Smyrna Beach, FL (Free)
February 28, 2014
Our second Florida destination was a small green and white church building in the tiny town of New Smyrna Beach, about fifteen miles from Daytona Beach. I had called ahead and played phone tag with Jimmy Harrell, the executive Director of the museum and widower of Mary Harrell, to ensure that the museum would be open when we arrived.Mr.Harrell was not there on this day; instead, we were greeted enthusiastically by Angie, who is on the museum’s board, and Sherrie, both retired ladies who live in the area.
First, we browsed the small one-room building, formerly one of the first Catholic Churches in the area open to African-Americans. It is now filled with an assortment of artifacts from pieces of African art to replicas of African-American inventions, to local items from African-American schools and the local railroad, which was critical to the early African-American community.
Once we’d perused the artifacts inside of the museum, we told Sherrie and Angie about this project. They immediately recommended several other nearby museums that are missing from the Wikipedia list. They also gave us a copy of the Florida Black Heritage Trail magazine; we didn’t have the heart to tell them that we were heading home the following day. Before we left the museum, they insisted that we tour the Heritage House across the street, a model of a 1920s shotgun house which had been typically inhabited by African-Americans in the community. A variety of relics are on display in theHeritage House including a full kitchen with an old-fashioned icebox, jars of preserved fruits, pots and pans; the bedroom of the Heritage House even has set up an antique typewriter.
We were so grateful for their help and expertise, but we had to hurriedly bid Sherrie and Angie goodbye hoping to make the fifty-five mile trek to our final Florida museum destination back in Orlando.
Check back Monday, February 23rd for the first blog post in the Florida series.