Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum
The Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum, formerly known as the St. Rita building or the Sacred Heart building, is located at 314 North Duss Street in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. The building was one of the first Catholic churches in the area opened to African Americans. The building is now how to artifacts and assortments of things that were critical to the early African American community. The museum is home to the annual Black Heritage Festival, as well as the Sweet Corn Festival. The museum is also home to various memorabilia from Chisholm High School, which was the first black school in Volusia County.
Backstory and Context
The Mary S. Harrell Black History Museum is set up differently than most museums. As the building was previously a church, it is a rather small establishment; however, it has a lot of history in it. Some of the exhibits found in the museum include a quilt from the Underground Railroad, an exhibit dedicated to local Black cemeteries, and replicas of inventions made by black individuals. Across the street to the museum is a Heritage House, which is a model of what African Americans would live in back in the 1920s. The house contains 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" (Norris-Bell).
The Mary S. Harrell Museum is also home to an annual festival, The Black Heritage Festival, which has now reached its 24th year. This festival is hosted in the museum and is held to give citizens a chance to connect with and celebrate their history. During the 2014 Black Heritage Festival, there were various activities, such as: "Dutch oven cooking, line dancing, tours at the museum, sugar cane grinding and fish smoking demonstrations" (Thomas).
The museum itself relies on donations, volunteers, and grants for their restoration projects, which is why this non-profit museum has also started another festival: the Sweet Corn Festival. This festival included roasted sweet corn, barbeque, horse shoes, and live music. This crowd drawing festival helped secure a grant to restore the brick walk way back to its original 1900s state. In addition to this grant, over the years, the museum has received many other awards, including: the Historic Preservation Award in 2006, and the Florida Historic Marker from the Florida Department of State in 2007.