March is Greek-American Heritage Month, and the Greek-American community celebrates New Smyrna Beach as the first place that Greek people settled in the New World. The Odyssey Memorial in Riverside Park stands to commemorate the arrival of the people of the Turnbull Settlement in 1768. Though it stands proudly today, the memorial's journey into existence was an odyssey in itself.
By the early 1960s, the American Hellenic Education Progressive Association (AHEPA) began discussing plans to memorialize what they considered "The Plymouth Rock" for Greek Americans. They spoke of suitable celebrations and possibly a monument to be located in New Smyrna Beach.
In 1968, at the bicentennial celebration for the settlers, the first formal marker to commemorate the Greeks who came with the settlement was dedicated at the entrance to Old Fort Park just across from City Hall. Over 800 people attended and Washington, D.C. took notice via a resolution sponsored in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Approximately 25 years later, members of the local Chapter of AHEPA first approached the City of New Smyrna Beach with plans for a new monument. They presented an artist's drawing and spoke of AHEPA's plan to raise the estimated $100,000 to build it.
Their plan proposed to place the monument in Old Fort Park at the former site of the city's water tower. In early 1995, the City Commission issued a proclamation supporting the concept of the memorial and fundraising efforts of AHEPA.
But as fundraising commenced, local opposition grew to the monument being placed in Old Fort Park. By the time the monument's approval came up for a vote in 1999, the opposing voices had risen to a crescendo. The plan was now opposed by the city's own Historic Preservation Commission and its Parks & Recreation Department. Local historical organizations joined in the protests that had now become front page news. The size and composition of the monument, as well as the destructive nature of its construction in an archaeologically sensitive area, were the main objections.
The pandemonium was diffused when the organizing committee for the monument agreed to consider eight alternative sites along with its current location in Riverside Park. The City Commission approved the memorial's placement there with support of AHEPA and local historical organizations. Created with hydraulic fill pumped from the riverbed, Riverside Park is not considered a historically sensitive site.
However, the political turmoil over building the monument didn't end there. In the coming months, the designers had to scale back its overall projected size. They were also required to work with the City Commission to renegotiate landscaping and drainage requirements imposed by city officials.
On Sunday, April 9, 2000, ground was broken for the construction of the Odyssey Memorial. The finalized monument is 12 ft. by 12 ft., standing 24 ft. high, and includes the inscribed names of the settlers.
Father Nick Manousakis presided over the groundbreaking ceremony. Manousakis described the monument to those people who came to the settlement as an "unshakable rock. If the river flows over and the winds blow it, it will neither fall nor be distressed. May this stand forever."
Would you like to know more? The City of New Smyrna Beach has collaborated with the New Smyrna Museum of History and Florida Humanities on its Florida Stories app, a robust collection of 36 digital walking tours of Florida towns available for download via the App Store, Google Play, and web application.