Port Orange is home to a wide variety of wildlife, from manatees in the river to feathered friends up above—but did our coastal digs ever serve as home to dinosaurs, too?
Not exactly—but in a way, there is still a slice of prehistoric life in Port Orange. Whether you’re a dinosaur buff or just love learning about local history, read on as we explore the unique story behind a Port Orange hidden gem—including fun ways to explore it this fall.
From sugar mill…
Drive by too quickly and you might miss it—but once upon a time, the Dunlawton Plantation and Sugar Mill was a bustling operation in the 19th century. The original plantation was destroyed during the Second Seminole War and eventually fell into ruin, but much of its original machinery can still be seen today. For example, you can spot the remnants of the mill’s original structures, made of coquina—essentially, sedimentary rock made of shell fragments—harvested from the local coast. The mill’s boiling kettles can also be seen—surrounded by rock, they have served several roles throughout history, from refining sugarcane juice, to serving as salt-making vats for Civil War soldiers, to rendering blubber from local whales to create oil that would power furnaces.
… to one of Florida’s first theme parks
Of course, this wasn’t quite the end of the sugar mill. Halfway into the 20th century, the site of the old mill took on a new identity—that of one of Florida’s first theme parks!
Even before the arrival of beloved parks like Disney World to the south, local man Dr. Perry Sperber decided to open a park called Bongoland here in 1948, named after a baboon being housed on the property. It featured homages to the Native Americans who first called the area “home,” as well as concrete-and-wire dinosaur sculptures that could be viewed by miniature train. According to the experts, dinosaurs never walked the Florida landscape because Florida was actually underwater when those gigantic creatures first roamed! However, later on, some prehistoric creatures did come to make the Sunshine State their home, such as the giant sloth, which was also recreated in the park.
Explore the “fossil record” today
Bongoland did not last very long, and closed in 1952, but the then-property owner, J. Saxton Lloyd, chose to landscape the grounds, keep the sculptures, and donate the land to the county so that it could be preserved in our history. Today, a trip to the Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens offers visitors the chance to discover local history as well as some not-so-local history in the form of oddball (but beloved) dinosaur sculptures, as well as the beautiful flora that characterizes this lush stretch of Central Florida. It’s the perfect destination for a cool fall day, one to which you’ll want to bring visiting family and friends and impress them with your knowledge of this truly unique hidden gem.
There’s always something new to discover in and around Port Orange! Fuel up with a delicious brunch at Peach Valley - Port Orange and see where the day takes you.