House on S Atlantic Avenue

Wilbur-by-the-Sea, Florida | C.1969

Photo Credit: Allie Marsh

Just south of Daytona Beach on Florida’s east coast, the unincorporated community of Wilbur-by-the-Sea offers a more intimate kind of coastal living. The community is one of two in its county that doesn’t have condos or a hotel. Instead, the streets are lined with beachfront homes — just like the pleasantly pastel-colored House on S Atlantic Avenue.

Wilbur-by-the-Sea was created in 1913 by Boston real estate dealer J.W. Wilbur. In search of a winter home, Wilbur traveled all over Floridia to find land. He selected a narrow 800 foot long tract – the Halifax River to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. This is where he decided to expand his vision and create a community.

Within two months, shell roads were laid out, cottages built, a water plant installed, and a steam boat wharf built on the river. Parks, tennis courts, and bungalows filled the once wilderness-laden land. Visitors marveled at how quickly the community came together and land tracts became high in demand. Wilbur wound up buying more land, and Wilbur-by-the-Sea was officially born.

While there isn’t a hotel today, there was one built in 1913. The Toronita Hotel, located on the corner of Ocean Boulevard (now S Atlantic Avenue), boasted 50 bedrooms and quickly became the social hub of the community. America’s elite stayed at the Hotel and Mr. Wilbur hosted many boating parties.

Although the community enjoyed a meteoric rise, its catastrophic fall was just around the corner. In 1917, Wilbur died and the community hit hard times. In 1938, the Hotel burned down and years of hardship followed. By the 1980s, restoration efforts began on landmarks like the Wilbur boathouse, and today the area remains a thriving, close-knit community by the sea.

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