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County erects beach panel telling story of 1896 shipwreck

Posted On: July 21, 2021

County erects beach panel telling story of 1896 shipwreck

It was a maritime tragedy on the high seas that ended in December 1896 with three deaths and the grounding of a massive, 167-foot schooner on a sandbar just off the coast of Ormond Beach.

Two members of the crew perished after the enormous ship nearly capsized and drifted at sea for several days, rocked by treacherous waves and winds. Accounts of the event document the bravery of local residents who rushed to the beach to help rescue the remaining crew from the disabled vessel. One of the responders lost his life during the rescue efforts.

The wreck of the Nathan F. Cobb in the turbulent, stormy waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the resulting loss of life was a major calamity. But it’s also a part of local history, now chronicled in a striking interpretive panel that the county erected this week at the Cardinal Avenue beach approach – not far from the site where the ship ran aground.

With its cargo of crossties and lumber, the triple-mast schooner sailed out into the Atlantic on Dec. 1, 1896 from the port of Brunswick, Ga., headed north to New York. An Atlantic gale battered the ship and the high surf and winds pushed it south towards Florida. On Dec. 5, 1896, the craft ran aground off of Ormond Beach, going on to become a local, legendary tale of tragedy and heroism.

The Volusia County Coastal Division helped bring the story of the Cobb to life with an outdoor interpretive panel produced by Tom Baskett, Volusia County’s public historian, based in the Parks, Recreation and Culture Division. Measuring 42” x 24”, the display combines photos and text exploring the Nathan F. Cobb’s wreck and the ship’s background. The panel is made out of custom, high-pressure laminate with a beveled edge and matte finish. The vibrant graphic displays are fade resistant. On view by a beach approach that averages more than 10,000 vehicle entries annually, the display includes an 1890 photo of the Cobb’s launch in Maine, plus a remarkable image of the grounded ship at Ormond Beach and a historical shot of a house on Orchard Lane built out of wood salvaged from the wreck. The cottage still stands today.

Remnants of the shipwrecked craft remain buried below the sandy ocean bottom close to the shoreline, and a sign on the beach along the surf just north of Cardinal Avenue warns swimmers to keep their distance for safety reasons. In fact, the sand-covered hull has made an occasional appearance at very low tides.

“From her hopeful launching in Maine to her tragic end here, the Cobb furnished a maritime drama,” states the panel’s text.

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