NEW SMYRNA BEACH — Home to the Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum and the Bethel Academy preschool, Duss Street is continuing to take on an upgraded look.
The streetscaping project, approved by the City Commission back in February, “seeks to make aesthetic and infrastructure improvements along the Duss Street area between Jefferson Street and Washington Street,” according to the city.
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The latest development from earlier this month is the replacement of the aging white wooden fence around the Black Heritage Museum’s Heritage House with a new, white vinyl one.
The museum is one of the cornerstones of the Historic Westside of New Smyrna Beach. The structure that houses the museum was built in 1899 as the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. It was later moved to the site at Duss Street in 1956 as the Old St. Rita Colored Mission Church.
In 1999, a citizens committee chaired by retired educator and Black Heritage Festival founder Mary Harrell, raised funds for restoring the building.
“It’s a community improvements project — to improve the community, improve the city,” said the museum’s executive director Jimmy Harrell. “I think it’s important, and I’m grateful for it.”
Christopher Edwards, director of New Smyrna’s Community Redevelopment Agency, said the new fence around the museum’s Heritage House “adds aesthetic enhancement to the site as a historic symbol.”
“The most important part (about the project) is preserving and revitalizing integral aspects of the community,” Edwards wrote in an email to The News-Journal. “Both the Bethel Academy and Museum offer unique educational and community engagement opportunities.”
One of these opportunities is the Black Heritage Festival, which is held annually by the museum. Area schools’ students have the chance to tour the museum and enjoy the outdoors with art, music, and food. The next festival is planned for February 2022.
The Duss Street streetscaping project, Edwards said, will result in infrastructure improvements to help accommodate the activities promoted by the museum and the overall operation of the preschool.
“Overall, the Duss Street streetscape project provides beneficial public parking, pedestrian infrastructure, and enhanced lighting,” Edwards said. “This along with the new parking lot on Jefferson Street represent the beginnings of our Duss Street streetscape project.”
The new public parking lot was completed in August, offering 17 parking spots. The new space is located right across the Black Heritage Museum, and could also serve those driving to the area to visit Pettis Park, Harrell said.
With the new parking lot and fence around the museum’s Heritage House done, attention now turns to the seven additional parallel parking spaces along Duss Street, sidewalk extending from Jefferson to Washington Streets, and new street lighting, Edwards said.
In a letter addressed to Edwards on November of 2020, Harrell said new sidewalks and parking “would make for better access to the museum and provide safety for the frequent access of children and parents to (Bethel Academy).”
The City Commission will consider approving contracts for the upcoming remaining improvements during its next meeting on Oct. 26.
“If the contract is approved, staff will schedule construction to begin shortly after (weather permitting) with an estimated project completion of mid-January 2022,” Edwards added.
Together, the streetscaping project and the new fence cost approximately $80,000.
“Aesthetic enhancements help to ensure continued community reinvestment that results in added economic value within the community,” Edwards said.
The Mary S. Harrell Museum on 314 Duss St. is open Tuesday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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