The Pelican. Photo courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections.

Rollins on the Beach

Students enjoy the beach in New Smyrna. Photo courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections.

Today’s Rollins students would be somewhat shocked—and no doubt just a little jealous—to learn that back in the ’30s, Rollins actually had a beachside classroom. Donated to the College in 1931, the Pelican Beach House, located on the seashore in New Smyrna Beach, was used for Rollins Conference Plan classes under the presidency of Hamilton Holt, whose unconventional and innovative educational methods catapulted Rollins to national prominence.

A two-story, wood-frame building with high beam ceilings, long tables, and huge windows providing a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean, the Pelican was constructed in the 1920s as a conference and recreation center by the Presbyterian Church USA. It was later sold to Dr. Fred Lewis Pattee and his wife, who turned the building into a casino on the beach. The Pattees’ gaming business went bankrupt in 1927 and they gave the property to Rollins in 1931, making the Pelican the College’s first and only beach facility.

In 1942, President Holt turned the house into a temporary Atlantic shelter station for the United States Coast Guard, which leased the property on a dollar-a-week basis. Following World War II, the College regained use of the Pelican and designated it strictly for recreational purposes: students, faculty, and alumni could go there to spend the weekend for the nominal fee of a dollar, although they had to bring their own supplies, including bed linens and pillows.

For years, the Pelican remained a popular relaxation haven for members of the Rollins community. Chaperoned by a housemother, visiting female students stayed on the second floor while male students occupied the first floor. In 1968, the housemother “retired” from the Pelican and the College was unable to find anyone willing to move in and take over responsibility for the building. For the next two years, the structure stood vacant, decaying to a state of disrepair.

In 1970, Rollins’ board of trustees voted to sell the building for $75,000. Though President Jack B. Critchfield ’78H voiced his objections, the deal was quickly sealed once the sale price was raised to $150,000. The Pelican was eventually torn down and a large condominium tower now stands in its place.

Return to Their Roots

After decades of frolicking in Cocoa Beach on Fox Day, Rollins students returned to the old Rollins stomping grounds of New Smyrna Beach this year for their eagerly anticipated, spontaneous spring holiday. After the Fox made his surprise appearance on the Mills Lawn on April 6, hundreds of students boarded buses to NSB, where they sunned, swam, and socialized until returning to the campus in the late afternoon for the traditional Fox Day Picnic.

Rollins Archives and Special Collections contributed to this story and provided the historical photos of the Pelican Beach House.