Hurricane Dora slammed into American Beach, Florida’s first African American beach, but it was preserved. For more Florida history, check out the Florida Time newsletter that features Sunshine State everything. Sign up by texting FLORIDATIME to 33777.

We've all done it. Gone more than a month, or three or six, without hitting the beach. We've all taken our Florida beaches for granted. And no doubt, many of us may have missed the rich history of Florida's coastlines.

Did you know American Beach, 40 miles north of downtown Jacksonville on the Atlantic Coast, was Florida's first African American beach? It was founded by Abraham Lincoln Lewis, an insurance company owner who is also said to be one of the state’s first black millionaires.

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Built in the 1930s, it was a paradise for black Americans. Sure, they didn’t have much of a choice. If they ever wanted to play some volleyball on the sand, American Beach was indeed their only option. But it was a lively haven for them during the Jim Crow era — a safe place for them to enjoy the normal things in life without the worry of being abused, mistreated or straight-up kicked out.

Related: It’s a tradition as old as American Beach

Separate from ordinary, working black men, women, children and families, distinguished names like Zora Neale Hurston, Cab Calloway and Joe Louis all spent time on the beach. It was advertised back then as the go-to destination for “relaxation and recreation without humiliation,” Smithsonian magazine reports.

Along the beach and nearby in Jacksonville were thriving black businesses like stores, restaurants, banks, nightclubs, newspapers and hotels. Sadly, what made these businesses a treasure, like American Beach, was invisible to whites. Most of the businesses were only booming during segregation, and when it ended, many of them voluntarily closed up shop and moved elsewhere or shut down due to lack of business.

Since then, American Beach and all its land is a concern for many history buffs, current residents and old locals. One of those people was MaVynee Betsch; Abraham Lincoln Lewis’s granddaughter is locally known as “The Beach Lady.”

Related: The one and only American Beach

The community is considered by the National Park Service to be “in transition.” It’s not as lively as it once was nor does it get the attention from tourists it deserves, but American Beach is on the come-up.

In 2002, Betsch didn't know how it would happen, or when, but she wanted to open a museum to honor American Beach and of her grandfather's generation, one that she says, “stuck together and created a world without outside help.” She had collected documents like land deeds from the 19th century, license plate holders that advertise “Negro Ocean Playground” and much more. She told as many people as she could about her collections and even stored some of them in public places in hopes locals would contribute to the collections as well.

Three years later, in 2005, Betsch passed away at age 70. Her museum would be built almost a decade later in 2014. From humble beginnings, the museum has grown into one of the state’s significant African American museums.

Related: American Beach Museum to celebrate fifth anniversary

Don’t hesitate to visit the off-the-beaten-path American Beach for both a history lesson and a sunrise.

Other historic black beaches in Florida:

– Virginia Key: First ‘colored only’ beach in Miami during Jim Crow era, celebrates 70 years

– Fernandina Beach: A black beach town fights to preserve its history

– Butler Beach: Historic Butler Beach offers a glimpse at African-American history and American race relations

– Lido Beach: Historic marker at Lido Beach a reminder of segregation

– Delray Municipal Beach: Beach quietly integrated in Delray

More on American Beach:

– The history of American Beach by the Ecological & Historic Preserve of Florida

– The American Beach Museum

Do you have any memories of American Beach? Or maybe at another historic Florida beach? Share your Florida story with us. You can send us an email or give us a call at (850) 270-8418.

NOTE: This story is an excerpt from Florida Time newsletter Issue 21.