History of Brevard County, Florida

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The History of Brevard County can be traced to the prehistory of native cultures living in the area from pre-Columbian times to the present age. Brevard County is a county in the U.S. state of Florida, along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The geographic boundaries of the county have changed significantly since its founding. The county is named for Judge Theodore W. Brevard, an early setter, and state comptroller. The official county seat has been located in Titusville since 1894, although most of the county's administration is performed from Viera.



The first Paleoindians arrived in the area near Brevard county between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago.[1] The Paleoindians were semi-nomadic people who lived in smaller groups. At that time, the earth was warming from its most recent ice age. The climate of the area then was very different from now;[1] it was similar to that of Great Britain today. The area which today is Brevard County was probably not coastal at this period in time. The coast of Florida was about 100 miles (160 km) wider[1] and the Indian River was simply a lower point on dry land.

After a few thousand years, perhaps by around 3000 B.C. peninsular Florida resembled the land of today; in shape, climate, fauna, and flora. The ocean had risen enough to flood the Indian River with salt water.[2]

About this time, a new group of settlers appeared known as "the archaic people."[1][3] These people were primarily fishermen, as opposed to the hunting and gathering way of life which characterized the Paleoindians.[1] It is believed that these were the ancestors of the Native Americans who would come in contact with the Europeans when they arrived.[citation needed]

From Spanish rule to statehood[edit]

The Ais and the Jaega were the dominant tribes in the area when it is thought that Ponce De Leon landed on the shores near Melbourne Beach in 1513.[1][4] There were about 10,000 of these natives in the area.[5]

In 1565, French survivors from Jean Ribault's Fort Caroline whose ship the Trinite wrecked on the shores of Cape Canaveral and from whose timbers, a fort was built.[6]

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés gave an early account of the Ais Indians in 1570 when he was shipwrecked off of Cape Canaveral. He faced hostile natives but though the use of a bluff was able to escape from them and get back to St. Augustine.[7]

In 1605, Alvero Mexia was dispatched from St. Augustine to the Indian River area on a diplomatic mission to the Ais Indian Nation. He helped establish a "Period of Friendship" with the Ais Caciques(Chiefs) and made a color map of the area.[8]

Heavy mosquito infestation and the threat of Indian attacks kept the area from having any permanent white settlements. The Spanish quickly left the area, but left a deadly reminder of their visit: European diseases. In 1763, the Spanish took the last 80 natives to Cuba.[5] Within 200 years, almost the entire precolumbian population of Florida had died out. Creek Indians from the north quickly swept down from Georgia and the Carolinas to fill the void. These Indians became known as the Seminole. Their activity in Brevard County was intermittent and usually not permanent.

Throughout the 18th century, the great European powers Spain, Great Britain and France vied for power in Florida. Their interest in the peninsula was more strategic than for building any real settlements. In contrast to today, where living in Florida means comfort and the "good life" to many people, Florida in the 18th century was seen as a hostile place with dangerous fauna such as poisonous snakes, alligators and panthers. Death by malaria was a possibility and death at the hands of angry Indians seemed even more likely. After being under Spanish, French, British, and then Spanish rule again, Florida finally became a United States territory.

In 1837, Fort Ann was established on the eastern shore of the Indian River on a narrow strip of land on Merritt Island.[3] During the construction of the Hernandez-Capron Trail, General Joseph Hernandez and his militiamen encamped near present day Mims.[3] These settlements were short lived and were abandoned shortly thereafter.

Statehood to 1900[edit]

Boundaries of Brevard County in 1855, when it was renamed from St. Lucia County

In 1845, Florida became the 27th state of the Union.

During the 19th century, the state of Florida was constantly changing the names and borders of counties. St. Lucia County was split off from Mosquito County in 1844.[9] St. Lucia County was renamed Brevard County in 1855 after Theodore Washington Brevard, who served as Florida Comptroller from 1854 to 1860. This "Brevard County" contained very little of present day Brevard County. Most of present day Brevard north of Melbourne was part of either Volusia or Orange counties.[9] Brevard County in 1856 extended as far west as Polk County and as far south as coastal Broward County. Complicating the discussion of Brevard County in the 19th century is that the boundaries have shifted such that the southernmost parts of present day Brevard, were originally the northernmost parts.[10] The original county seat was located at Susannah, an early name for present day Fort Pierce.[10] Later the southern part of Brevard split off to form a new county, St. Lucie County in 1905. Gradually, the borders of Brevard County were shifted northward while the county got "pinched" eastward.[9] The portions of Brevard County in present day Broward and Palm Beach counties were given to Dade County, western areas of the county were given to Polk and Osceola County, and parts of Volusia and Orange Counties were given to Brevard including the eventual county seat of Titusville. Later, the southern portion of the county was cut off to form St. Lucie County, which in turn spawned Martin and Indian River County.[9]

The first permanent settlement in present day Brevard was established near Cape Canaveral in 1848.[1] After the establishment of a lighthouse, a few families moved in and a small, but stable settlement was born. Gradually, as the threat of Seminole Indian attacks became increasingly unlikely, people began to move into the area around the Indian River. In the 1850s a small community developed at Sand Point which eventually became the city of Titusville.[3] Unlike other areas of Florida, the American Civil War had little effect on Brevard County, other than perhaps slow the movement of settlers to the area.

In 1864, the county seat was moved to Bassvile, an area presently in Osceola County on the southeast shore of Lake Tohopekaliga. In 1874, the county seat was moved to Eau Gallie.[10] Then in 1875 the seat was moved to Lake View.

In 1870, the Barber–Mizell feud erupted due to resentment over Reconstruction, a boundary dispute with Orange County, and cattle taxation.

Boathouse, Titusville, Florida 1885.

By the 1880s, the cities along the Indian River included Melbourne, Eau Gallie, Titusville, Rockledge, and Cocoa.[1] Unlike cities further inland in Florida, these cities did not have to rely as heavily on roads. The primary way of transversing the county was by water. In 1877 commercial steamboat transportation became a reality as the steamboat Pioneer was brought to the area.[3]

The first real boom to the area occurred with the extension of Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railroad into the area.[3] The railroad reached Titusville in 1886 and Melbourne in 1894. With the railroad came increased settlement and the first tourists.

20th century to present[edit]

Crane Creek, Melbourne circa 1900

The advent of the automobile age brought even more growth to Brevard County as resorts and hotels popped up all around the county.[3] As the automobile became increasingly important as a means of transportation, roads connecting Brevard County to the rest of Florida and ultimately the rest of the nation were built.

The first major land boom began in the 1920s with the end of World War I.[1] People flooded into the state of Florida as land prices soared, only to bust as the Great Depression temporarily stopped growth in Florida. Before the start of World War II, the largest industries in Brevard were commercial fishing, citrus, and tourism.[11]

In 1940, the Naval Air Station Banana River (now Patrick Air Force Base) was built. This began a new era in the development of Brevard County. Later, in the late 50s, the Long Range Proving Ground was opened.[1] This later became the Kennedy Space Center. This changed the entire complexion of the county; where Brevard had once been considered a "backwoods" area of Florida, it instantly became the launching pad into outer space. What had once been a primarily low-tech farmer/fisherman economy was transformed into a high-tech engineering and computer economy.

While the county was technically inhabitable, it was overrun by mosquitoes much of the year in wet areas, which included much of the county. Mosquitoes were controlled in 1950 by the advent of the now-banned insecticide, DDT. Much of the county became inhabitable. Many people moved in. When DDT became illegal, more environmentally-friendly insecticides and other mosquito control methods were used.[12]

In 1982, Windover Archaeological Site was discovered.

As a very long, but not very wide county, there had been a lot of complaints from people in the southern, more populous side of the county about being so distant from the county seat.[13] A trip to conduct county business in Titusville was 50 miles (80 km) from the most populous city in the county, Palm Bay. There was talk of secession on the southern end of the county,[14] and the county decided to build a new county administration complex at Viera near the geographical center of the county. This complex was started in 1989, and resulted in a counter-threat of secession from the Titusille end of the county.[14] This proposal to form a new county, Playalinda County had some momentum in the early 90s. The county made a few concessions to the people in the northern part of the county, and agreed not to officially move the county seat. Viera; however, is for all intents and purposes the de facto seat of Brevard County.

The summer of 1998 produced some of the worst brush fires on record.70,000 acres (280 km2; 110 sq mi) were burned.[15]

Prior to instituting controlled burns, the county forests and pastures burned for months during the dry season. From the 1940s to the 1970s, the state assumed control of burning that prevented uncontrolled fires.[16] In 2006, the state burned a record 72,065 acres (291.64 km2; 112.602 sq mi) in the county.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Historic Brevard Landmark guide". Brevard County Historical Commission. Retrieved 2010-09-15. 
  2. ^ "Brevard County GenWeb - History - The First Settlers, 10,000 BC to 1820". Flbrevard.com. 1935-06-01. Retrieved 2012-01-26. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Brevard County History - A Brief Introduction". Brevard County Historical Commission. Retrieved 2010-09-15. 
  4. ^ Moody, Norman (April 21, 2011). "Naming barrier island would honor state find". Florida Today (Melbourne, Florida). pp. 1A. 
  5. ^ a b Barile, Diane (April 30, 2011). "Guest columnist: A people lost in time". Florida Today (Melbourne, Florida). pp. 1A. 
  6. ^ Osborne, Ray (2008). Cape Canaveral. Images of America. Arcadia Publishing. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-7385-5327-6. 
  7. ^ Rouse, Irving. Survey of Indian River Archaeology. Yale University Publications in Anthropology 45. ISBN 978-0-404-15668-8. 
  8. ^ Osborne, Ray (2008). Cape Canaveral. Images of America. Arcadia Publishing. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-7385-5327-6. 
  9. ^ a b c d "Brevard County Maps". University of South Florida. Retrieved 2010-09-15. 
  10. ^ a b c Shofner, Jerrell H., History of Brevard County Volume 1
  11. ^ "Brevard County History - A Brief Introduction". Breard County Historical Commission. Retrieved 2010-09-15. 
  12. ^ Brotermarkle, Ben (March 11, 2014). "Mosquito Beaters swarm to unite". Florida Today (Melbourne, Florida). pp. 9A. Retrieved March 11, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Google Maps driving Directions Palm Bay to Titusville". Google. Retrieved 2010-09-15. 
  14. ^ a b "An Idea Whose Time Has Come Yet Again". The Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2010-09-15. 
  15. ^ Waymer, Jim (2 March 2011). "Danger seen in advance". Florida Today (Melbourne, Florida). pp. 6A. 
  16. ^ "DoF: Florida’s Fire Fulcrum | A Fire History of America (1960-2010)". Firehistory.asu.edu. Retrieved 2012-01-26. 
  17. ^ Waymer, Jim (14 March 2011). "Despite burns, fire threat still high". Florida Today (Melbourne, Florida). pp. 1A.