Category Archives: Local History

Mosquitoes Bit First and Died Later

by Dr. John T. Manning

 

In the fifties, at Cape Canaveral Missile Center, I remember when I used to work an

extended day. Sometimes the days were sixteen to twenty hours long. I was working out

of Hangar “D” with the Army Ballistic Missile Team on the Redstone and Jupiter

missiles. This was several years prior to NASA’s takeover of ABMA. We were in a pre-launch

condition with a shortage of manpower; therefore, we all had to double up to provide proper

coverage for the launch.

 

My first after dark shift turned out to be an experience, just as dusk set in, so did the

mosquitoes. The swarms of mosquitoes were so profuse, they didn’t just bite, they

overwhelmed you. Mosquitoes would fly into your ears, up your nose, and into your

mouth. Those mosquitoes could bite through your clothes.

 

There were few resources available to counter the determined mosquito. If you were

around then, you will recall burning citronella rings on the dash of your car at the drive-in

theater. You had to leave the window down; otherwise the windows would steam up. This

was prior to air conditioning. There were even stories of cattle suffocating from inhaling

swarms of mosquitoes.

 

At the Cape, if you were in the good graces of your supply people, you might get a

mosquito bomb. The mosquito bomb was a carryover from WWII and the Korean conflict.

They were heavy metal pressurized spray cans containing the insecticide DDT. This was

long before we learned of the environmental dangers related to DDT. However, even if

you saturated your clothes, the DDT was only partially effective. The Cape mosquitoes

were Kamikazes; they bit first and died later.

 

In desperation the mosquito control people were called to send over a mosquito spray

truck. We opened the large hangar doors and let the truck drive through the hangar. The

trucks sprayed a mixture of kerosene and DDT on the hot manifold to create a dense fog.

I don’t know how it killed the mosquitoes. They were so huge they probably collided in

the dense fog and killed themselves.

 

After the smoke cleared and we were able to once again breathe normally, we returned to

the hangar. As we walked through the hangar everywhere we stepped, we left a greasy,

sometimes a bloody footprint, depending upon the diet of the mosquitoes prior to their

deaths. In fact, you had to be extremely careful, as the floor was very slippery. There were

so many dead mosquitoes we had to call in a motorized street sweeper to vacuum up the

mess and haul them off to the dump.

 

Article provided courtesy of the Central Brevard Mosquito Beaters, Memory Book 2001, available at the

Florida Historical Library, 435 Brevard Av., Cocoa Village.

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It Didn’t Take Rocket Science to fish

by Bill Sargent

 

I can remember the early Sunday afternoon like it was yesterday. Two big black cars

rolled into the fishing camp, and half-dozen German men, some of them in white dress

shirts, got out.

 

“We want to go fishing for the big-mouth bass,” one of them said in broken English. It

was Wernher von Braun and some of his fellow German engineers. Getting the chance to

take the father of German rocketry fishing meant little to a 13-year-old boy in the early

1950s.

 

All we knew in those days was that some German Scientists were shooting rockets from

“that base up north of Cocoa Beach,” as we knew the Cape Canaveral area. Only in later

years did the Sunday afternoon with the six Germans have any significance for me.

As a kid growing up in Melbourne, I spent my weekends cleaning boats and waiting on

customers at the Sweetwater Fishing Camp on the St. Johns River on U.S. 192, west of

Melbourne. A Mr. Peters owned the camp at the time. I never knew his first name. He

always let me use one of the wooden camp boats, and I fished every chance I got.

 

“You take ’em out,” Peters told me. I loaned the Germans some of my tackle, and we

got into three of the camp boats, each powered by a smal1 Evinrude outboard. It was too

late in the day to go all the way to Lake Hell ‘n Blazes, almost an hour’s run, so we

headed for Lake Sawgrass. It was the first lake south of U.S. 192, known then as the

Kissimmee Highway. The St. Johns ran fresh and clean in those years. You could drink

the water out of the river with no concerns. And the bass fishing was exceptional.

 

I showed Von Braun and his friends how to cast their Shakespear Wonder Reels. They

were closed-faced spinning reels that wouldn’t backlash. But then I made the mistake of

loaning one of them a rod rigged with a Pflueger Supreme conventional reel. He forgot to

“thumb” the spool, and the result was a massive backlash. We used surface plugs called

Dalton Specials and Nippi-Diddees and worked them around the clumps of lily pads that

spread out across the lake. It wasn’t long before Von Braun caught a 3-pounder. You

would have thought it was a giant. I’ll never know what they all shouted about, in

German.

 

Between bass catches, I spent most of my time digging their plugs out of the lily pads. I

showed them the small worm that bores into the stems of lily pads, and a couple of the

men were more interested in looking for lily pads with the tell-tale worm holes at the top

of the stem than fishing.

 

The group caught more than a dozen bass that afternoon before they said they had to head

back to “the base.” They said they’d come back. But I never saw them again.

 

Bill Sargent’s story is from a Florida Today

special insert “The Bumper Project”

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Post Office Starts Home Delivery at Patrick AFB

by Gene A. Baird

 

In 1953 you could mail two letters and two post cards for a dime. AlA through Cocoa

Beach was two lanes and lined on both sides with New Zealand pines. At the corner of

Cocoa Avenue (Minutemen Causeway) and A 1 A, Bernard’s Surf had been open since

October 1948 and on the first floor of the building next door was the Cocoa Beach Post

Office where Oliver Haistens was Postmaster and Sally Jakeway was clerk.

 

When I went to work at the Patrick Air Force Base Post Office, Jack Langley (later a

Cocoa carrier) had been contracted to haul mail to Cocoa Beach and Patrick A.F.B. Those

three or four of us who worked there would meet Jack early in the morning at Cocoa and

pile in his panel truck with the mail for the trip out to Cocoa Beach then on to the old

building at Patrick shown in background of picture below.

 

Fred McCabe delivered South Capehart (enlisted men’s quarters) and I delivered the north

end (officers’ quarters.) We were using bicycles for delivery at that time and since my

route only took two to three hours I would then deliver parcel post via truck to both north

and south areas. Later Herb Baker became regular carrier (C-6) for south area and

remained there until retiring. As I recall, north area was never made a full time route. A

note of interest was delivering mail to Dr. Kurt Debus who lived in very last house at the

north end of the base. Mrs. Debus would often be at the door and greet me with her heavy

German accent. Another bit of excitement during my twenty years at Patrick came with

the ’62 missile crisis with Cuba. The build-up of military in such a short time was unreal.

 

The Patrick Post Office moved twice while I was there. First time to an old remodeled

parachute loft left over from the Banana River Naval Air Station era just south of the main

cafeteria. Then late in 1971 moved to a brand new office next to the Base Exchange. The

new office was dedicated January 19, 1972 and remains in the same location. Management

of the Patrick P.O. Br. was transferred from Cocoa to Melbourne around 1993.

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Indianola Memories

Nancy Carswell

 

This story was shared by Amelia Hill. Even though I am not a Mosquito Beater, I live in

the old Crawford “packing house,” which is located in the former town of Indianola, and I

lovingly collect Merritt Island historical stories and facts.

 

Chuck Reed, who lived in Rockledge as a small boy, loved to come across the river and

play with his cousins, who resided in the Buck house. At this time, the Sam Field house,

the Post Office, .the Crawford house, and Crawford’s packing house were located just

north of the Buck house on Indianola Drive. There was a dock in front of the post office,

used by the Indianola community.

 

Mr. Gotchall, an Indianola resident, and relative of the Crawfords, was a closet drinker.

His secret supply was in a jug he kept in the river. In the late afternoon, he would stroll

down to the dock, untie his boat from the dock and row out into the river. Then he would

pull up the jug, drink a few swigs, and row back to the dock.

 

Chuck and his cousins knew his secret, and decided to play a trick on Mr. Gotchall. They

rowed out into the river, pulled up the jug and emptied it into the river. The jug was then

filled with river water and returned to the river. The boys rowed back to shore and waited

for Mr. Gotchall to make his “river cocktail hour” trip.

 

Mr. Gotchall followed his usual routine, pulled up the jug and took a big swig. He was

shocked to taste river water, and quickly spit it out. Now Mr. Gotchall was furious. His

secret stash was gone, and he knew who had done this to him. Unfortunately, he couldn’t

accuse the children. If he did, everyone would know of his closet drinking. Their prank

was a huge success!

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Alex’s Paint Shop

Doug Scarborough

 

During the 40s, 50s and 60s, if you had a bent fender or needed an auto paint job, Alex’s

Paint Shop was the place to go. Alex Scarborough opened his original business at the end

of World War II after serving in a civil service position at Banana River Naval Air

Station. It was located on Main Street (near the water tower) for several years. That

corrugated metal building still stands. In the early 50s Alex moved his shop to West King

Street. It operated there until Warren Wooten Ford purchased the property. Alex worked

for the Ford place for a while. Then he opened up a new shop just off Clearlake Road at

Sue Street. He ran that business until his death in late 1968.

 

No matter where it was located Alex’s Shop had a reputation for doing a first class job of

body repair and auto painting. But it was more than a great place to get your car fixed.

Many high school students and young men of the community often gathered there to visit

and to work on their own cars. It has been said that Alex could have been a rich man if he

had charged for all his time, materials, and tool use. I think, however, he was indeed a

man for he had the love and respect of those young men. I am sure they all have fond

memories of those wonderful years working on their cars at Alex’s Paint Shop.

 

When the Cocoa Racing Association was formed in the late forties, Alex was a part of

that also. Many of the racecars were painted at the Main Street shop and some were even built

next door at E. M. Crisman’s Machine Shop. There was much camaraderie among the

drivers, owners, and mechanics. A good time was had by all. Perry Crockett built his

fabulous custom Ford there and later when Dick Granger built the famous “Salt Water

Trout Capitol of the World” parade float, he painted it at Alex’s Paint Shop.

 

I could go on and on with names of people and projects, and I’m sure some of you could

add to the list with stories I’ve forgotten or never heard, but they would have the same

end. Alex’s Paint Shop is a nice memory. Alex was my uncle and I loved him.

 

 

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Scout Hut Memories – Circa 1941

Gene Baird

 

The Scout Hut was built in a densely wooded area on the south side of Peachtree Street a

little east of the Cocoa Cemetery in the area where U.S. # 1 is now located. The Florida

East Coast Railroad, just west of the cemetery, at that time had double tracks for north and

south bound trains. An article in The Cocoa Tribune dated May 29, 1941, states “Work

starts on Cocoa Boy Scout Headquarters.” Carl Wolary, building chairman and member of

the Cocoa Scout committee stated that W. H. Bower, a local contractor would do the

construction work (same company that built the Aladdin Theatre in 1924, now The

Cocoa Village Play House.)

 

I recall that it was a simple wooden building twenty-four by thirty-six feet, with a tin roof

and several steps up to the front door. Windows were just openings covered with wood

shutters that were hinged at the top and held open with a pole. The back part of the room

was partitioned off for storage, and perhaps a sink and toilet. I really don’t remember for

sure what was back there.

 

The area where the hut sat was only partly cleared and to the east there was a large oak

tree with a single rope tied to a limb that we could swing on. I remember doing lots of

other fun scout things, like memorizing the Scout Oath, pledging allegiance to the flag,

playing games, which included a variation of hide and seek in the cemetery next door, and

camping out in the woods on the west side of Clear Lake near where the BCC Planetarium

is now located.

 

One thing that stands out in my memory at one meeting was a boxing match with G. C.

Fouraker. I really didn’t want to, but when my fellow scouts started making chicken

sounds I knew I had no choice, my honor was at stake. It wasn’t long before I was seeing

stars and sitting on the floor. For those of you who remember W.K. Fouraker’s younger

brother G.C., you’ll understand why it was a very short round.

 

The local Boy Scout Troop was Troup #4. The adult Cocoa Scout Council consisted of

Carl Wolary, Rev. Charles Voss, Stoney Ford, Ish Brant, Charles A. “Doc” Jones, A. L.

Wooten and Robert Schlernitzauer. An article in the Cocoa Tribune recalls a “Court of

Honor” held in April 1941, where the following received awards: Charles Boyd, David

Bruner, Amos Cox, Joe Allen Cowart, Jr., Frank Darden, Jr., Joey Hobbins, Robert

Newman, Lester Turner, Billy Sanders, Alton Vickers, 1. G. Vickers, Davis Wilson, and

Hugh Greek, Scoutmaster. Other active scouts mentioned at that time were Bobbie

Cowart, Mitchell Ellington, M. Ashley Ringo, Jr., and Charles Voss. In March 1942, Joe

Allen Cowart, Jr., thirteen years old, received his Eagle Scout Award. The Cocoa Tribune

stated, “Joe Allen is one of the youngest Eagles in scouting in Florida.”

 

Another reminder of living in Cocoa during the early 40’s was how dark it was at night

when there was no moon. With very few street lights and so few homes west of the

railroad tracks it seemed you could see every star in the sky. It was about the time that

King Street was being extended from U. S # 1 west, and Fiske Boulevard had been extended from

Poinsett Drive north to King Street. It was always dark when Scout meetings were over, and

one particular night I headed home on my bike, home being the last house at the west end of

Poinsett Drive in Virginia Park. Instead of my usual route out Peachtree then south on Varr,

I rode out King Street then turned south on newly paved Fiske. I remember it was so dark

I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, much less the road. So, I ended up pushing my bike

with one foot on the pavement and the other on the grass all the way to Poinsett where there

was some light. It’s remarkable how such seemingly unimportant events are remembered over the years.

 

As I now drive out Peachtree Street and cross U.S. # 1, past the location of the long gone

Scout Hut, the Cocoa Cemetery (still the same), and the railroad track, it brings back

wonderful childhood memories. It’s strange now, how the distance between U.S. #1 and

the railroad is only a stone’s throw, where, as a boy, it seemed a very long way to me.

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North Cocoa Road was once an Indian Footpath

This picture taken of the trail along the Indian River in north Cocoa (now Indian River

Drive) many years ago was once an Indian footpath. Later, horse and buggy, foot, bicycle, and

perhaps a model-T would be seen along this road. Seeing only these things in the early days, you

wouldn’t realize that this once upon-a-time footpath would become the first automobile route along

the east coast from Jacksonville to Miami, and gained renown in the 1920s as the Dixie Highway –

‘From Montreal to Miami.’

 

During the expanding and boom-time years in Florida’s growth, the Dixie Highway ran

right through the middle of the towns along the way and was a two day trip from Jacksonville to

Miami. In the 1930s, passenger buses stopped in Cocoa, the halfway point, put their passengers up

in the Cocoa House, for the night and continued the trip the next day. In fact, Forrest Avenue and

Florida Avenue through Cocoa and Rockledge was called Dixie Highway.

 

Florida has always been friendly to newcomers, and who knows how many of our good

citizens wound up here because of the hospitality of the old Cocoa House, with a promising view

of the Indian River from its front porch, or that their auto broke down from the rigors of the rough

trip on that old road.

 

Much of this information was taken from Those Days Remembered, an article written by Chuck Reed. Article

provided courtesy of the Central Brevard Mosquito Beaters, Memory Book 2010, available at the Florida Historical

Library, 435 Brevard Av., Cocoa Village.

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The Man and the Car

By Paula Ashton

 

I don’t remember too much about the boys I dated, but I do remember their cars. A ’55 Chevy, a ’66

Chevy II, a ’62 Bel Air …. do you see the pattern? Well, when I was a senior at Cocoa High in 1968, I

had a dream I was in the carport at 504 North Fiske Blvd. I had no idea who lived there but I did

know the 1966 Chevelle (Gray Ghost) lived there. I could hear people talking and see shadows, but

no faces. I was there, standing by that car.

 

Well, wouldn’t you know that in January, 1970 fate had me working on 3 South at Wuesthoff

Hospital that afternoon when a young 25 year old guy came in who had fallen from a power pole

while working for Florida Power and Light? I think because I was able to order him a cheeseburger, I

won his heart. Later, in the evening I learned that HE was the owner of that beautiful car that I had .

dreamed of a couple years earlier. And wouldn’t you know, in May of that same year, I became Mrs.

Doug Ashton.

 

Doug’s middle name should be Chevrolet instead of Jay. Little did I know just how much cars

would become a part of my life. For this part of the county, if you are into cars and racing, you know

the name of Doug Ashton. The big question that is most asked of him at car shows is “Doug, what

did you bring.” How does a wife compete with a car??? Of course, the Gray Ghost is NOT just a car.

She has raced with some of the best. She is pampered, washed, waxed and AL WAYS kept inside.

She has been shown off at Car Shows, Parades and even been a part of the Power Tour that stopped

in Cape Canaveral. She brings back so many memories for those who grew up around here and are

“into” cars, even those in their bicycle days. As a product of Indian River Chevrolet, I wonder how

many cars are still around with the Indian River Chevrolet emblem on them (where she was bought)

AND still with the original paint. She still gets the ooo’s and ahhh’s as she proudly goes down the

street. There is so much more to her but most important, she is the reason behind my 43 years of

marriage.

 

The Gray Ghost and Doug Ashton are true legends in Brevard County…

 

Article provided courtesy of the Central Brevard Mosquito Beaters, Memory Book 2013, available at the Florida

Historical Library, 435 Brevard Av., Cocoa Village

 

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Days Gone By

By George E. Hamilton, Jr.

 

Do you remember when the River road was part of US 1 and SR 520 to Cocoa Beach was two lanes

with draw bridges (originally wooden bridges) on the Indian and Banana Rivers? And who could

forget the humpback bridge that spanned Sykes Creek on Merritt Island and the board planks that

would slap and flap as you drove over them about 5 mph.

 

Do you remember when the State Theater showed real movies and was not a playhouse, or going to

Campbell’s drug store for your first cherry Coke or vanilla smash? And the best hamburger in town

was at Myrt’s? How could you forget the root beer in frosted mugs at the A&W on US 1 where

Wuesthoff Hospital built a parking lot? Those, my friends, are days gone by and memories for us all

and the list goes on.

 

In the ’20’s my grandfather, George Louis Griley, purchased 120 acres of Merritt Island property,

now Holiday Cove and he built a summer vacation home for the relatives to use. In the mid ’50’s

we were living in Miami but would spend vacation time at the summer home. It was during those

visits that my dad began to think Cocoa Beach looked like a good place to settle so my parents

bought a house at 4615 Ocean Beach Blvd in May 1959, 8 blocks south of the Cocoa Beach pier.

 

In August of 1959 I celebrated my 15th birthday and my family, George, Sr., mother Mary Lou, my

sisters Elizabeth and Mary Lou moved in to our new home. There were no condos then so our view

was sand dunes and the ocean. We weren’t used to the thunderous roar of the ocean but hey, we

came from Miami so Cocoa Beach seemed calm in comparison. I was 15 and life was good.

As you drove in to Cocoa Beach on SR 520 you practically ended up in the parking lot of the White

Caps restaurant. Most of the motels had “rocket” names. The Vanguard, Polaris and Sea Missile

motel were only a few and of course if prime rib was on your mind, then Ramon’s was the place.

Brevard County was booming and new schools were being built. If you lived in the Cocoa Beach

area you attended Edgewood Jr. High (grades 7, 8 & 9) or Cocoa High, located in Rockledge. The

bus would pick you up at your stop, mine was AlA and Gadsden, and you would go to Cape

Canaveral to pick up more kids and then on to your respective school. This took about an hour each

way. Of course, we all took advantage of this time to do our homework or discuss our

assignments…. REALLY?? Better yet, you could bum a ride with anyone that had a car.

Anyway, we made lots of lasting friendships. Spending time at the beach or boating, fishing and

surfing was what most of us did and still do to this day.

 

Article provided courtesy of the Central Brevard Mosquito Beaters, Memory Book 2013, available at the Florida

Historical Library, 435 Brevard Av., Cocoa Village

 

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My Memories of the State Theatre

Myra English Buffkin

On May 28, 1954 I arrived at the bus station in Cocoa, Florida. Our school in Echols County, Georgia let out two weeks prior to the schools in Brevard County. I specifically came to work at the State Theater in downtown Cocoa. The girl was graduating from high school that was working behind the candy counter, and Mr. Ellinor said I could have the job. At that time, you had to be sixteen years old to work there. My sixteenth birthday wasn’t until July of that year. Mr. Ellinor never knew about that.

I loved working behind the candy counter because I could eat all the popcorn I wanted. However, that was short term. The girl who was working the ticket booth left and Mr. Ellinor promoted me to selling tickets. That is where I got to know a lot of the town folks. I remember that there were special people that Mr. Ellinor had on a typed list that got into the theater for two cents. That’s right, two cents. There were the Pastors from St. Mark’s, First Baptist, King Street, and First Methodist churches, along with their wives, that I remember got in for two cents per person. Also, a number of the physicians in the local area and their wives and others. I particularly remember Dr. & Mrs. Keuster. When my parents moved to Florida in August of 1957, Dr. Kuester became their family doctor.

I must tell you that my parents had purchased property on Merritt A venue in Merritt Island several years prior to 1954. I came every summer and sometimes during Christmas holidays to visit with my aunts and uncles who already lived in the Merritt Island and Cocoa areas. During the summer, I attended Vacation Bible School at Merritt Island First Baptist Church. The land was cleared and the building began on my parent’s home in 1954. It took three years for completion due to the fact that it was being built as monies became available. I lived with my aunt and uncle, Kelly and Bobbie Brinson, until my parents moved to Merritt Island.

Now back to the State Theater memories. There were a lot of Saturday morning matinees, which meant going into work at 10:00 AM to sell tickets. That was a lot of fun to see the children come and enjoy the movies. I remember distinctly Dr. Kuester’s children coming to the theater. I always had to call their mother to come pick them up.

I remember one particular movie, Davey Crockett. It seemed like all the children in the area came to see that movie. The opening was on a Saturday morning and the children filled the sidewalk up and down Brevard A venue. It even was so popular that the Cocoa Tribune paper took a picture of it. I kept that picture with me sitting in the ticket booth for years. I’m not sure what happened to it.

I wish I could remember the elderly man who took up tickets during the time I worked at the theater. He was so nice to us girls. I remember he and his wife would pick me up from Cocoa High (which is now Rockledge High) and bring me to the theater to work the afternoon shift on those days when I was scheduled to work the afternoon shift. I had study hall the last period of the day, so that worked out fine for me to leave school early on those days. I think the best part of working at the theater is that you got to meet some of the nicest people of the Cocoa, Merritt Island and Rockledge areas. It was a very pleasant experience for a young person. When I had to work double shift, they gave us time off to walk across the street to Myrt’s Restaurant to have dinner. Since those were pre-integration days, from time to time I would relieve that person and sell tickets upstairs.

Since I had to work most Sundays, it was always a rush to get home from church and make it to the theater on time for work. So sometime in my senior year (1955-56), I decided to go to work for Doc Jones at Jones Pharmacy right down the street on Brevard Avenue. My Aunt Sadie was already working for Doc Jones and that seemed, at the time, the best solution to being off work all day on Sundays. I loved working for Doc Jones and getting to know his family as well. I worked for him until I graduated from high school and then went to work for the Coca-Cola Bottling Company.

All great memories for a girl who grew up on a farm in rural Georgia moving to the “big city” to live.

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