Category Archives: Local History


By Mary Eschbach Vance

On the morning of June 2, 1878, at the home of Charles Cleveland, Sunday services were conducted by the Bishop of Florida the Rt. Rev. John Young and the Rev. William Carter of Sanford. The fact that services had to be held in a private home no doubt occasioned the desire among the communicants for a church. Consequently, in the afternoon of the same day, at the home of A. L. Hatch in Rockledge, Bishop Young and Rev. Carter met with a number of settlers to lay plans to build a church. Thus was conceived St. Mark’s Episcopal Church of Cocoa. The original St. Mark’s mission church, based on a design by Gabriel Gingras, was a typical board- and-batten building constructed in 1886, on land donated by Mrs. Sarah Delannoy, It was described by Bishop Weed as “a perfect gem.” Unfortunately, Bishop Young was never to see his church. On a trip north, his ship was lost off Cape Hatteras.

St. Mark’s congregation grew over the years until in 1925, it became apparent that a new, larger church was necessary. The new building, designed by Richard Rummell, was begun, and the first service was conducted by Bishop Wing on March 14, 1926. During the tenure of a priestly dynamo, the beloved Rev. (later Bishop) William Hargrave, St. Mark’s received full parish status on May 4, 1938.

One of Florida’s pioneering female journalists, a lovely lady named Ruby Andrews Myers, in an article written for the Cocoa Tribune on St. Mark’s fiftieth anniversary noted: “St. Mark’s Church is closely identified with the development of the town of Cocoa from its inception.” And so it seemed proper that St. Mark’s should be identified with the improvement of elementary school education in the community.

It is likely that the idea of a day school at St. Mark’s had been on the mind of its founder, the Rev Edward B. King, for some time. On a rainy afternoon in the spring of 1955, Father King, Joe Cushman (later to become an original member of the Board of Directors of the school), and Phil Eschbach were sitting around the Rectory (at that time located about a block south of the Church). St. Mark’s Academy was conceived there and then, when one of the men, probably Dr. Cushman, opined that St. Mark’s ought to have a school, exactly what had been in Fr. King’s mind. A spirited discussion followed, each man (they were all teachers) giving his opinions about the ills of the public schools and what a proper school ought to be.

They discussed discipline, finances, subject matter, and textbooks. It was decided, for instance, that the school would eschew readers of the “see Spot,” “see Spot run” type in favor of books with a more substantial content and a more rigorous approach.

About a year later, Church officials issued the following proclamation:

Whereas we, the Rector, Wardens, and Vestrymen of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Cocoa, Florida, out of concern for the education of the children of our parish in the light of the fullness of Christian Truth, have seen fit to establish St. Mark’s Episcopal School, a parish -school. And whereas, it is our intention that this school forever be an integral part of St. Mark’s Parish Church.

Thus began, in 1956, St. Mark’s Day School. The founder and first principal was the Rev. Edward B. King. Original School Board members were Mrs. Edwin B. Hill, Joseph D. Cushman, Dr. Jack Arnold, Mrs. Evelyn Stewart, Dr. Thomas Kenaston, and Chairman Father King. The first classes were held in September of that year in Thursby Hall. The school consisted only of first and second grades, taught by Mrs. Lloyd T. Jones and Della P. Quinn, respectively. Janet Gingras Kenaston was the school nurse and Miss Adele Fort the secretary. That year, also, saw the beginning of the remarkable tenure of Jane Laird Hill, music teacher, who – alas! – has only recently retired; but who still teaches piano to private students.

In 1957, the new building with the Cloisters was built, and the third and fourth grades were added. Groundbreaking occurred on April 28, 1957, and classes were held for the first time in the new building on September 3rd. The garth served both as morning assembly place and playground. The original desks were procured from an old one-room school house in Rochelle, Alachua County, by Phil Eschbach. They were hauled to Cocoa on a truck lent by Bob Schlernitzauer and cleaned and varnished by volunteers from the congregation. In 1.957, the Rev. Sanford Lindsey came to St. Mark’s and served as Chaplain, teacher of art and religion, organist, and boys’ choir director. By the academic year 1959-60, all six grades were in session, and the first class of fifteen sixth-grade students graduated on May 29, 1960.

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Those Days Remembered – Cocoa Village in 1925

by Chuck Reed

Smiling, the Old Timer handed me this old photograph and said, “Not so many years ago if I told you to meet me in town, that would only mean one place – Cocoa. There were only the two main streets, Brevard Avenue and Delannoy Avenue, crossed by Willard and King Streets – leading to the town dock. Harrison Street and Magnolia Street, (now Stone Street).

“The new streetlights are being installed in the booming little town. The town clock shows it’s lunch time, so the workmen have probably gone to eat. Today, Stone Street is closed to vehicular traffic, and a gazebo (Myrt Square) sits in the middle, flanked by the Masonic Building and the Brevard Apartments, both still standing. You can see the railroad freight house up at the top of the street, and the two stucco buildings on the left (Grumpy’s Cigar Pub and other modem shops) are still here. Today, from where the freight house was, down on the right side of the street is public parking.

“Over the right shoulder of the photographer is Harrison Street, leading down past the Western Union and Postal Telegraph Offices and the Brevard Bank to the Merritt Island wooden bridge, finished in 1917.”

Chuckling, the Old Timer said, “Son, today I could lose you in the Merritt Square mall or one of our many supermarkets, but in those days on a trip to Cocoa, you would sooner or later bump into almost anyone you knew, but if I wanted to be sure and catch you, I’d just walk down Harrison Street and sit on the bridge railing in the afternoon breeze off the Indian River until you came by. I couldn’t miss!”

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by Fred Hopwood

The year 1886 has to go down as the most significant in the history of Cocoa, Florida. That year, Captain Richard P. Paddison arrived in Cocoa aboard the beautiful, side-wheel steamboat ROCKLEDGE and took the residents of Cocoa on a free excursion to Titusville. He announced that the Indian River Steamboat Company had been formed as   an extension of the Jacksonville, Tampa & Key West Railroad, which had arrived in Titusville December 23, 1885. Paddison went on to say “the days of pioneering on Indian   River were just about over and before long a line of steamers would be put into operation   that would give Cocoa daily freight and passenger service to connect daily with the   railroad at Titusville.” Needless to say, the residents were overjoyed to learn it would soon be possible to leave Cocoa in the morning and arrive at Jacksonville before midnight. Prior to this time, it was a three-day trip to Jacksonville.

The ROCKLEDGE was an iron, side-wheel steamer, 136 feet long. She was formerly on various northern rivers under the name GOVERNOR WORTH. Her home port was Melbourne. She left Melbourne each morning at 10 0′ clock with passengers, freight and mail and made connections with the 2:45 p.m. Indian River Express train at Titusville.

As soon as passengers had transferred from the express train, and mail and freight was aboard, the ROCKLEDGE would depart for Cocoa and Melbourne with her bells ringing   and steam whistle blasting so loud it could be heard at the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse on the ocean.

Everyone in Brevard knew the sound of her whistle and would rush to the river’s edge to watch her passing. When she arrived back in Cocoa, folks would turn out to watch her land and discharge passengers, then they would walk to the post office to pick up their   mail. This procedure was routine and was the highlight of the day.

The ROCKLEDGE was a beautiful steamboat and was undoubtedly the most popular and most beloved of all steamboats that ran the Indian River route. She immediately became the Queen of the Indian River and flagship of the Indian River Steamboat Co. She was named for Rockledge, Florida.

Before the year was over, Captain Paddison, who had become Superintendent of the Indian River Steamboat Co., announced that additional steamers would be brought to Indian River and service would be provided to communities all the way down to Jupiter, Florida. Cocoa residents were overjoyed when they learned that pioneering in Brevard County was about to be a thing of the past.

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Methodist Church Memories

by Fleeta Mae Harrell Lindley

My parents, Lewis L. Harrell and Sarah (Sallie) Frances Howell, were married in 1924 while riding in a Model A Ford car, driven by the preacher near Sales City, GA. After a year of farming, they followed their cousin, George Lewis Harrell to Florida to work in the citrus groves. Lewis was the manager of a grove on Honeymoon Hill located in South   Merritt Island. Their first child, a boy, was born prematurely and was delivered by Dr.   William Hughlett. Unfortunately, the child only lived three days. He was buried in Georgiana Cemetery near the church.

A young man, named William S. (Bill) Hughlett, the nephew of Dr. W. L. Hughlett a pioneer doctor in the Cocoa area, came to work with his uncle as a medical doctor, and also worked in the drug store that Dr. W. L. Hughlett ran in Cocoa. Bill met Violet Packard, a local girl, they were married and served forty years as medical missionaries in   Africa, sponsored by our Methodist church in Cocoa. Their daughter Vera also became a missionary and married Tony Fadley who she met in Africa. Tony went to be with our Lord February 27, 2010. Vera continues to carry on their work here in Brevard County.

As a small child, I attended Sunday school at Cocoa Methodist Church. Every other Sunday, I attended the Georgiana Church with my cousin Vernena Hall. We walked a path to the Georgiana Church, on south Merritt Island, along dirt trails that led through groves of citrus trees. We would stop and get a drink of cold artesian water at a running well by the church, which also watered the grove.

The Georgiana Church was built on a comer of the grove; it had no electric lights or indoor plumbing at that time. The teacher at Georgiana Church was Mrs. Dell Munson. There were six of us in the class and we sat in the bell tower. The bell was rung before church, so you would know to hurry along and not be late.

Mrs. Munson’s family built the church from lumber that they imported by boat along the Indian River from St. Augustine. The Munson family burial plots are in the Georgiana Cemetery.

When I was in fourth grade, my father built a house for us just north of Cocoa on US. 1. My two sisters (Irma and Helen) and I rode the school bus to Cocoa Elementary School. The School bus driver was Mr. William Sorey. Mrs. Sorey kept the nursery for Cocoa   Methodist Church during World War II. Many things were rationed, including gas. Mr. Sorey had enough spare gas for the school bus. He lived at the end of the bus route, that   ended at City Point. Mr. Sorey drove the bus with his wife and six children to the   Methodist Church in Cocoa. Anyone along the school bus route who wanted to attend church received a complimentary ride, which was very convenient, and also saved gas for those adults who went to work during the week.

When I grew up, I was married in the Cocoa Methodist church. Mrs. Aldis Murrell played the piano for the service. My high school sweetheart, Ernest Major Lindley and I were married for nearly sixty-two years.

Our daughters, Mary and Linda, also Michael our adopted son attended the new Methodist Church on Forrest Avenue. Both my daughters were married at Cocoa First United Methodist Church. My six grandchildren also attended church there and now I often my bring great-grands.

Ernest loved our church, as I do. He helped start the first drive-in church now held on the north side of the building.

Now at the young age of 83, I still attend Sunday school and Church regularly. I’m a member of the Voyagers class, Rachael Circle, and Church Women’s Group. Outside the Church, I am a member of the Cocoa/Rockledge Garden Club, Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR ), and the Anderson Seniors Art Class.

I enjoy all of these activities and social friendships.

My family outside the church and inside in the church will always be dear to my heart. I, Fleeta Mae Harrell Lindley enjoyed writing this piece of history and memories and hope you will enjoy it also.

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By- Volamae Brinkley – Written June 2001

Time line sketch from a few Mosquito Beaters just remembering the way it was…..

Quite often Wednesdays’ finds a group of would be writers entering the crowded noisy atmosphere known as Ashley’s. There’s a feeling of nostalgia, a casual; come as you are experience like you’ve been here before, and in all probability will come again. When a freight train rumbles over the nearby railway tracks the building shakes and moans and conversation settles down until the clamor has passed. The steady din of sound often times reminds me of the noisy drone of honeybees as they buzz around the bee-hive  awaiting the arrival of the queen. Food servers almost run into one another as they carefully navigate the central narrow stairway leading to the kitchen area. Ashley’s is  truly unique.

But the story doesn’t begin with the depot like building that sits alongside – U S Highway # 1 and only a few feet from the Florida East Coast Railway. If you carefully scrutinize the outside structure there are visible signs of aging that didn’t happen overnight. Parking is extremely limited and returning to the main highway is often hazardous. But Ashley’s wasn’t always called Ashley’s. The tavern has been known as “Cooney’s”, a bar serving beer and wine, salads and sandwiches, “The Loose Caboose”, “Gentleman Jim’s”, “The Sparrow-Hawk”, “The Mad Duchess”, and probably other names not remembered.

However the name “Ashley’s has survived longer than any other. It has endured the widening of US # 1, the relocation of Barton Avenue, when it went straight west from the river, across US # 1 and the R. R. tracks a block north of Ashley’s then turned south two blocks then west.

Some time ago, a few Mosquito Beaters gathered to reminiscence, tell some tall tales, and remember how things were before the rocket scientist’s came to town. A quick check of “credentials” for the eight participants indicated a total of 569 years of existence in and around Central Brevard. The group of “old timers” tossed ideas and memories around like the methodical bouncing of a ping-pong ball on the hard surface of the table.

J.W. “Strick” Strickland, the “leader of the pack” for this particular session, arrived in cocoa in 1916. Struck still stands straight, does not wear glasses except for close reading, a dry sense of humor, and incredible recall. Ruth Cavanaugh was born in Rockledge, as   were her parents, Dr. Bob Geiger. Ruth worked for the navy at the old Banana River   Naval Air Station dispersing rationing coupons. “Speedy” Harrell, affectionately known as “Chief Mosquito Beater” also was born in Rockledge years ago. Now that you know for a fact that this tale comes from reliable sources, let me tell you a bit more about Ashley’s real history. Jack Allen built the original one-story structure about 1932 as a   “speak-easy”, selling spirits and food. Jack’s Tavern was known by the locals as the place to go to have a good time. S trick remembered an eight foot solid mahogany bar that stood in direct center of the spacious room. At just twenty years of age he was responsible for waxing and mopping the hardwood floor and picking up loose change carelessly left over  from the nights frivolities. He remembered picking up jewelry strewn over the floor by a local socialite when she became too inebriated to navigate the dark aisles (he called them  real diamonds). At some point illegal slot machines were a popular drawing card.

Designed by local architect, Richard Rummell, the tavern was built of pecky cypress and  Merritt Island Mahogany (hard pine grown on Merritt Island), with a stucco exterior. The  second story with additional seating space was added later. Legend has it, that a young female ghost haunts the dining room and unusual sounds and antics are often  unexplained. A customer seated in the loft can’t help but note the servers disappearing down the center stairway. I’ve often wondered just how large the kitchen area is, and  what type of modem equipment is utilized to produce the variety and quantity of food  that seems to appear from nowhere. Somehow I can’t visualize the amount of floor space  required to accommodate a kitchen! Just look at the restrooms.

This is the time and the place we remember, may we never forget. Newcomers and grandchildren, we leave to you the Memory Books written each year’ by others with a legacy of living among the mosquito’s, no-see-ums, cabbage palms, the glitter of phosphorus on the Indian River, mullet jumping in schools in the water,and dipping shrimp in a bucket off the Indian River bridge, I’d like to see more of these gab fests initiated, just to keep the memories alive.

Article provided courtesy of the Central Brevard Mosquito Beaters, Memory Book 2011, available at the Florida Historical Library, 435 Brevard Av., Cocoa Village

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Compiled by Jaye Wright

Source: Pioneer Settlers of Melbourne by Fred Hopwood

* In the beginning: When the automobile first came into use in Brevard County in about 1905, they were handicapped by bad roads because back then, only the most-used roads were graded. Owing to the slow mode of travel, the distance was cut down as much as possible by driving horse or mule teams through shortcuts in the woods.

* Early roadways: Before the arrival of automobiles, roads were made by driving around trees, between palmetto bushes and other obstacles, making them very, very crooked. If a tree blew down, they left it where it fell and started another road around it, making another crook in the road. Bridges were only built over places too deep to drive. Some times in wet weather, the deep water would come into the conveyances. Car engines would get drowned out and many times neighbors would be called upon to pull the cars out of the muddy places with a team of horses.

*Engine power: There were trails that were called roads, but most of them could only be negotiated by mule teams, or a vehicle of very high clearance because of the grass ridge in the middle, with a hidden stump now and then, that was death to differentials and axles. Most of the early auto owners used a Ford because those first ones were built small and high off the ground so they could pass. Most early auto owners in Brevard County preferred Model T Fords, which were able to negotiate the stumps, deep ruts and crooks in the roads. The first Florida Road Law required that no stumps were to be left higher than twelve inches from the ground.

*In the end: Eventually, the lovers of fine horses and conveyances purchased new cars and left “Dobbin” at home in the stable. Residents felt they really had accomplished something if they could drive from Melbourne to the courthouse in Titusville in four hours.

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First Church of Christ, Scientist, Cocoa History

Submitted by Laurie Brady

Members of the Christian Science church have been praying for this community since 1923. Mrs. Ollie Holmes, along with her husband, Cocoa banker Robert Holmes, organized the first church group in their home. As attendance grew they sought larger quarters-first moving into a one room school building and then occupying a larger room on the second floor of the public library. Due to the economic downturn in 1929 many  members moved back north and services were discontinued during the summer months.

By 1941 services were being held in the Cocoa Women’s Club Building on Delannoy Avenue. An early member recalls taking the children across the street to play in Taylor Park after Sunday school and while the church service took place. This member was on the executive board of the church and lived in Indian River City, now known as Titusville.  She didn’t have a telephone but her in-laws who lived on the same property did. If a  phone call came for her, the in-laws would ring a large bell to let her know she had a  phone call.

By 1945, year round meetings were back on schedule. The Sunday school, for students ages two and a half to twenty, was held before the church service until the Sunday school grew too large. In 1950 the Christian Science Society, as it was then known, secured space for the Sunday school in the City Hall building, then located at the  comer of King Street and Delannoy Avenue. Meeting in public locations meant that  members had to store any church documents at home. The clerk (secretary) of the church  during this time frame lived in a small trailer and kept all records in boxes under her sofa!

In 1955 the edifice at the comer of Derby Street and Brevard Avenue was purchased by the Christian Science church (this is now called the Derby Street Chapel). Much hard work by the members was required to restore it to good condition. The floor  was refinished, pews, interior and exterior walls were painted. Seat pads were made and  donated. An outdoor water-cooling air-conditioner was renovated by the members A little  foot-pump organ was put in place, members were anxious to replace this and soon they  had an electronic organ. An additional wooden building at the back of the church was  also renovated and used as a Sunday School room as well as a Christian Science Reading  Room during the week (a Reading Room is our gift to the community-a place for the exploration of spiritual healing, prayer, Bible study and a place to learn more about our  way-shower, Christ Jesus, and the founder of our religion-Mary Baker Eddy.)

Mrs. Ollie Holmes passed away in 1959 and generously donated her home and land at 235 Indian River Drive to the church Services were held in the home until construction took place for a new edifice.

This construction began in February of 1964, with the first service held in the new building on July 12, that same year! A Christian Science Reading Room occupied one wing, with a Sunday school building located at the back of the church. By 1966 the Sunday school building had to be expanded. The wing previously housing the Reading Room became a child care room for young children in 1967 and the Reading Room moved to its present day location at 421 Brevard Avenue in Cocoa Village. Forty-four years in the same spot!

Article provided courtesy of the Central Brevard Mosquito Beaters, Memory Book 2011, available at the Florida Historical Library, 435 Brevard Av., Cocoa Village

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Remembering Provost Park

by Tom McFarland – Circa 1954

Oddly enough, I was having trouble sleeping last night because I drank coffee late in the day after coming back home from the Florida Historical Society meeting. I was reflecting on going to baseball games at Provost Park particularly wondering if Larry Doby, Al Smith, and Luke Early actually played spring training games for the Cocoa Indians and how they fared in segregated Cocoa. I vividly remember Satchel Paige on the  field, but the records prove otherwise. Did Mrs. Ford or Mr. Stone arrange accommodations for them? My pre- adolescent mind seemed to think the white ball players lead by manager Al Lopez and the legendary pitching greats Early Wynne, Bob Feller and Bob Lemon would have stayed in the Seminole Hotel during the season. Somehow I pictured it as the more modem of our numerous hotels and inns, but not the  most elegant. I guess it would be “right” for them to have stayed in the Ohio House.

I had what seemed like perfect recall of the shiny sheet metal lined floors, the forest green seats, the chicken wire protection from foul balls. I remember bleacher seats  for the “knot hole gang” down the third base side and similar bleacher seats for black fans  down the first base line. I could picture Grady McAllister, Johnny Barnes, Dick Gray,  Lester Kershaw, and Dad along with other luminaries in the stands. I remember men  wearing felt snap brimmed fedoras in their shirtsleeves on muggy nights. I could hear the  rhythmic thumping of coke bottles against the wooden seats to rattle the pitcher on the  opposing team and the catcalls of “Hey Goose” when the umpire missed a call. I  remember the premiums given out to lucky fans with a particular number on their  scorecards. A wonderful juice set with four glasses and a pitcher complements of Pioneer  Groves or some such. I remembered spending only a few minutes watching the game and  then practicing a big league slide in the dusty gray sand and sandspurs behind the  bleachers. I remember never wanting to go into the ammonia smelling bathroom to pee in  the zinc trough.

I remember fans and ball players chewing tobacco and spitting and ball players smoking cigarettes and cigars in the dugout. I remember one fan whittled a cedar stick throughout the game and left a pile of perfect aromatic shavings around his feet. I remember the scoreboard and envied the fellow that got to put up the scores. I remember  Dad keeping score in cryptic hieroglyphics. I remember that the Little League got to play  our championship game at Provost Park with the bases and pitching mound moved in to accommodate our dreams of glory.

And, I wish I still had some of the many weathered baseballs we collected in the woods out in left field during those long ago summers.

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