Historic Derby Street Chapel

by Ida Johnson Wright and Volamae Roberts Brinkley

Have you noticed the quaint little chapel with the new landscaping on the comer of Derby Street and Brevard Avenue in Cocoa Village? Are you aware of the changes made to this local historic landmark over the past few years? Did you know but for the vision of a dozen or so caring people, this delightful building would have been headed for the wrecking ball? First constructed in 1916 the chapel has been around for more than 90 years, but today, it has never looked lovelier!  .

In 1923, the Seventh Day Adventist Church expanded the craftsman-style building which was heralded as “an honor to the city.” It was used by this congregation until about 1955 when it was sold to the Church of Christ, Scientist for worship services. The Church of Christ, Scientist built a small building to the south of the chapel as their Reading Room. In the early 1960’s the church moved to a new location on North Indian River Drive and the chapel was sold to the First Baptist Church in 1964.

For several years, the little chapel served an overflow crowd of children every Sunday, and the minutes of First Baptist record a history of church buses bringing dozens of youngsters to this special place. When the new Christian Activities Center was built on Oak Street, the little chapel was no longer needed and became a storage place, and the building was destined to be demolished. After a neighbor objected to the destruction of the historic building, a few women in the church took up the task to save the chapel. In 2002, Cocoa Main Street proposed to restore the chapel as close as possible to its original state, and in 2003 signed a long-term lease for that expressed purpose. Five years later, with help of a matching grant from the Bureau of Historic Preservation, Tallahassee, the Derby Street Chapel is again “An Honor to the City.”

The roof withstood many years of hurricanes without leaking, and volunteers had hoped to save the original tin tiles, but the old tiles were too thin and fragile. The new roof, installed in 2007, was matched exactly to preserve the historic significance in accordance with the standards of the Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation. The flooring, made from Merritt Island heart of pine, was being tom up, but the floorboards were stacked to one side and put back in place. It is essentially the original flooring, beautifully refinished.

The original altar railing has been refinished. The pulpit was rescued from a dumpster and was lovingly refurbished by a volunteer. The original front door was stripped of years of old paint to reveal beautiful wood that has been refinished to a lovely patina. The pews were handcrafted by Merritt Island contractor Hermus Prine, in 1935, also from Merritt Island pine, and were donated by Stanley and Juanita Baxley owner of Wylie-Baxley Funeral Home. They have been restored and seem to fit the interior, as if made especially for the chapel.

Two stained glass windows that hang in the windows behind the pulpit were made by Irving Lipton, a retired engineer, who made them for the chapel shortly before he died at age 90. Front and side landscaping was a project of the Dirt Daubers Circle of the Cocoa Rockledge Garden Club. A new hurricane-proof back door was installed to accommodate an ADA approved ramp on the south side of the chapel that was completed in the summer of 2008.  .

An administration building with a multi-purpose room (dressing room, office) and rest rooms is expected to be completed by the end of2009, adjoining the ADA ramp on the south side of the chapel. In the garden, or park area, around the administration building, a bell-tower is planned to house an antique bell.

Except for the dream of countless individuals, this tiny Chapel would not exist. The restoration of the chapel was for the purpose of serving the community as a cultural center, available for weddings, wedding renewals, celebrations of life, concerts, recitals, art shows, educational and walking tours, and other special functions. You are invited to visit this charming little chapel, and consider using it for your next event!

The Derby Street Chapel was first constructed in 1916 by the congregation of the Cocoa Seventh Day Adventist and has had a long, religious heritage. It is now owned by the Cocoa First Baptist Church. After being completely restored to its original state, it is has now received historical site status.

Article provided courtesy of the Central Brevard Mosquito Beaters, 2009 Memory Book,

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