The Oil Well on Turkey Creek

By Diane Barile, Vice Chairman of the South Brevard Historical Society

The new street in Melbourne was  properly named – Prospect Avenue. Residents were excited about the prospect of emerging Florida investment opportunities. Most of the neighbors had already bought into the expanding Florida real estate market, but were open to new ventures.

Well-heeled Prospect Avenue neighbors invested in the Florida East Coast Oil, Gas and Mineral Company organized by  fellow Prospect resident L. B. Eschbach. Miami investment brokers handled buy­ in from the Wells and Metcalf families from Melbourne and William Gleason of Eau Gallie.

A full page ad in the local newspaper assured that preliminary investigation and engineering would bring bountiful returns on initial stock purchases. A test well would bring liquid gold- oil.

Work began on Turkey Creek land owned by the Conkling family. The  professional drill rig pounded an eight inch pipe and casing through 120 feet of sugary sand into limestone with pockets of water, not oil. At 350 feet,the drill hit the Floridan Aquifer releasing tremendous pressure and a gushing head more than thirty feet into the air. Oops- alas, again no  oil, just a fountain of fresh water pulsing thousands of gallons per minute. So ended Brevard County oil exploration.

The  well continued to flow creating a streamlet into Turkey Creek of clear warm water.  The Conklings sold their Palm Bay property to what became a health resort, claiming the healing properties of pools created from the stream. Invalids bathed to treat, if not cure, arthritis, muscle injuries, etc.

During the Great Depression, the health spa became the Bethesda Baptist Retirement Home also  utilizing the stream. With time, however, the gush included an increasing smell of sulfur, rotten eggs  and a shoreline hued a greenish-yellow.  But one asset remained, heat.

Manatees, like people, are  sensitive to cold and subject to viruses and pneumonia.  Manatees found refuge in the 72  degree warmth of the oil wells stream during winter cold snaps, pulling themselves up  into the spa-like flow.

Florida, once seventy percent covered by  water, faced a water crisis.   By the 1980s management of fresh water became critical for the state’s growth and development. The  local St. Johns River Water Management District set  a priority and funding to stop the thousands of free flowing wells.

The Turkey Creek well, among the largest and deepest, was  to be  stopped, capped by the U. S. Geological Survey. They forced an old electrical power pole down the shaft held in place by  a concrete cork. Once accomplished, the fix was temporary. With a tremendous roar, the pole rocketed out of the well and across Turkey Creek. Finally the shaft was encased, fortified and sealed. So ended oil exploration, spa  life and manatee refuge on Turkey Creek.