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Genealogical Society of South Brevard

Olde History of Melbourne

by WEONA CLEVELAND
 

The earliest permanent settlers of Melbourne were three black men: Peter Wright , Balaam Allen and Wright Brothers. They came to the Crane Creek area about 1870-1872. The first white families - the Clohecys and the Bradleys - arrived in 1874 and 1875 respectively. The Richard W. Goode family came from Chicago area in 1877. C. J. Hector arrived from Australia in 1878. When the first post office was established in 1880, straws were drawn by the Goodes and Hector in an effort to determine the name of the community. Fountainhead, Villa Ridge and Melbourne were the choices for the name of the new town. The long straw was drawn and Melbourne became the name of the settlement growing along the Crane Creek. It honored the city in Australia where Hector had once lived.

The first schoolhouse was built in 1883 (still existing on the campus of Florida Institute of Technology). Dr. William M. Fee, Melbourne's first doctor, arrived that same year. The first church, Allen Chapel A.M.E., was built in 1885, with Holy Trinity Episcopal Church being built in 1886. Melbourne's first newspaper, The Indian River News was published in 1887. The town was incorporated the following year (1888). The Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Indian River Railway reached Melbourne in July, 1893. The Melbourne Times, the town's second newspaper was founded in 1894.

CarriageIn December, 1894 and again in February, 1895, hard freezes wiped out the citrus and pineapple industries, taking both endeavors years to recover. By 1900, there was a sandy, one-lane trail between Melbourne and Eau Gallie and for some distance along the East Coast. This was the beginning of land travel, as opposed to water travel which had been the only means of transportation for many years.

In the prairies west of Melbourne cattle raising was beginning to become a profitable industry, while in Melbourne and neighboring Eau Gallie, the fishing business was becoming popular. The first telephone switchboard was installed in the Alex Goode house in Melbourne in 1906. There were 15 telephones in town, with Melbourne's population being slightly under 300.

The Union Cypress Sawmill and Railroad (running westward 18 miles to Deer Park) were established by G.W. Hopkins in 1912 in South Melbourne (then known as Hopkins). Melbourne acquired electricity in 1914. The first wooden bridge over the St. Johns River, near Melbourne, was erected in 1915, only to be washed away by a storm in 1924. The first bridge across the Indian River at Melbourne was erected in 1921, the same year W.T. Wells gave the city land for what is now known as Wells Park.

Melbourne became the site of the Melbourne Naval Air Station in 1942, where men were trained in F6F (Hellcat) planes for combat in World War II. The station was developed from what had been the Melbourne-Eau Gallie Airport, which had been dedicated just the year before. During World War II German submarine warfare took place just off Melbourne's coastline, with several ships being sunk. As space exploration began in the 1950s, gained momentum in the 1960s, related industries and the space program itself began to supplant agriculture in the economy of Melbourne and Eau Gallie. The naval air station property was turned back to Melbourne after the war and Eastern Airlines became the first commercial carrier to serve Melbourne in 1953.

From a city of 4,011 in 1945, Melbourne has grown to become a metropolis of 68,000 in 1999. Its wooden bridges (both Melbourne and Eau Gallie) have been replaced by high-rise concrete spans. Its lovely beaches have become cluttered with high-rise condominiums and hotels. What is now the city of Melbourne, in Brevard County, Florida, is the results of a merger, in 1969, with the adjoining city of Eau Gallie. Thus Melbourne has two identities, two histories.

 

Eau Gallie is the older of the two communities. Its first permanent settler was John C. Houston. Houston had been sent by the U.S. Army to Florida's East coast to determine how many Seminole Indians were still living in the area. This was following the Third Seminole War. Houston thought the area to be a beautiful and productive land and decided he wanted to live here. He obtained a discharge from the Army, came to the East Coast with his oldest son and 14 slaves in 1859, to begin clearing land and building a home. In 1860, he brought his wife and children here. Houston named the area Arlington, for a community near Jacksonville where he had once lived.

W.H. Gleason came to the area in the late 1860s. He renamed the community Eau Gallie. The Gleason family had been founders of Eau Claire, WI. Apparently Gleason took the French word "eau" meaning water, and a deviation of the French term "galet" meaning gravel, to christen this town with a name that has been loosely translated as "rocky water". The shore line of Eau Gallie along the Indian River is lined with coquina rocks.

At the close of the War Between the States (Civil War), Confederate Secretary of War John C. Breckenridge, trying to escape capture by the Union forces, came down the Indian River in an attempt to reach Cuba and safety. Between Titusville and Eau Gallie his sail boat sprung a leak. He came ashore at John Houston's dock and asked for help in caulking the boat. Houston gave his assistance.

In 1872, W.H. Gleason offered the Florida legislature 2,320 acres in the Eau Gallie area for a state agricultural college. The offer was accepted and construction began on the west bank of the Indian River (along what is now Pineapple Avenue) of a building made of coquina rocks, quarried from the nearby river. But in 1877, a change in politics in Tallahassee led the college site to be changed to Lake City. (This was the forerunner of what is now the University of Florida.) The one college building in Eau Gallie was sold to Gleason who turned it into the Granada Hotel.

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF EAU GALLIE HISTORY include:

During the period of 1885-1889, a boat yard and basin was established by Capt. Aaron Bennett, known eventually as the Eau Gallie Yacht Basin. It was considered the best safe deep-water harbor along Florida's East Coast. Thus Eau Gallie (and now Melbourne) became known as the Harbor City. The Florida East Coast Railroad (then named the Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and Indian River Railroad) reached Eau Gallie in 1893. The railroad eventually eased the Indian River steamboats out of business, but it was many years before the settlers willingly gave up steamboat travel altogether.

 

The First Baptist Church of Eau Gallie was built in 1887. St. John's Episcopal Church was built in 1897, and St. Paul's Methodist Church was built in 1902. The first bridge across the Eau Gallie River was built in 1895. Kentucky Military Institute moved its winter headquarters and school to Eau Gallie in 1904, coming here from Lyndon, KY. In 1906, a small colony of Japanese farmers settled in Eau Gallie. There were four families: the Ohis, the Haradas and the Ozakis (two separate families of Ozakis). The first "railroad doctor", Dr. W.J. Creel, came to Eau Gallie in 1910. The first bridge across the Indian River at Eau Gallie was built in 1924.

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This page last updated November 14, 2000