Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Is That A Cistern?

So as many of you know it seems as if I am always in the process of some type of remodeling project either on my home or that of someone else. I am currently tackling the "last" room in my house that I haven't completely torn apart, rebuilt, and painstakingly put back together. This room is at the very back of the house behind the kitchen and was part of the old service part of the house. The kitchen, now one large room, originally consisted of a butler's pantry, kitchen and then a small hallway and half bath with this room behind it. Previous owners referred to this as the maid's room. After removing the half bath to enlarge the kitchen, I don't think bathrooms and kitchens should really mix anyway, this room is now on its way to becoming the new much larger, out of the way downstairs bath. Since there was no plumbing in this room new waste and water lines needed to go in, which required tearing up the old floor and digging under the house to connect everything to existing lines. When we took up the floor we discovered a large concrete structure just inches from the bottom of the floor that was of course right where we wanted to run our lines. As soon as I saw it I thought, "Is that a cistern?" The top visible part was covered in concrete and the sides were square and made of concrete block. 

Looking down at the top and side of the cistern
For those of you who may not know, cisterns were tanks constructed to store rainwater and were a common occurrence in early Florida homes before the arrival of municipal water systems. They were typically placed under the house or to the side and are almost always found in homes constructed before 1900. Dates vary of course as they were gradually phased out over time as the state's various city's installed utilities.

703 Rockledge Dr. showing large domed cistern under the two windows
beside the house
My house. Rummell House Built 1924
Bower House. Built 1925

What makes this find odd is that my home, which was built in 1924, was part of a planned subdivision that was heralded for its modernity and included its own waterworks. If this was a cistern it would not really have been needed, and would have been a bit old fashioned in a house that was otherwise very modern. After some research I have been able to determine that it was indeed a cistern and it is one of several that were built with homes constructed in Rockledge as late as 1929. Interestingly enough all of these later date cisterns were built with homes designed by Richard Rummell, a degreed architect and early pioneer of the area. Perhaps his experience with Florida droughts or a desire to have a back up to city water prompted him to include this feature. Turns out the house directly across the street from me, designed by Rummell for prominent local contractor Hervie Bower, has a room behind the kitchen that still has a hand pump coming through the floor that is undoubtedly connected to a cistern. A little more digging, not in the dirt this time thankfully, uncovered further proof in an article published in the Cocoa Tribune in 1929 about the construction of the Phebe Blakeslee home located at 1287 Rockledge Drive and shown below. The description given for this home reads, "Adjoining the kitchen is a laundry and this is complete with built-in ironing board and rain water from a large concrete cistern." So there you have it, we definitely have a cistern. Maybe Rummell should be considered one of Florida's first "green" builders for adding this environmentally friendly feature! In any case mystery solved. Feel free to comment if you know of any other cisterns that are not exactly where you expected to find them!

Blakeslee House, courtesy of the Brevard Property Appraiser's page.  Built 1929

Friday, December 5, 2014

Glass Bank Demolition

From what I hear the landmark building in Cocoa Beach known locally as the "Glass Bank" is in the process of falling to the wrecking ball. While I was always taught that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones, the same can not be said for those involved in the recent events surrounding this structure. Like many old buildings that have met the same fate over the years, its demise can be attributed to a fairly typical deadly cocktail of insensitive remodeling, soap opera worthy legal battles and strong public opinion. 

The Glass Bank in its heyday
Whatever your feelings may be on the current situation, the glass bank, originally called the First Federal Building, was the pride of the community when it first rose its flashy head above the sands of Cocoa Beach. Interestingly enough despite its local notoriety I was able to find little about it when I started researching it in our archives. No one was sure exactly what year it was built, and the City of Cocoa Beach has not kept the building permits for that period. Fortunately I was able to narrow down the year to 1961 by using our collection of city directories. I then turned to our microfilm collection of the Cocoa Tribune and went through each issue until I found the first mention of it on June 16th. Another article shown below appeared in September and states that the bank was scheduled to open on October 1st.

This article also confirms what I had suspected in that the bank's unique design was not thrown together by a contractor, but was rather the work of a trained architect. In this case it was Reginald Knight of Bradenton. A quick Google search reveals that this gentleman was no joke as they say. Reginald Caywood Knight was a graduate of both Harvard and Columbia and was on the faculty of Princeton and MIT. In 1957 he was awarded the first prize in the Enrico Fermi Memorial World Architectural Competition. He was a proponent of the the modern school of architecture and other notable landmarks he designed include the Bradenton municipal auditorium, shown below, and the John Shuler home on Longboat Key. 

Sadly I fear that unless something fabulous replaces this landmark it will probably end up in the "we wish we hadn't done that" category in years to come. Only time will tell! In the meantime you might want to go by and pay your respects before it is gone for good. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Early Cocoa Beach and Port Canaveral

Another photo of Cocoa Beach taken in the 1920's most likely showing one of the events of the period that were meant to draw people in order to sell real estate. The sign featured in the center shows the early intentions of the area's residents to create Port Canaveral, which was not dedicated until 1953. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Cocoa Beach in 1926

Photo of Cocoa Beach from our collection showing beach goers and the old Cocoa Beach Casino which stood on the beach approximately where Coconuts Restaurant is located now. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dummett's Dugout

Pictured above is a Cypress sailboat whose ribs are made of natural crook live oak and all metal work is solid copper. When Cpt. Douglas Dummett held position of U.S. Customs officer at New Smyrna, he used this boat to travel between Cape Canaveral  and St. Augustine on business. Later in 19th c., it was used by Andrew Jackson, slave for Dummett, to haul oranges from the coast out to ocean-going cargo vessels. Called the Carolina at that time it could carry up to 50 crates of oranges in 1 load. Both oars & sails were used for power. Now in the collection of the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee.

BTW, I am having some formatting issues with this post but decided to post it anyway so that I don't get behind on my Thursday postings!



Thursday, October 16, 2014

Throw Back Thursdays

The wonderful library staff that is managing the Brevard County Libraries Google+ page have asked me to provide them with an interesting historical photo to feature once a week on what they want to call "Throw Back Thursdays." Since the Central Brevard Library is also home to the Brevard County Historical Commission's collection we hope to draw upon this resource, and others, to provide you with some interesting images relating to the history of our area. I will also post those photos here on my blog so that you all can enjoy them too.

Please consider following Brevard County Libraries on Google+. We can use your support!!!!

Above is a photo taken from the Cocoa Water tower around 1957 looking towards the Indian River. The site of the Central Brevard Library, which occupies the former Florida Today newspaper building, is near the top of the photo, just about in the middle. Forrest Ave. is the road pictured running north and south, and this view also shows the early path of the railroad tracks that have since been removed.