Friday, April 15, 2016

What the heck is the Epworth League?

The folks from the Polk County Historical Society recently came across a book entitled "Epworth League Secretary's Book" which originally belonged to the Eau Gallie Chapter of that organization and contains entries dating from 1929. Since Eau Gallie is obviously not in Polk County they graciously donated it to the Eau Gallie Public Library who then passed it on to us for safekeeping. 

The Cover
That said my first question was, "What the heck is the Epworth League?" While it sounds like it should be an organization made up of super heroes, it is actually a religious group of Methodist young people, between the ages of 18 and 35. It was founded in 1889 at Cleveland Ohio and named after John  and Charles Wesley's birthplace Epworth, Lincolnshire, England. Their mission is to encourage and cultivate Christ-centered character in young adults around the world through community building, missions, and spiritual growth and to my surprise it is still active today as a global organization with local church based chapters! Although it doesn't state anywhere in the book, the list of members below and other clues lead me to believe that the group was associated with St. Paul's United Methodist Church located on Highland Avenue in the Eau Gallie section of Melbourne. Unfortunately the historic sanctuary that was completed in 1902, which these members would have attended, burned down on August 6, 1965. However, the church was rebuilt and still serves the community today. The list of members below contains many familiar pioneer names such as Wickham, Creel, Roesch and Karrick.   

List of Members
The book also includes some clues as to what the group was involved with in the area. There were reports for four main areas of interest which were: Spiritual Work, Department of World Evangelism, Department of Social Service and Department of Recreation and Culture. These topics included things like Bible Study, missionary work, helping the sick and needy, citizenship, socials and recreation and even work done on an anti-cigarette campaign. 

January Minutes for 1929
Anyway, if you didn't already know, we now know what the Epworth League is and we have yet another interesting bit of history that has returned to the area!!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Pumpkin Center - Neuharth Estate Burns

On Tuesday night Brevard County history suffered a great loss when the ocean front estate of the late Al Neuharth, the founder of Florida Today and USA Today newspaper burned. The home, known as Pumpkin Center, is considered to be a total loss and had been recently sold by the Neuharth family to Jeffery Wells for nearly $5 million dollars, the highest price ever paid for a home in Brevard County. The sprawling house had over 10,000 of living space with 11 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms. The home is commonly said to have been built in 1975, but a few old timers know that its core was a much earlier structure built as the ocean front get away of another early Brevard County tycoon, Eugene Wuesthoff. 
Eugene Wuesthoff
From the collections of the Brevard County Historical Commission
Mr. Wuesthoff was one of the early visitors who came to Brevard County to enjoy the weather and recreation opportunities. Mr. Wuesthoff had been the general manager of the Slitz Breweries in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and later one of two owners of the Union Refrigerated and Transit Company, from which business he retired in 1922. He spent the majority of his time in Rockledge, a well known winter resort at the time, where he immersed himself in local community activities. He contributed his financial support to many projects and groups, and left a generous legacy to found the hospital in Rockledge which still bears his name. He was also a major investor in local real estate, particularly during the land boom. In 1925 he purchased a custom built house on Valencia Road in Rockledge where he spent his winters until he passed away in 1940. This house, pictured below, featured the first swimming pool in the area and a cabana with separate changing rooms for men and women. The pool is still has been restored and is still in use today!
Wuesthoff House, 25 Valencia Road, Rockledge, FL
In 1927 it was Mr. Wuesthoff who began construction on what was to become Pumpkin Center. In December of that year the Cocoa Tribune reported that he had let contracts for the construction of a "lodge" on Cocoa Beach to cost approximately $8,000. The lodge, known as Pelican Dunes and described below, was of an usual design, giving the appearance of a log cabin, and set the tone for the rambling structure that it was to become. 

Wuesthoff's lodge is familiar to some of our early Space Race residents as "the house on the beach," where it was the site of many parties thrown by the renters living there.  A great description of this part of the home's history and a rare photograph of the house may been seen in Melba McCaslin's recently published book Young and Single on the Space Coast 1953 to 1969. 

In a strange coincidence the house immediately south of Pumpkin Center and known as "The Folly," was destroyed by fire as it was nearing completion in 1937. For my previous blog post on this interesting story click here. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

March is Florida Archaeology Month

This year's official Poster

Every March various groups in Florida ban together to host and sponsor programs and events tailored to educating the state's residents and visitors about our unique archaeology and history. As many of you know Brevard County has a long and distinguished archaeological record, and has the distinction of being the site of the famous Windover digs. For a full listing of events being held throughout the state visit the website of the Florida Public Archaeology Network and click on the Events tab at the top of the page. You can also check out the various chapters of Florida Anthropological Society to see what a chapter near you has planned. 

In honor of this month we asked the folks at our local chapter, the Indian River Anthropological Society, to help us put together a small display of some of the artifacts from the collection of the Brevard County Historical Commission in the lobby of the Central Brevard Library in Cocoa. They did a great job, please drop in and take a look!

Artifacts in the Lobby Case

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Florida Today Goes Digital!

A few weeks ago the announcement was made that Ancestry, the leader in family history and consumer genetics, was collaborating with Gannett Co., Inc., the largest local-to-national media company, to digitize more than 80 daily newspapers across the nation. These newspapers will be available via a subscription to Newspapers.com, which is a business unit of Ancestry. Since Gannett owns our very own Florida Today I was hoping that it would be included among these papers.  Yesterday I had a chance to meet with the new Editor of Florida Today, Bob Gabordi, and ask him about the announcement. Fortunately, I was able to confirm that YES, the Florida Today will be included in this project! This announcement is like an early Christmas present for us since we receive daily requests to assist individuals trying to find articles and photographs previously published in the paper. Currently we have a complete collection of the paper on micro-film, and thanks to our volunteers we have some indexes to obituaries that appeared in the paper, but there are no subject indexes and no way to search it beside taking a roll and just looking through it page by page. Just yesterday I had a request from a lady whose terminally ill father wanted to find an article published about him in his youth, but she wasn't even sure what year it might have appeared in. Now helping people with searches like these will be much easier!

This project is planned to provide viewers with "a historical viewing experience complete with full text search, clipping and sharing features." The database will ultimately include every available page from the first date of publication up to issues from 30 days ago. Archives will be updated on a regular basis with content from the previous month. Gannett digital subscribers will have access to the most recent two years of content and complete archives will be available to everyone through a monthly or annual subscription. As most of you know the library system is already a subscriber to Ancestry.com and hopefully we will be able to add access to Newspapers.com with our package. Apparently they are going in alphabetical order by newspaper title, so this all should be happening in the near future. Fingers crossed!!!  

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Oceanfront History

Since I have had many of you tell me that you like my blog posts on historical homes I thought I would tell you about a local oceanfront property that has an interesting but little known history! "The Folly" which is located at 365 S. Atlantic Ave in Cocoa Beach occupies a beautiful oceanfront location just south of the former Neuharth estate, "Pumpkin Center," which also changed hands  recently for the tidy sum of $4,000,000. What you may not realize is that behind the remodeled facades of both properties lies two historic homes. The Neuharth estate has at its core the very first house that was built on the ocean at Cocoa Beach. It was built in 1927 by none other than Eugene Wuesthoff who was a wealthy winter resident of Rockledge, and who's name is still recognizable from his association with Wuesthoff Hospital. Wuesthoff's house was built for $8,000 and was meant to mimic a rustic log cabin. 

"The Folly" Howard House, 365 S. Atlantic Ave. Built 1937
Courtesy of Carpenter/Kessel Homeselling Team

"The Folly" was built in 1937, exactly ten years after Wuesthoff's house, and let's just say the place got off to a roaring start. The lucky builders of this home were Mr. and Mrs. Graeme Keith Howard of New York City. When he built this house Mr. Howard was in the middle of an illustrious career. He had already graduated from Stanford with a degree in Economics, attended Harvard Graduate School and served as a top executive with General Motors in Bombay, Copenhagen and London. He went on to write and publish the noted book "America and A New World Order" in 1940, serve as Head of the U.S. mission to Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces and eventually retired as Director of the International division of the Ford Motor Company in 1950.

The Howards hired noted local architect Richard W. Rummell to design the home and to supervise construction, which was done by the contractors Bower and Smith. It is even possible that Mr. Rummell was responsible for the Howards choosing to winter in this area, as his daughter Grace worked in the International division of GM in New York and was also married to a GM executive. The charming house Mr. Rummell designed for the Howards was largely of brick construction, which was unusual in the area, but was similar to the house Rummell was building for prominent citrus man John D'Albora in Cocoa at the same time which is shown below. The original three bedroom Howard house, whose construction price was not made public, was about 75 feet in length and built on an east-west axis with a large central section flanked by two shorter wings. 

D'Albora House, Indian River Dr., Cocoa, Built 1937
Also currently for sale with Re/Max Elite
The Howards visited Cocoa Beach the week of October 7, 1937 to check on the progress of their house which was largely completed, and to arrange to have the grounds extensively landscaped which included transplanting full size palms. No sooner did the Howards return to New York City than they received a phone call from the architect Rummell that their house had caught fire and was almost totally destroyed. Since Cocoa Beach was so sparsely settled at this period, picture A1A as a dirt road, no one knew of the fire until the workmen showed up the next morning to finish up, only to find "nothing but blackened brick walls." Several residents of Cocoa later reported that they had seen the light from the fire about midnight one night, but that they had thought it was from a woods fire on the island. 

Aerial View, Original wing on the right side of  photo

View from the beach, Original brick wing on the right side of photo with shutters

Luckily the Howards had already insured the home and they immediately instructed Mr. Rummell to rebuild the house using the same plans. He employed a large force to get the house ready for them so that they could occupy it for the winter season of 1937. Fortunately the new furniture the Howards had ordered for the house and wanted installed before their next trip had not arrived yet! 

Two Views of the original 1937 living room
Courtesy of Carpenter/Kessel
Although they got off to a rough start, as you can see the house ended up being a real charmer! The style of the home is hard to characterize, but  clearly draws from the New England colonial style with its brick construction, shutters and finely pine paneled walls. However the vaulted ceiling in the living room with its pecky cypress beams is reminiscent of other Rummell designed ceilings put into the Spanish style buildings he is so famous for. The home still contains several original lighting fixtures,  push button electrical switches, period bathrooms and pegged wood floors. Overall you just have to settle for the fact that it is all clearly in good taste and leave it at that!

For more information about the house and additional photos you can contact DeWayne Carpenter or Kirk Kessel of the Carpenter/Kessel Homeselling team. Also be sure to check out their blog.