Monday, August 22, 2016

A Scandalous Past

While the moss draped live oaks along Rockledge Drive evoke a pervasive sense of calm, in it's heyday little Rockledge was a bustling destination for travelers looking to escape winters in the frigid north. They packed into several rambling wooden hotels along the bank of the Indian River where they sat on the porch, went on boat tours, hunted and fished, checked out the alligators and were even entertained by trained bears! Many guests came year after year and some, who had the means to do so, eventually decided they wanted permanent places of their own. While most of these early snow birds were merely here for a change of climate it turns out some of them might have been escaping a little "heat" of their own. Such is the case with a man by the name of  Edward Newton Rowell who spent his winters in the charming cottage below at 1119 Rockledge Drive, that he purchased from the Van Deman family. His daughters went on to spend even more time there, although not without some scandals of their own, but that's a story for another time!! 

VanDeman-Rowell House 1119 Rockledge Drive
Drawing by Robert Kronowitt from the book At First Glance by Roy Laughlin
It turns out that in addition to being a wealthy New York industrialist, he made a fortune manufacturing boxes, Mr. Rowell was also an accused murderer! In a case that captivated the press of the day Mr. Rowell was accused and tried for having shot and killed his wife's lover. Apparently Mr. Rowell's success in business had been matched by his marriage to a younger, very attractive lady named Jennie. However, since Mr. Rowell was described as being "cold as an iceberg" this was bound to end in trouble, and boy did it! Mrs. Rowell began looking for comfort in other places and among several dalliances was Johnson Lynch, an attorney and friend of her husbands. Eventually Mr. Rowell came to suspect his wife was being unfaithful and so he hatched plan to catch her in the act. Telling her he was going out of town on business, he instead got a hotel room and waited. Sure enough Mrs. Rowell dropped off her daughters with a friend and met Mr. Lynch at the train station. On October 30, 1883 after a pleasant dinner in her home Mrs. Rowell and Mr. Lynch went upstairs to her bedroom. No sooner had they gotten in bed than Mr. Rowell burst through the door and without saying a word, fired two shots into the bed. Mrs. Rowell was grazed by one bullet and the other missed entirely. Mr. Lynch, wisely proceeded to bolt from the bed and to hightail it down the hall. Mr. Rowell followed in hot pursuit and fired two shots at him as he went down the stairs. One shot entered his shoulder and the other went right through his heart killing him instantly. Mrs. Rowell escaped and ran outside calling for the police who came and took her husband to jail.

E. N. Rowell Mansion at Batavia New York. Built 1923
Despite the fact that it was clearly a premeditated murder, Mr. Rowell was only charged with manslaughter. Since things like this didn't happen very often at that day in age, the trial was widely covered in the press. When it was all over on February 8, 1884 the jury acquitted Rowell on the grounds of self defense! And while it isn't known how the people of Rockledge felt about Mr. Rowell, the townspeople of Batavia celebrated his acquittal with cheers in the courtroom and fireworks that evening.

As you can probably guess, Mr. Rowell filed for divorce from his wife in April of 1884 and received full custody of his two daughters. While the former Mrs. Rowell is said to have lived out her remaining days in need, Mr. Rowell went on to find happiness in arms of, yes you can guess it, his former secretary for whom he built the lovely house pictured above, and who became President of his company upon his death.

Monday, July 11, 2016

St. Mary's Church Restoration

Thought you might enjoy seeing the latest on the restoration of the old St. Mary's Church Building in Rockledge. Check out the link to Jodi's blog for more info and pictures!

CCS Restoration returned to Rockledge, Florida this week
to resume work on the restoration of the diamond pane
windows of the Old St. Mary's Church.
 Read more about what makes these windows so special in
CCS Restoration blog. 
Have a Restoration Project in Mind?

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Monday, May 23, 2016

National Historic Preservation Month 2016

May is National Historic Preservation Month and the Brevard Heritage Council, Brevard County's oldest organization dedicated to historic preservation, celebrated it by hosting their annual awards evening on May 12th to recognize those individuals who have restored any type of historic structure in Brevard County. Many of these projects were not started and completed within the last year, but they are honored in the year they are "done." And I say "done" as anyone who has ever restored an old structure knows that it is pretty hard to ever been done working on them!  As you may or may not know, there are no grants or public monies available for those restoring a private home and due to very few local ordinances there are few restrictions on what can be done to historic structures in the area. As a result almost all historic preservation work is done by private individuals using their own funds and knowledge. The Heritage Council, which rents the historic City Point Church from the County, has for many years honored these brave individuals for their hard work and dedication in saving such wonderful examples of our local history. 

The board members of the Brevard Heritage Council nominate properties from all parts of the county which are then photographed, documented and then submitted for judging. And yes they are open to suggestions! Only the exteriors are judged and the Council awards either a Banner Award or a Heritage Award based on various criteria. In general the structures that receive a Banner Award have to be pretty close to perfect, and in near original condition. This typically means original siding, windows, roofing material, no additions etc. The Heritage Award recognizes a property that has been renovated and maintained to a high degree and is a credit to its community. 

Various experts have been asked to judge the entries over the years and this year I was asked to be the judge.  Below are photographs of the properties honored. 

HERITAGE AWARD 310 Orange St., Titusville, FL
Folk Victorian Style

BANNER AWARD 35 Barton Ave., Rockledge, FL
Queen Anne Style

BANNER AWARD 45 Barton Ave., Rockledge, FL
Folk Victorian Style

BANNER AWARD 3543 N. Indian River Drive, Cocoa, FL
Monterey Style
All of the property owners have done a wonderful job and are to be congratulated!!

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