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.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Early Brevard County Newspapers

Well, they have done it again! Intrepid researchers and writers Jim and Bonnie Garmon of Cocoa have published a new book entitled Early Brevard County Newspapers, which is based on their research in the archives at the Central Brevard Library in Cocoa. To use their own words, "Brevard County historians and genealogists are lucky - while doing research on the history of the area and the people who lived here they are greatly aided by having microfilm of many of the early newspapers of the area." In addition to the microfilm, many of the original papers have also survived and are housed at the Central Brevard Library. As the Garmons point out, we are indeed lucky to have these papers as there are large holes in some of the other records for our county, which the information contained in these papers can often fill. As an example, few of the Brevard's cities have saved their early building permits which makes researching historic structures difficult. However, the newspapers often carried mentions of  these permits and frequently elaborated on the structure planned. Local vital records are often incomplete but mentions of marriages and deaths are common in the papers.
Front Cover
Although we are indeed lucky, the Garmons discovered that using these newspapers can sometimes be a confusing prospect. Not unlike other areas, Brevard's newspapers were subject to frequent name changes and changes in ownership and editorship. In order to hash this all out the Garmons used the microfilm and other sources to document these changes. Thankfully, in most cases the editors of days gone by did a good job of noting the changes in the various editions of their own papers, but this could only be documented by going through each paper and noting the changes mentioned. Since some of these papers go back to the 1870's that was no easy feat. As a result we now have a book that is divided into chapters which outline the history of each paper. The book also includes a helpful index!
For anyone doing newspaper research in Brevard County this book is a must! It is available in paperback from lulu.com for $9.95.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

He Never Heard It Questioned

In 2011 I wrote a post about our area's best known early pioneer Douglas Dummett. Known as the founder of what became the Indian River area citrus industry, Dummett was also well known in his day for more controversial things such as his independent personality and for challenging the era's racial norms. Although Dummett has been the subject of much attention, I recently came across a document that I have never seen published or written about before that is interesting on several different levels. While searching for a naturalization record for an early German immigrant to Florida, I stumbled across a petition for naturalization from none other than Douglas Dummett! Since I knew that Dummett had come as a youth to Florida with his parents, I wondered what the heck that was doing in there. Apparently my surprise was the same as that felt by Dummett himself in October of 1840 when he was confronted with the issue of his citizenship. To use his own words, "he never heard it questioned until yesterday, and did not suppose until yesterday it was in any wise necessary for him to institute any proceedings in order to become a citizen."

Page 2, LDS microfilm #964745
Page one of naturalization

In order to rectify this unacceptable situation, Dummett submitted a petition for naturalization in St. John's County Court that gives us a great deal of background information on his life, some of which was lacking direct proof until now. In essence he provides a short biography in his own words, which is something very valuable that we have not had until now. After stating that he was born in January of 1806 at the Island of Barbados, under the rule of Great Britain, he says that he emigrated when about fourteen years of age to the United States and after landing in New York City he went to New Haven, Connecticut where he resided with his father's family until 1824 when they moved to Florida. He further stated that he always believed that his father was a naturalized citizen as he owned real estate in Connecticut, was a large land and slave holder while he lived in Florida, and that he voted at elections there and expressed other rights and privileges of a citizen. As for himself, Douglas Dummett says that he has not left the United States, except once as a teenager to visit Barbados, that he has married a native Floridian, and all his personal and real estate are in Florida.

 Apparently he was "informed his Citizenship is contested by some," one can only imagine what prompted that, and that if he is not a citizen he is filing this application to rectify the situation. Among those that swore to Dummett's application was his mother Mary D. Dummett and Edwin T. Jenckes a powerful politician known as the "fat man of Florida" due to his immense size. If you click on Mr. Jenckes' name above the link will take you to a very interesting article written about him in the January 1952 issue of the Florida Historical Quarterly.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Not To Be Missed

Well it is finally here! After several years of research the book I have been working on with Roy Laughlin and Robert Kronowitt is now completed and in print! The full title is Not To Be Missed, Cocoa's Architectural Heritage and Its People 1880-1950. It is quite a tome at 398 pages, and will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the historic structures in Cocoa. This book's premise is that history is all around us, influences our daily routines, and is a tangible, but often unrealized link to people long gone. As Roy states so well, "Houses, commercial, and public buildings are like a conch shell. They have survived the living animals that made them, and have the ability to persist indefinitely after their creators, like shells in coquina."
Front Cover
This book is the result of careful research that ranged from interviews with long time residents to an untold amount of consultation with original sources such as deed books and early newspapers. In many cases contemporary accounts of a structure's construction was found in the Cocoa Tribune so exact dates, builders and architects can now be assigned to previously anonymous buildings. These records also revealed the stories of our area's earliest residents and their level of involvement in creating the community we enjoy today. Every important section of Cocoa is included in this book with coverage on the business district, schools, the river front, the land boom neighborhoods north of town and the African American community.
In addition to all the information the book is illustrated with the wonderful sketches of artist Robert Kronowitt and many reproductions of original photos, advertisements and plat maps.
Back Cover
Not To Be Missed is available from Roy via email at notttobemissed.2001@gmail.com or for purchase at the Florida Historical Society or Travis Hardware in Cocoa Village. Other outlets for the book will likely be added over time.The price is $42.35 plus tax.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Man Remembered

As many of you will have heard Patrick Smith, beloved Florida author, passed away Sunday Jan. 26th, at the age of 87. Unlike many authors whose works are often not appreciated until after their deaths, Mr. Smith was lucky to have been well acclaimed during his life. A three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee he was also a member of the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, and the recipient of numerous awards including the "Great Floridian" award personally presented to him by Gov. Rick Scott last year. Although Mr. Smith authored many books he is best known for "A Land Remembered" which is a multi-generational story of a Florida pioneer family. I was lucky enough to have been introduced to this wonderful book many years ago in elementary school by a teacher who made it required reading. While I was already fascinated by history, the ancient Egyptians, the pilgrims, architecture etc., I was until I read that book, fairly ignorant of the history that surrounded me in my every day life. To say that this book changed my life would not be an exaggeration.
Cover of my childhood copy
Although it has been years since I read it the last time, I remember vividly the book's depictions of cattle drives, hurricanes, howling panthers, mosquitos, the state's native peoples and much more. In a true example of the fact that books can mean different things to different people, one of the things that really stuck in my mind and boosted my interest in conservation, were the book's mentions of the now extinct Carolina Parakeet. The mental image produced of  the bright blue Florida skies being filled with great flocks of brilliantly colored birds lent a tropical and exotic feel to the state that I hadn't thought of before. For those readers that aren't familiar with the story of the Carolina Parakeet, it is a sad one. Once prevalent across the United States, by 1860 the bird was rarely spotted outside of Florida. Deforestation, hunting for its plumage and to reduce its predation on southern crops led to its demise. The birds lived in huge noisy flocks, from 200 to 300 in number, and  were easy prey for anyone with a gun as when one member of the group was injured or killed the entire flock rallied around the fallen bird in a doomed attempt to save their comrade. Since modern knowledge of parrot behavior has shown us how intelligent and sensitive they are, the thought of seeing such a sight still makes me sick to my stomach to this day.
Audubon's print of the Carolina Parakeet

If you haven't read "A Land Remembered" I encourage you to do so and get better acquainted with the history of our great state. In addition to that classic, Mr. Smith wrote several other books that are equally interesting. Among them are "Forever Island", "The River is Home", and "Angel City", which was even made into a CBS movie of the week in 1980. All of these titles can be found within our Brevard County Library System.

Patrick Smith will be greatly missed and Florida's historical community will be forever grateful for his many contributions and the recognition he brought to important issues.

Thank You Patrick!!!!