Brevard County was established by an act of the Florida Legislature in 1854, actually signed into law by the Governor early in 1855. The initial boundaries of the new county incorporated all of what had been St. Lucie County. At that time, Brevard extended southward along the state's Atlantic east coast all the way down to present day Miami-Dade County in south Florida. The origin of the county's name is widely attributed to Theodore W. Brevard, Florida Comptroller at the time of the county's creation. In the decades after it was first established, the boundaries of Brevard County were amended several times. It took on its current shape in 1905.
The earliest inhabitants of the Indian River region now called Brevard County were Native Americans who ventured into the area perhaps as long as 12,000 years ago. The descendents of these people became more settled, and began societies based on living off the resources of the Indian River Lagoon, the St. Johns River, and the surrounding coastal highlands and high points within the river basins. Known collectively as the archaic people, these are the humans who inhabited the Windover Archeological site in north Brevard County. Still later, their descendants became diversified into distinct tribes, the Ais and the Timucua, which lived along the shores of the Indian River lagoon and left behind huge mounds of discarded shellfish, animal bones, and fractured pottery. These were the native peoples who were encountered by the first Europeans. Many sites evidencing these first inhabitants remain scattered through our county and some have been well preserved on public lands.
Early Spanish explorers sailed along the Brevard County coastline and gave Cape Canaveral its name. There are well-documented accounts of European shipwreck survivors traveling among the native tribes in this region, and the well known adventure of Jonathon Dickinson, who kept a journal.
Still, the area would remain largely unsettled, except for a failed attempt by Andrew Turnbull to establish an agricultural colony, until after the U.S. Army and Florida Militia established supply posts and routes through the county during the Second Seminole War. As this conflict unfolded in 1835, the only known inhabitants of the present-day Brevard County area were Seminole Indians.
Fort Ann was established late in 1837 as an important supply depot on the east shore of the Indian River near the boat haulover point on a narrow strip of Merritt Island. Florida militia commander General Joseph Hernandez and his force encamped in the general vicinity of Mims and constructed a wagon road southward to Fort Capron and Fort Pierce that became known as the “Hernandez Trail.”
As armed conflict with the Seminoles slowly dwindled to a stalemate, with remaining holdouts of the tribe hidden but considered harmless in the vast Everglades to the south, adventuring pioneers like Douglas Dummitt and Mills Burnham began to establish new lives and homes on the Indian River frontier. A colony of settler families seeking land grants under the armed occupation act held home sites in the southern portion of our region until a sudden Indian scare prompted their hasty abandonment for fear of a massacre.
Gradually, pioneers trickled in and in the 1850s a small community was emerging in the vicinity of Sand Point, then a part of Volusia County and now the site of Titusville. By 1860, families were also settling the area around what would become Eau Gallie. The region remained very sparsely settled throughout the Civil War, though some of its men were recruited into Confederate service and died for the Southern cause.
The Indian River region really began to open up to settlement immediate following the Civil War, when defeated Southern soldiers and northern veterans as well moved their families to the unoccupied frontier to seek new lives and opportunity.
The towns of Titusville, Rockledge, and soon Melbourne, began to emerge and grow as trading, fishing, and agricultural centers along the Indian River. Primary transportation between the communities was by water. In 1877, Captain Lund brought the steamboat Pioneer to the Indian River to commence an era of commercial steamboat transportation that would extend into the early 20th century. By the mid 1880s, railroad transportation had arrived in Titusville, and soon the Flagler line extended the rail line southward through the entire county. Improved transportation brought still more settlers, and thousands of winter tourists.
Commercial fishing, citrus agriculture, resort tourism, and a variety of smaller industries continued to fuel the area’s economy and growth until World War II. In the years immediately following the end of the war, the undeveloped coastal scrub of Cape Canaveral became the home to America’s missile testing program, and by the 1960s, the home of America’s human space flight program and the launch site for the first U.S. astronauts. Soon, the nation’s investment in a major launch complex at the Kennedy Space Center to meet the challenge of sending American’s to the moon, coupled with the continuing role of Cape Canaveral in America’s missile development effort, produced a boom in population growth and development that continues to influence the region today.
To learn more about the history of Brevard County, read the official history published in three volumes and available from the Brevard County Historical Commission Book Store.