The Real History of The City Of Melbourne, Florida
Mr. Cornthwaite John Hector
A write-up about the Florida Metropolitan statistical area would not be complete without a mention of Melbourne, FL. The city had to be named Melbourne as a way of appreciating the good works of its first postmaster, Mr. Cornthwaite John Hector, who spent the larger part of his life as in Melbourne, Australia. Located right in the Brevard Country, the city was originally called “Crane Creek” by former slaves who founded it in 1867 after the civil war.
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The area began to be called “Melbourne” eight years before the town was officially established. A name was needed because a post office was being established to serve families in the area. The first postmaster, Cornthwaite John Hector, was an Englishman who spent much of his life in Melbourne, Australia, before opening a general store at Crane Creek.
Credited with suggesting the Melbourne name, however, was Mrs. R.W. Goode. Hector is said to have favored a different name. Although there is more than one version of how the naming was accomplished, it appears that straws representing various names were drawn. The “Melbourne” straw was the one drawn.
On the morning of Dec. 22, 1888, a group of 23 qualified electors gathered to create the “Village of Melbourne” by a spoken vote, gaining the benefits provided to towns under Florida law. By evening, those pioneer settlers had elected their first officers and had settled on a corporate seal. It depicted a pineapple plant, along with a crane and a palmetto tree.
Up to that time, the small community located on a natural harbor of the Indian River Lagoon had been known as “Crane Creek.” The name reflected the importance of the harbor, formed where a freshwater creek flowed into the saltwater lagoon. At the time, barge traffic north and south along the lagoon was vital for the latest arrivals on the peninsula.
The history of Melbourne, Florida has always been a journey on the path of progress. The Indian River Lagoon attracted lots of settlers into the area in late 1800. These people, together with those already there, formed two distinct communities growing side by side for half a century. One was in Melbourne while the other was in Eau Gallie. Not until the year 1969 did the two cities came together to form Melbourne, Florida as it is known to be today.
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Down the Lagoon edge was the Front Street, just a stone throw from the Melbourne harbor. The street was one of the first commercial spots in the city. However, the subsequent introduction of rail transport in the city shifted commercial interests westward. It was a turning point in the city. Although Eau Gallie had rail tracks before Melbourne, it was no surprise because building the tracks across Eau Gallie River to connect with Melbourne was a big time-consuming exercise. Residents of Melbourne had to wait until on the 3rd of July 1893 when the first train stepped on the soil of the city. Now, Melbourne is in a prime position being connected to Florida on one side and on the other side with Miami. The city’s importance has increased considerably as a result.
Eau Gallie began as a small coastal town along the river on the Florida East Coast. Brevard County, home of Eau Gallie, was named after the State Comptroller, Theodore Washington Brevard in 1855.
In 1859, the US Army sent John Houston to conduct a Seminole Indian census. Arriving in the Indian River area, John fell in love with its beauty. He took a leave of absence and applied for a soldier’s land grant. Houston traveled to Eau Gallie with his sons and 10 slaves. His wife joined him a year later when their cabin was finished.
The area changed little during the Civil War. Former lieutenant governor, William Henry Gleason founded Eau Gallie in 1869 as he made his way to Arlington from Miami.
Gleason’s new land consisted of the entire area from the Indian River Lagoon to Lake Washington (about thirty square miles).
Eau Gallie is commonly said to mean “rocky water”, since coquina rocks were found in the area. While eau means “water” in French, gallie is not a French word and may be derived from galet (“pebble” in French). Some attribute it a Chippewa word; however, Chippewa speakers lived much farther north of Florida.
A post office called Eau Gallie was established in 1871, and remained in operation until it was discontinued in 1970. The Kentucky Military Institute wintered in Eau Gallie from 1907 to 1921.
For entertainment, the town had a “speedway” for stock car races west of Wickham Road from 1957 to about 1971.
Melbourne Naval Air Station
Melbourne, Florida has been on a progress march since it was founded. With the Second World War came the Melbourne Naval Air Station formed in 1942. At inception, it was run as a training unit for newly appointed pilots being originally located right where we now have the Melbourne International Airport.
On October 20,2001, a State historical marker was dedicated to the honor of all personnel who were in the Navy and Marines or worked in a civil service capacity at NAS Melbourne.The dedication especially honors the 65 men who died at the station in performance of their duty.
NAS Melbourne was commissioned as Operational Training Unit 2 on October 20,1942 and closed on February 15,1946.The Station was used for training newly commissioned Navy and Marine pilots.
There were over 2,200 pilots who trained in Grumman F4F Wilcat and F6F Hellcat fighter planes.Of the pilots trained, 63 died in aerial accidents and two enlisted men died in ground-related accidents.
Today the area is operated by the City of Melbourne Airport Authority
Pride in the Melbourne Naval Air Station has been published in the book US Naval Air Station, Melbourne Florida, WW II by William R, Barnett who was a student pilot there in summer of 1944.
Melbourne, FL Census and Population
The city has recorded growth in populations as well as in its collections of places of attractions. The 2010 census declared the city population to be well over 75,000 without including the populations of surrounding towns like Indian Harbor Beach, Grant, and Palm Bay. Tourists in search of places of attractions in the city have never been in lack.
Some of these Melbourne Florida places of interest include:
- The Melbourne Auditorium
- Melbourne Greyhound Park
- The Liberty Bell Memorial Museum
- The Rossetter House Museum
- Camp Holly
- The Andretti Thrill Park
- The Foosaner Art Museum
- The Maxwell C. King Center for Performing Arts
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