Along this stretch in Brevard County, Route One, The Harbor City Boulevard, is like a great river. 35,000 cars pass along the Boulevard each day while hundreds of boats sit idle in the Eau Gallie harbor.
It didn’t begin that way. The Harbor City of Eau Gallie, now part of Melbourne, was centered on the water. Inland travel meant rough terrain, wild boars, mosquitoes, alligators, snakes, and dense vegetation with an attitude. No, being on a calm river inlet meant you could usually paddle or sail to other places with ease. Island living was common, even desirable.
The community was first settled by John Carroll Houston in 1859. A relative of Sam Houston, he arrived there on Army business, conducting a census of the Seminole tribe. He liked the area so much that he applied for a land grant through the Army, took a leave of absence and built a house along the banks of the river.
Almost all travel was by boat in the generation after John Houston’s arrival. Central Florida remained mostly untouched by the Civil War, but following the conflict, freed slaves and many white settlers began homesteading in Florida. The Spanish had introduced tomatoes, oranges, pineapples (from Venezuela), avocados (from Mexico) and horses just 130 miles North in St. Augustine, the longest inhabited settlement in the contiguous 48 states, beginning in 1565. Homesteaders established citrus and vegetable farms and began commercial fishing and transport along the Indian River.
William Henry Gleason hailed from Eau Clair, Wisconsin. In 1870 he purchased a 16,000 acre tract of land that he named “Eau Gallie”. The name has generally been translated to mean rocky waters. The shores of the rivers are lined with coquina rock, a rough coastal sediment embedded with tiny shells. Gleason was prosperous and well connected. He had served as the Lieutenant Governor of Florida while living near Miami prior to his arrival in Brevard County. His greatest impact on Eau Gallie was when he convinced Henry Flagler to extend his railroad through the town in 1887. Finally, inland travel was swift and reliable. Tourists that had trickled into Eau Gallie in the winters aboard small steamships now came by the carload aboard the trains. A tram line was built across the Indian River to shuttle travelers across the Indian River to Indian Harbour Beaches, slowly killing off the old ferry services.
With the changeover from water-based transit and trade to land-based travel, Eau Gallie was poised for rapid growth. That growth was interrupted by the financial panic of 1893 and by the Spanish-American War in 1898. It was a nervous time for Henry Flagler with so many railroad interests along the Florida peninsula. But as the 20th Century arrived, Eau Gallie had developed into a place where a hardworking person could make a comfortable living, and those with money to invest often prospered.
In 1926, Route One came through town, displacing its predecessor, the Quebec to Miami International Highway. 112 miles of the route in Florida was still an “earth road” then, but gradually the automobile began to overtake the railroad in delivering “snowbirds” to the sandy shores of the coast to golf, fish, and escape the cold northern winters. Not until the interstate highway system was adopted in 1956 would truck traffic begin to usurp railroad freight.
During the 1950s, manned flight and rocketry began to define the area. What is now the Patrick Space Force Base grew rapidly during World War II from a small Naval flight training station into a hub for naval combat forces. After the War, the base was transferred from the Navy to the Air Force. The development of Project Mercury by NASA in 1958 at Cape Canaveral was another driving force in the rapid population growth of the area. Eau Gallie and Melbourne grew together, and finally the cities merged in 1969 to better manage their public resources.
The Eau Gallie Arts District is a vibrant place with a group of talented and engaged people involved in its management. It was formed after a group of citizens petitioned the City of Melbourne for assistance in the 1990s. In 2000, a Community Redevelopment Area had been designated, which gave rise to the EGAD organization. By 2010, EGAD had been accredited as a Main Street organization. They now run tours, publish a magazine, run a summer camp, and sponsor events throughout the year. More at: www.egadlife.com/