If there’s one thing that Titusvillians think they know about Titusville, it’s that they know everything about Titusville. And if they don’t know everything about Titusville, they know a family that’s been here for six generations that knows everything. But what if I told you there was more to this North Brevard town than what meets the eye? Although known for its prime launch viewing spots and history with Kennedy Space Center, Titusville’s roots run deeper than the highs and lows of its space age.
Here are 10 things that you might not know:
1. Titusville has the county’s only fire safety clown
Just recently, Titusville became the only city in the county to employ a fire safety clown. And yes, it is exactly how it sounds. Meet Kerri Lubeski, the Life Safety Specialist for the Titusville Fire Department, and her alter ego “Ember,” the fire safety clown. Lubeski graduated March 30 from the Florida State Fire College in Ocala, which offers a week-long fire clown training program. And again, yes, there is indeed a clown school just for firefighters. The idea is “public education through characterization,” said Lubeski, and she plans to utilize her talents at community events, school visits and through other public outreach efforts.
“It’s just a different way to teach fire prevention messages with a character that can exaggerate things and create a message that will stay with them for a long time because it was taught by a clown,” said Lubeski.
She said she’s aware that a lot of people are afraid of clowns, but still hopes “Ember” will be a positive influence on the community.
2. Bruce Springsteen, Rascal Flatts and Fleetwood Mac all have a common link to Titusville
If you’ve been to a concert by Rascal Flatts, Fleetwood Mac, Kid Rock, Melissa Etheridge, Bruce Springsteen or even Demi Lavato, there’s a good chance you witnessed a piece of Titusville on stage.
All of these music artists have a common link to the Space Coast, and it’s that their bands include musical instruments made right here in Titusville. Gold Tone Music Group is a worldwide brand that sits in an unassuming location right on Hopkins Avenue. The location houses its family-run factory, and works with music distributors worldwide. Its biggest distributor? Amazon.
Gold Tone is as inconspicuously famous as it gets. Many Titusvillians aren’t aware that this musical power player is right in their backyard. Folk musicians Wayne and Robyn Rogers opened a music store in Brevard in the 1970s but eventually developed a “traveling banjo,” which put their business on the map. The company now carries five different product lines, including the “zero glide” nut system the company patented. That’s a special part that reduces contact between the string and the nut of an instrument.
3. Tarzan once opened a theme park here
Youngsters may not know of a man named Johnny Weissmuller, but he’s a pretty big deal to those who have been in the area for generations. He was an actor that was most famous for his role playing Tarzan in the movies from the 1930s and 1940s. He was also an Olympic athlete. You know the famous Tarzan yodel? Weissmuller invented that and allegedly yelled it to his neighbors from the back door of his Titusville home on Knox McRae.
Weissmuller didn’t just live here, though. He was part of a theme park called “Tropical Wonderland” in the 1950s. Tropical Wonderland, which was eventually renamed “Florida Wonderland,” was located at the intersection of U.S. 1 and State Road 50. It touted Wild West shootouts, a train ride and a zoo featuring alligators, monkeys, lions and an elephant … which met its demise when it got loose on U.S. 1 and was hit by a semi-truck.
An elephant died on U.S. 1 in Titusville? It’s true, according to North Brevard Historical Society documents. One of the original Tropical Wonderland buildings, an iconic A-frame structure, still stands today.
4. Monkeys used to roam the streets (and may still)
Thanks to the failed Florida Wonderland theme park, monkeys were dumped in Titusville following its closure, according to North Brevard Historical Society records. The non-native primates roamed areas all around Sisson Road and the Enchanted Forest. Some old-timers even recalled seeing them found dead. Some could even be spotted today.
Locals say that it’s been awhile since a monkey sighting (the 1990s), but anything’s possible.
5. There’s a wild sunflower field that makes the best backdrop for pictures
Near where Tropical Wonderland once stood is now a sunflower field that blooms every year. In May, locals can be found posing for pictures among the beautiful, yellow landscape. The flowers were planted by Bob Kirk of Kirk Realty, who owns the property, and wanted it to be a community garden of sorts. He said he enjoyed seeing people take pictures in the field, and even planted corn on the property for kids to come and pick for free. He said a group of children would collect sunflowers each year and bring them to local hospitals and nursing homes.
Unfortunately, Kirk said he isn’t replanting this year as the property is being permitted for a new development. If you need a sunflower fix, Sledd’s U-Pick farm in Mims hosts a sunflower maze at least twice a year in May and in the fall. It’s currently open for the season.
6. There are cliffs and quarries hidden among Titusville’s ancient dunes
Rewind about 120,000 years and Titusville was beachfront property, said David Celli, who works for Brevard County Parks and Recreation and is a self-proclaimed “fossil hunter.” Celli walked through the woods near WW James Park off of Sisson Road until he reached a cliff that stood above a pool of water. He called the sandy hills in South Titusville “the ridge.”
These are the ancient dunes, he said, and you will find coquina rock quarries and remnants of a time when the ocean barreled over Titusville’s coastline, and even farther onto the mainland. Celli said he found a 5-inch-long shark tooth in Gainesville, indicating the entire state was once waterfront.
Walk the ridge near Sisson Road, the Enchanted Forest, State Road 405 or Grissom Parkway and experience a piece of prehistoric Florida.
7. A popular fishing boat was invented in Titusville
For those who want the maneuverability of a canoe, but the balance and strength of a fishing boat, behold the Gheenoe. The Gheenoe is a boat developed by Harley Gheen, who was an avid fisherman and senior designer at Kennedy Space Center in the 1960s. He abandoned his career to develop his specialized fishing boat, which decades later is legend among fishermen worldwide.
There are four models of Gheenoe boats manufactured at the Gheenoe location on State Road 405 in Titusville and two additional models manufactured on Childre Ave. Gheenoe is now run by Harley’s two sons, Sam and “Pugar.”
8. The “redfish capital of the world”
One of Titusville’s claims to fame is it is the “redfish capital of the world.” Of course, there are a number of other places that make this same claim. However, the lagoons that border Titusville are known for their plentiful supply of large redfish.
A paradise of sorts for local fishermen, redfish tails can be spotted peeping up throughout the Mosquito Lagoon and various other areas of the Indian River Lagoon. Of course, Merritt Island must also deserve credit for this, as the wildlife refuge borders these areas as well.
9. The name used to be Sand Point
Titusville was not always Titusville, a group of historians at the North Brevard Historical Society told FLORIDA TODAY. It was once “Sand Point,” a name many wish would have stuck.
The name was changed after Colonel Henry Titus won a domino game against Captain Clark Rice in 1873 for naming rights. Titus was the unofficial postmaster of the town and when it became incorporated in 1867, he gave the city his namesake.
10. Most of downtown Titusville burned to the ground
Modern-day historic downtown Titusville is but a fraction of what it used to be in the 1800s. Nearly all of downtown, about 42 buildings and outhouses, were burned to the ground in the great fire of 1895. One person was killed, and others were injured.
The fire was a case of arson and two men were arrested for the deed. It started in the Hamburg dry goods store and spread throughout the city thanks to a strong western wind that night, according to North Brevard Historical Society documents. Town council documents, books and notable pieces of Titusville’s history were destroyed in the process. The estimated damage at the time? $60,000.
The two men arrested for the crime were found guilty and faced jail time in Orlando because locals did not want them housed in the area.
— As mentioned in the first part of this series, 10 things you may not know about the Space Coast, one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in history happened in … a Titusville subdivision. While developing the Windover Farms subdivision, an ancient burial site was found in a pond. “The remains uncovered at the Windover site were between 7,000 and 8,000 years old, making them 3,200 years older than King Tutankhamen and 2,000 years older than the Great Pyramids of Egypt,” according to Florida Frontiers.
— Also mentioned in the first article, Titusville has an endangered plant that only grows there. Its fancy scientific name is Dicerandra thinicola Miller, but experts call it the “Titusville mint” for short. It has a strong minty smell and may have long term medicinal use. Spot it along the path that runs through the Imperial States neighborhood through to Barna Avenue.
— Titusville shares a claim to fame with Rockledge for hosting a drive-in movie theater that showed pornos. The Moon Drive-In theater was located on State Road 50 in Titusville and showed X-rated films. Its racy content was booted in 1979 and turned into a more “family friendly” site, according to FLORIDA TODAY archives. Rockledge also had an X-rated drive-in theater on Barnes Boulevard.
This is the second part of a series that examines fun facts about the Space Coast’s history. Up next is Merritt Island.
Special thanks to Betty Mattingly, Esther Vulpius and Michael Knight of the North Brevard Historical Society who interviewed with FLORIDA TODAY and provided historical resources.
Contact trends reporter Jessica Saggio at email@example.com, 321-242-3664