In the early days of Brevard County, it was Cocoa and Rockledge that really got things rolling here on the Space Coast. In fact, Rockledge was technically the first incorporated city in the county. But everyone knows that, right?
And Cocoa, which wasn’t incorporated much later, wasn’t really supposed to be called Cocoa and (allegedly) got its name from a shipment of cocoa powder after the postmaster rejected its request to be “Indian River City.”
Everybody knows that, too, right?
The area, known for its great hunting and beautiful waterway, attracted pioneers and visitors who braved the mosquitoes, the terrain and the infamous Florida heat, and thus, the Space Coast was born.
But what isn’t widely known about this historically rich areas of Brevard County?
Here are 10 things you may not know about Cocoa and Rockledge
1. Florida armadillos originated in Cocoa
Next time your car finds itself playing chicken with an armadillo in the middle of the night, raise a fist and let out a curse to… Cocoa.
The nocturnal, somewhat destructive and roadkill-prone armadillo is not native to the Sunshine State and we can thank Cocoa for its existence here in Florida.
According to the book “Images of America: Cocoa and Rocklege” we can blame Gus Edwards, a prominent lawyer who is credited for developing Cocoa Beach. Edwards also developed the Cocoa Zoo in the 1920s, which was not among his greatest accomplishments. Edwards, who had lived in Texas prior to his time in Cocoa, brought the Longhorn State’s iconic armadillo to serve as the star of the Cocoa zoo. That was, until the zoo went broke and they released all the armadillos into the wild. Bada-bing bada-boom, now we have armadillos.
It turns out, though, they fit in just fine around these parts.
“They seem to be pretty well immersed in Florida ecosystem. They didn’t displace a lot of other species, they are a food source for a lot of things and they keep other things under control,” said Keith Winsten, executive director of the Brevard Zoo. “They are incredibly charming articles, they don’t bite.”
However, “when faced with an automobile, their escape technique is to jump up which is a really bad idea.”
Oh, and if you see one tearing up your yard, there’s a good chance you’ve got grubs in your grass, said Winsten, so lay off the fertilizer.
2. We have a reason to root for the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final
Get on your black and gold, Brevard, because we have a direct link to this year’s Stanley Cup Final and he plays center for the Vegas Golden Knights.
Meet Ryan Carpenter, the superstar hockey player who trained right here in Rockledge at the Space Coast Iceplex. Carpenter was born in Oviedo, but played for the Space Coast Hurricanes junior team when he was 15. Generally players on that team are 17, 18 and 19 years old, said former Iceplex owner Rick Ninko, but Carpenter stood out as a top-notch player even back then. The Space Coast Hurricanes went on to win the national championship for the Junior C level, a huge milestone for Florida hockey.
“It was a big deal at the time because it changed the face of hockey in that all of sudden Florida was being recognized as a place that produced good hockey players, and Ryan was one of them,” said Ninko.
Carpenter left Florida to play USHL junior hockey in Iowa, followed by collegiate hockey at Bowling Green University, minor leagues in Massachusetts and eventually the Vegas Golden Knights, a brand new team in the National Hockey League this season. In true Cinderella story fashion, the team is currently competing for the 2018 Stanley Cup against the Washington Capitals.
3. Rockledge High School was once Cocoa High School (let me explain)
There’s a reason Rockledge and Cocoa high schools have such fierce rivalry and it can all be traced back to turf. The current Rockledge High School building was actually Cocoa High School at one time. Yes, Cocoa High School was in Rockledge and then moved to where it currently sits off Range Road. Once Cocoa high moved, Rockledge high took its place.
Cocoa High School was at the Rockledge location until 1970 and moved into its new facility because of capacity issues, said Dane Theodore, assistant superintendent of facilities for Brevard Public Schools.
The two schools have since formed an intense rivalry and just last year Rockledge beat Cocoa in football for the first time in 11 years.
4. Clearlake isn’t just a road
In the 1950s, 60s and 70s not everyone in the Cocoa and Rockledge areas had a pool, but they did have Clear Lake. As in, Clear Lake, the actual lake, not the road that runs through town.
Those who grew up in the Cocoa area recall a time when Clear Lake, the lake currently that sits on the Eastern Florida State College campus, was a place for swimming and parties. It was perhaps the most popular local watering hole. It was also once a source of drinking water for the city of Cocoa, but that was (fortunately) before it became a community swimming pool.
FLORIDA TODAY asked about Clear Lake in a popular Cocoa Facebook group and within minutes, hundreds of comments poured in sharing good times experienced at the lake. Some noted they learned how to swim in the lake, others camped there and some had picnics. And yes, it was actually clear at one point. There was even a slide, a dock, ropes and lifeguards who kept a look out for alligators. A sandy beach faded away and EFSC buildings were constructed over time. The student center now sits atop what used to be the sandy beach.
“Clearlake was a central point of recreation for families. We swam to the platform dock to dive, took swimming lessons, and I remember fondly, rode our horses across on hot summer days,” said Lisa Gurri, among dozens of other reminiscent comments on the thread. “Clearlake was fed by several springs on the west side and an artesian well fountain near then BCC Student Center, it was very clear where the Spring head fed the lake and we all cohabited with the gators.”
Many also went to watch the “submarine races,” commenters joked. Swimming at the popular hang out stopped in the 80s as then-Brevard Community College built up its campus around the lake and signs warned of alligators.
5. There’s a castle in Rockledge
Rockledge is the only city in Brevard that can boast it has a castle. Yes, a castle. And a pink one at that.
Nestled along Valencia Road in Rockledge sits a 3,561-square-foot castle. It features four bedrooms and three-and-a-half baths, which is quite small for castle stands, but hey, it’s Brevard not the Irish countryside.
But there are perks to having a Florida castle. This one comes with a pool, ornate fountain, private courtyard, mangoes and other fruit trees and a large screened-in back porch, according to a past FLORIDA TODAY report.
The 1920s-era home was completely remodeled and recently was sold. It was listed for $400,000. There were multiple offers and the house sold over asking price, said Shane Burgman of the Carpenter/Kessel Homeselling team, which listed the property.
6. The Cocoa water tower’s patriotic design has a tie to … Greece?
Perhaps the most iconic landmark in Cocoa, the patriotic water tower that sits near the corner of Peachtree Street and US 1 doesn’t just look the part. It’s history is intertwined with, well, love of country. Surely, the giant American flags give that away.
Although the water tower was repainted in 2015, the prominent American flag design dates back to 1976 during the country’s bicentennial celebration. The flags are there thanks to Demetrios Dourakos, a Greek immigrant who wanted to show his gratitude to the country by painting the flags free of charge in honor of the bicentennial. Dourakos owned the Royal Painting Company on Merritt Island and the job was estimated to cost about $10,000 at the time.
Of course, over time, the tower has needed refurbishments, including the latest upgrades in 2015. The water tower’s latest renovation earned the tower bragging rights. It was crowned the 2015 Tank of the Year and appeared as Miss January in a calendar published by Tnemec Co. Inc.
Dourakos also painted the giant flag on the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, according to FLORIDA TODAY archives.
Fun fact, said Cocoa Mayor Henry Parrish III, no matter which direction you are traveling, you can see a flag.
“The tower needed an enormous amount of work, but we didn’t want to lose the flags. We refurbished the tower to kind of represent how we refurbished the water system,” said Parrish. “We made the flags smaller, added another flag and redialed it so when you come over the bridge from Merritt Island you see a flag, north you see a flag and south you see a flag and so on.”
7. “River Road” was originally a Native American trail
Indian River Drive, Riverside Drive or Rockledge Drive, depending on how far south you go, was one of the first main thoroughfares on land in Brevard County. Primary transportation during the early days of Cocoa and Rockledge was by boat, but thanks to Native Americans and animals who resided before the area’s pioneers, the riverside path was pretty much already formed.
“The River Road connecting Cocoa and Rockledge was originally a dirt Native American trail. Because it followed the Indian River shoreline, it was convenient for the early settles who homesteaded there,” according to “Images of America: Cocoa and Rockledge.”
8. Cocoa has a link to the Beverly Hillbillies
Save the jokes about Mims and Scottsmoor, because it’s actually Cocoa that can be most associated with the Beverly Hillbillies.
Star of the show Buddy Ebsen, who played the role of Jed Clampett, taught dance with his sisters in Cocoa, prepping young boys and girls for the Orange Jubilee. The Orange Jubilee Ball was a big celebration hosted in the Cocoa area.
“The school is known to have been active in the late 1930s and early 1950s,” according to “Images of America: Cocoa and Rockledge.”
Ebsen eventually opened the Ebsen School of Dance in Orlando.
9. Rockledge’s glass coffin legend is … dun dun dun … false
For decades, long timers on the Space Coast have passed down the tale of the legendary “glass coffin” on Rockledge Drive. The story goes that a young girl died because she drowned in the Indian River. Or was it because she got hit by a car? Or because she died of a sleeping sickness? Take your pick. Either way, she died and her father didn’t bury her. Instead, he put her in a glass coffin that rested inside a mausoleum facing the water so she could always look out upon her beloved Indian River. A super weird story if you go with the “drowning” angle. Pretty morbid. “Hey, look at where you died … for eternity.”
The story was the basis for likely hundreds of “truth or dare” escapades, as many have considered it a thrill to search for the glass coffin.
Well, if you have a bubble, go ahead and pop it because the truth is that the story is completely fabricated. There was no young girl who died, and no, she doesn’t haunt the river in a Victorian dress. Sorry, Brevard, the spook is a spoof.
In a FLORIDA TODAY report from December 1969, the tale was investigated. It turns out that the owner of the mausoleum, Jerome Pluckebaum, was interviewed about the local legend before his death. The only thing true about the story is that the mausoleum existed. Inside, rests Pluckebaum’s wife, whose final wishes were that she “stay forever” at their winter home in Rockledge.
“She was later joined by his parents, a sister and in time, Plukebaum himself,” the article reads.
“This is my home,” said Pluckebaum. “I don’t know how the stories got started. The only guess I have is when I built the mausoleum, a lot of people around here had never heard of a mausoleum.”
The mausoleum has since been moved.
10. Cocoa “The trout capital of the world”
Titusville may claim to be the redfish capital of the world, but apparently all the trout live in Cocoa.
In the 1950s, then-Mayor S. Gary Bennett Jr. was working to generate tourism and interest in Cocoa. His plan? Market it as the trout capital of the world with a giant parade float, said current Mayor Henry Parrish III.
“He would take that float and put it in the parades as far as Atlanta, Georgia,” said Parrish. “He took it to Orlando, everywhere he could.”
But was it accurate? Well, not technically, said Parrish, there was no real science to back up the claim.
Still, the Indian River Lagoon was a hotbed for catching trout, he said, so few fisherman left disappointed.
Contact trends reporter Jessica Saggio at email@example.com