Central East Florida heritage and history is an intriguing blend of Old Florida and the high tech space age.
The area began to attract settlers in the years immediately following the end of the Civil War in 1865. Prior to that, it was pretty much a "no man's land".
The beginning of the space age was at Cape Canaveral in the early 1950's. The heritage is still being made with the space program in Brevard County and the racing legends at Daytona Speedway.This heritage is shared by all 5 counties in this region. Each county has its fair share of sites that are an important part of Florida heritage and history.
Early settlements were in Ormond, Titusville, Cocoa, EauGallie, Melbourne, Sebastian and Fort Pierce. In those early days, life revolved around the Indian River Lagoon. Fishing provided a livelihood, and the communities were tied together by riverboat transportation in the years before the railroad.
Henry Flagler began extending his railroad south from St. Augustine, and one by one most of these little towns were served by the railroad and began to grow.
The area includes a great diversity of towns and attractions. It starts in the north with Daytona Beach and its International Speedway and world famous beaches. It's center is anchored by Cape Kennedy. The Space Age exists contentedly among the old Florida towns of Titusville, Cocoa and Melbourne.
Other old villages were swallowed up when the government purchased the land for the huge Space Center on Merritt Island. Only the old maps and history books will show Wisconsin Beach, Titusville Beach, Artesia, Audubon and other places that are now only names.
Central East Florida is a long narrow region that extends to St. Lucie Inlet in the south. There are only 5 counties in this area of Florida. Two of those counties - Brevard and Volusia - are long and skinny. Together they have more than 100 miles of beautiful sand beaches.
Indian River County and St. Lucie County are smaller, but with equally beautiful beaches. Okeechobee County is landlocked, but has other redeeming features, including Lake Okeechobee.
Central East Florida has several nicknames including Space Coast and Treasure Coast. It is also referred to as the eastern part of the I-4 Corridor. Interstate Highway I-4 runs from Daytona to Tampa. This stretch of land from the Atlantic to the Gulf is one of the fastest growing regions in the United States.
Much of the growth is because of Orlando and its major tourist attractions. Families who take in Walt Disney World and Universal Studios also like to spend some time at the beach. Daytona Beach with its speedway and driveable beaches is also a magnet for vacationers. NASCAR fans from all over the country flock to town for major racing events like the Daytona 500.
Bike Week in Daytona draws thousands of two wheelers and they are pretty well behaved compared to the image many folks have of bikers. Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island and its exhibits are also a major draw. Nearby Cocoa Beach has wonderful sand beaches and Ron Jon's Surf Shop.
The St. Johns River, one of the few north flowing rivers in the world, forms much of the western boundary of Central East Florida. This magnificent river is an adventure in itself. It is a fresh water river, and is the longest river in Florida. It is known as the "river of lakes", and is ecologically unique. It forms the centerpiece of much of Central East Florida heritage and history.
Its course is actually a series of what were once salt water estuaries behind the ancient Florida barrier island. Excavation along the St. Johns River have turned up shark's teeth and other salt water souvenirs from ancient times. In ancient Florida history, the ocean was mere yards away from the St. Johns. Now it is twenty or more miles west of the ocean at most locations.
The river starts in the freshwater marshes of Lake Helen Blazes near Melbourne. From there it flows north through Sanford and discharges in the Atlantic Ocean 20 miles east of Jacksonville. Jacksonville sprawls along the banks of the St. Johns, and it's nickname is The River City. The river has played a major role in Florida history.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, had a winter home in Mandarin on the banks of the St. Johns River. Many historians feel her novel helped start the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln certainly believed so.
Not until the river passes Jacksonville, do its waters become brackish.
The St. Johns River only falls about 30 feet in its 310 mile trip to the ocean. This means it is a lazy river, with slow moving water and lots of meandering. There are many fine little towns and parks along the long scenic course of the river.
The Indian River in Brevard County is also scenic and great for fishing and boating. It is really a brackish estuary and is officially known as the Indian River Lagoon. It is a large part of Central East Florida Heritage.