Early History of the Banana River Lagoon
This is an attempt from a fishing guide to establish a historical account of the Banana River Lagoon between Canaveral and Merritt Island, Florida. I am not an historian and have simply read and compiled information from various sources for our readers and customers to reflect on how things have come about in the Banana River Lagoon area. If anyone has anything to add or omit from this collection of information, please add a comment and I’d be excited to hear more about the history of our Banana River home area.
Pre Historic History of the Banana River Lagoon Area
A discovery in the 1980’s in a peat bog near Titusville of several human remains gives the first glimpse of mankind in the area of the Banana River Lagoon. Whether they made their way across to Merritt Island and it’s eastern shoreline has not been confirmed, but there is strong evidence of native Americans dwelling in the Canaveral area long before Europeans discovered and explored Florida’s coastline. Indian mounds and campsites are scattered abundantly on Brevard County’s shorelines adjacent to the Banana River Lagoon. Scientists believe the Titusville archaeological find points to Native American dwellers 7,000 years ago.
NOTE: Captain Gina was born and raised on South Merritt Island and her family found several stone arrow heads in their neighborhood in the sixties and early 1970’s. “My sister and mother still have these arrowheads today and it was thought that there was some early native settlements or camps nearby.”
Ais and Timucuan Indians
There is not much information about Banana River Lagoon prior to the colonization from the Spanish and French but here is our attempt to research and develop some historical perspective. Ponce De Leon and early Spanish explorers made mention of Cape Canaveral in the early 1500’s but feared the hostile Indian tribes in the area which were probably the Ais Indians. According to historical accounts during that time the Ais and Timucuan Indians inhabited the Banana River Lagoon areas with the Ais being a warring and migratory people and the Timucuans an agricultural and mainly peaceful inhabitants. Evidently the area around the Banana River Lagoon was the rough boundary for both tribes, with the Timucuans to the north and the Ais Indians to the south. Clashes between the tribes were historically noted in the fifteen and sixteen hundreds and both tribes were known for cannibalism.
These early inhabitants should not be confused with the Seminoles, who did not migrate into Florida until the 1700’s. Seminoles were not common in the Banana River area, but are known to have traded with American settlers in the Merritt Island area as late as the 1860’s.
The First European Inhabitants
As previously mentioned and noted that the discovery of the area by the Europeans happened within a few years after 1500. The Spanish had evidently been unable to establish a foothold in the Banana River area because of the hostile Ais Indians, however the first account of European settlements were established from a French shipwreck on the Canaveral shorelines that managed to cohabited peacefully among the natives until the Spanish rooted them out as a threat and pushed them them southward to possibly co mingle with the Ais Indians near the Cape and southward towards Cocoa Beach and the present area of Sebastian. The Spanish eventually expanded slowly southward against the Ais warriors with limited but steady success over the next century.
The Treaty of Paris in 1763 changed ownership to the British and for many years afterward the Cape was relatively unchanged and uninhabitable as much of the original inhabitants had been either killed by warring tribes or laid to waste by newly introduced European diseases. It appears that the Banana River area between Cape Canaveral and Merritt Island was not inhabited by Europeans or natives for the later half of the 1700’s. The British did not expand into this area of Florida during their brief ownership from 1763-1776 when the revolutionary war ended and the Louisiana purchase finalized the property transferring ownership to the American Union in the early 1800’s when the earliest American settlers made advancements into Florida.
Pioneering settlers trickled in during the 1820’s on Merritt Island and the Canaveral area establishing an agricultural homestead with commercial interest of growing citrus and pineapples. There are historical accounts that Douglas D. Dummitt established the first permanent settlement in the north Merritt Island area near Dummit Cove on the Indian River. Evidently Dummit did not utilize the Banana River on Merritt island’s eastern shoreline, but he surely used the Mosquito Lagoon to travel northward on the Indian River towards New Smyrna and St Augustine toward shipping docks northward delivering his famed “indian River Fruit” along the eastern seaboard.
Naming the Banana River Lagoon
The first permanent lighthouse keeper, Captain M.O. Burnham, arrived at Cape Canaveral in 1853 and tended the Cape Canaveral lighthouse until his death in 1886. Burnham’s contributions to the area’s history were many, and included the first modern exploration and mapping of the Cape Canaveral area.
Burnham established a permanent household around the lighthouse, and also undertook a number of agricultural projects, including an orange grove. He was the first American to navigate the Banana River, which he named after the wild bananas growing on its banks.
Early American Settlements on the Banana River Lagoon
We need some help here in establishing early settlements on the Banana River Lagoon prior to the Naval Air Station Banana River
- Angel’s City – Located on South Banana River Drive and named after an early resident and John Angel.
- Audubon – Located on the eastern shore of Merritt Island immediately north of present day KARS Park. The area was annexed in 1949 when President Truman signed the law into effect for Long Range Proving Ground for testing guided missiles which is now NASA property. Named after John James Audubon (the Naturalist) that visited Florida in the 1830’s to study animal life.
- Artesia – An early settlement in the Canaveral area.
- Oceanus – The early name of Cocoa Beach.
- Canaveral – Early Canaveral started at the Cape in the north and went southward where present City of Cape Canaveral is located. Port Canaveral and the eastern test range claimed the northern half of the Canaveral area before it was incorporated.
- Cocoa Beach – formally known as Oceanus, the City of Cocoa Beach was formally incorporated in 1957. According to the City of Cocoa Beach’s website, “The first real settlement in Cocoa Beach was started by a family of newly freed slaves following the Civil War. A hurricane in 1885 discouraged settlement. In 1888, a group of Cocoa men bought the entire tract of land. The land remained untouched until an attorney named Gus Edwards arrived. He bought Cocoa Beach and began to develop it. The City of Cocoa Beach was established on June 5, 1925. It was incorporated as a City on June 29, 1957. There was a 1,000″ percent population increase in the decade between 1950 and 1960.
- NAS Banana River – Present day Patrick Air Force Base the Naval Air Station Banana River was the humble beginnings of this modern day Air Force Base in 1939.
- Lotus – Located on South Merritt Island fronting both the Banana and Indian Rivers. Location of the Lindner’s Store on the Banana River carrying gasoline and supplies for the remote settlement, Lotus was slightly south of present day Honeymoon Hill.
- Banyan – Located on South Merritt Island fronting both the Banana and Indian Rivers.
- Tropic – Was small city located on present day Dragon Point where the Indian River and the Banana River meet near Mather’s Bridge.
About the author: I'm a charter fishing captain on Florida's east coast in Cocoa Beach near Orlando, Florida. I spend an exorbitant amount of time chasing fish patterns on the inshore and offshore waters around my barrier island hometown while raising two beautiful and brilliant daughters and enjoying the companionship of my lovely and gorgeous wife Gina.