Brevard County is a county in the U.S. state of Florida, along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010 census, the population was 543,376, making it the 9th most populous county in the state. Influenced by the presence of the John F. Kennedy Space Center, Brevard County is also known as the Space Coast. As such, it was designated with the telephone area code 321, as in 3-2-1 liftoff. The county is named after Theodore Washington Brevard, Jr., an early settler, and state comptroller.
The official county seat has been located in Titusville since 1894, although most of the county's administration is performed from Viera. Brevard County has more than one county courthouse and sheriff's office because of its length. Hence, government services are not centralized in one location, as they are in many American counties.
The county is coextensive with the Palm Bay–Melbourne–Titusville, Florida, metropolitan statistical area, a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) designated by the Office of Management and Budget and used for statistical purposes by the Census Bureau and other agencies. Palm Bay, Melbourne and Titusville are designated as the principal cities of the MSA. The Melbourne–Titusville–Cocoa, Florida, standard metropolitan statistical area was first defined in 1973. Cocoa was removed as a principal city in 1983, and Palm Bay was added, with the name changed to Melbourne–Titusville–Palm Bay, Florida, metropolitan statistical area. The MSA name was changed to its present form in 2003.
The first Paleoindians arrived in the area near Brevard County between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago. The Paleoindians were semi-nomadic people who lived in smaller groups. At the time, the earth was going through its most recent ice age and the climate of the area was much different than it is now; it was similar to that of Great Britain today. The area which today is Brevard County was probably not coastal at this period in time. The coast of Florida was about wider, and the Indian River was simply a lower point on dry land.
After a few thousand years, perhaps by around 3000 B.C., peninsular Florida resembled the land of today in shape, climate, fauna, and flora. The ocean had risen enough to flood the Indian River with salt water.
About this time, a new group of settlers appeared, known as the Archaic people. These people were primarily fishermen, as opposed to the hunting and gathering way of life which characterized the Paleoindians.
From Spanish rule to statehood
In the year of 1601 the Spanish King commissioned a map of Florida indicating his desires for a fort to be built in Miami. On the map he indicated the land we know as Brevard county as the 'Province of Ais', as it was typical in those days to designate a region of specific tribal domination and generally took its name from the ruling cacique.
Later in 1605, Alvaro Mexia was dispatched from St. Augustine to the "Province of the Ais"area on a diplomatic mission to the Ais Indian nation. He helped establish a "Period of Friendship" with the Ais caciques (chiefs) and made a color map of the area.
Heavy mosquito infestation and the threat of Indian attacks kept the area from having any permanent European settlements. The Spanish intermittently settled the area. In 1763, the Spanish relocated the local population to Cuba, reduced to 80 natives who had survived exposure to European diseases. The Spanish briefly passed the sovereignty of Florida to the British in the Treaty of Paris. Creek Indians from the north quickly swept down from Georgia and the Carolinas to fill the void. These Indians became known as the Seminole. Their activity in Brevard County was intermittent and usually not permanent.
The Spanish ceased control of Florida once again in 1821, ceding the territory to the United States. In 1837, Fort Ann was established on the eastern shore of the Indian River on a narrow strip of land on Merritt Island. During the construction of the Hernandez-Capron Trail, General Joseph Hernández and his militiamen encamped near present-day Mims. These settlements were short-lived and were abandoned shortly thereafter.
Statehood to 1900
In 1845, Florida became the 27th state of the Union. The foundation of Brevard County and its history in the 19th century is much more complicated. During the 19th century, the state of Florida was constantly changing the names and borders of counties. Indeed, St. Lucia County was split off from Mosquito (later Orange) County in 1844. St. Lucia County was renamed Brevard County in 1856, but this "Brevard County" contained very little of present-day Brevard County. Most of present-day Brevard north of Melbourne was part of either Volusia or Orange counties. Brevard County in 1856 extended as far west as Polk County and as far south as coastal Broward County. Complicating the discussion of Brevard County in the 19th century is that an early county seat was located at (Port) St. Lucie, which took its name from the original county name and was eventually split off from Brevard to form a new county, St. Lucie County, in 1905. Gradually, the borders of Brevard County were shifted northward while the county got "pinched" eastward. The portions of Brevard County in present-day Broward and Palm Beach counties were given to Dade County, western areas of the county were given to Polk and Osceola counties, and parts of Volusia and Orange counties were given to Brevard, including the eventual county seat of Titusville. Later, the southern portion of the county was cut off to form St. Lucie County, which in turn spawned Martin and Indian River counties.
The first permanent settlement in present day Brevard was established near Cape Canaveral in 1848. After the establishment of a lighthouse, a few families moved in, and a small but stable settlement was born. Gradually, as the threat of Seminole Indian attacks was becoming increasingly unlikely, people began to move into the area around the Indian River. In the 1850s a small community developed at Sand Point which eventually became the city of Titusville. Unlike other areas of Florida, the Civil War had little effect on Brevard County, other than perhaps to slow the movement of settlers to the area.
By the 1880s, the cities along the Indian River included Melbourne, Eau Gallie, Titusville, Rockledge, and Cocoa. Unlike cities further inland in Florida, these cities did not have to rely as heavily on roads. The primary way of traversing the county was by water. In 1877 commercial steamboat transportation became a reality as the Pioneer was brought to the area.
The first real boom to the area occurred with the extension of Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railroad into the area. The railroad reached Titusville in 1886 and Melbourne in 1894. With the railroad came increased settlement and the first tourists.
20th century to present
The advent of the automobile age brought even more growth to Brevard County, as resorts and hotels popped up all around the county. As the automobile became increasingly important as a means of transportation, roads connecting Brevard County to the rest of Florida and ultimately to the rest of the nation were built.
The first major land boom began in the 1920s with the end of World War I. People flooded into the state of Florida as land prices soared, only to bust as the Great Depression temporarily stopped growth in Florida. Before the start of World War II, the largest industries in Brevard were commercial fishing, citrus, and tourism.
In 1940, the Naval Air Station Banana River (now Patrick Air Force Base) was built. This began a new era in the development of Brevard County. Later, in the early 1950s, the Long Range Proving Ground was opened. This later became the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This changed the entire complexion of the county; where Brevard had once been considered a "backwoods" area of Florida, it instantly became the launching pad into outer space. What had once been a primarily low-tech farmer/fisherman economy was transformed into a high-tech engineering and computer economy.
In 1964, the Colt 45s started spring training at Cocoa Stadium. The team later became the Houston Astros. The team left the county in 1985. They were succeeded by the Florida Marlins at Viera in 1993.
In 1982, Windover Archaeological Site was discovered by a backhoe operator who was working on a housing development.
As a very long, but not very wide county, there had been a lot of complaints from people in the southern, more populous side of the county about being so distant from the county seat. A trip to conduct county business in Titusville was from the most populous city in the county, Palm Bay. There was talk of secession on the southern end of the county, and the county decided to build a new county administration complex at Viera near the geographical center of the county. This complex was started in 1989, and resulted in a counter-threat of secession from the Titusville end of the county. This proposal to form a new county, Playalinda County, had some momentum in the early 1990s. The county made a few concessions to the people in the northern part of the county, and agreed not to "officially" move the county seat. Viera, however, is for all intents and purposes the de facto seat of Brevard County.
The summer of 1998 produced some of the worst brush fires on record. were burned.
Prior to instituting controlled burns, the county forests and pastures burned for months during the dry season. From the 1940s to the 1970s, the state assumed control of burning that prevented uncontrolled fires. In 2006, the state burned a record in the county.
In 2004, hurricanes' Charley, Frances and Jeanne destroyed one in every hundred homes in the South County area. Within two blocks of the beach nearly every building sustained some damage. Barefoot Bay, a mobile housing development, was essentially destroyed. Winds tore off the roof of a shelter for special needs people in an elementary school. Emergency workers were forced to evacuate these people at the peak of the storm. Evacuation routes were insufficient to handle the resulting heavy traffic westbound when an emergency was declared. A major westbound route (US 192) was expanded in 2008 to four lanes to accommodate the south Brevard population.
The population grew about 50,000 between 2000 and 2005. From 2005 to 2009, it grew by about 10,000. This helped lead the county to a housing bubble crisis, since homes were built to accommodate a larger population.
In 2004, Brevard County ranked 13th out of 318 largest counties in the US for increase in the number of jobs. The county moved from 70 to 31 out of the top 200 metropolitan areas "Best Performing". This improvement was driven mainly by job growth. The 2004 hurricane recovery helped the area achieve high employment.
In 2004, Brevard experienced its best October and November tourism until then, despite widespread hurricane damage and loss of five beachside hotels. Four of these hotels were restored by 2006.
The Milken Institute ranked Brevard number one, out of 200 largest metropolitan areas, in overall job growth for 2005.
The National Association of Realtors reported that existing homes prices in Brevard rose 33% annually the third quarter of 2005, the sixth highest metropolitan area in the nation (out of 147). There was a slight decrease in existing home prices the last quarter of 2005.
In 2005, the Sunrise Bank of Cocoa Beach became the first bank in the state to have a mobile branch.
In early 2005, Forbes ranked the area 27th in job growth out of 150 metropolitan areas in the country. The county ranked 18th in the nation for mid-sized areas in 2006.
Manpower Employment Outlook Survey said the hiring outlook in Brevard for the last quarter of 2005 was the 19th-best in the nation among the 470 communities participating in the survey.
Nearly 44,943 new houses were built from 2000 through 2009. This was enough to house 112,000 people. However, only 60,000 people moved into the county, leaving the remaining homes vacant and helping to precipitate bursting of the United States housing bubble. In 2000, there were 198,195 households in the county and 222,072 units for an occupancy rate of 89.1%. Between 2000 and 2009, more than twice as many houses were built than were needed. Nearly 47,000 houses were built, but the number of households increased by 22,000, dropping the occupancy rate to 81.9%.
The county's median home price reached a high in August 2005 at $248,700. New home permits fell in 2007 to 1,894, the lowest since 1982. Sales of existing homes fell 19% in 2007 from the prior year to 373 monthly. The median drop in home prices was 50% from 2005 to 2008, from $248,700 to $125,200. However, when choices for smaller homes was eliminated, prices on individual homes fell 25%; down 33% for individual condos. In 2000, the median sale price of homes in Brevard was $100,000. With the collapse of the housing bubble, homes now are often about the same price, with median homes in 2009 selling for $89,400. In November 2010, the number of sales and prices of existing homes rose from the previous year. This was the first rise in 4½ years. The average house sold for $87,700 in February 2011.
In a separate study, a consulting firm determined that house prices in the county were 46.1% overvalued in 2005 at $212,000 average. The same firm determined that prices were 19.3% undervalued in 2008 at $129,400. The average price in December 2009, fell to a new recent low of $104,100. In January 2010, sales dropped to 434 monthly, also a recent low.
The housing vacancy rate hit a high of 18.8% in 2007. The number of households renting hit a low of 48,528 in 2005. Median monthly rent hit a high of $907 in 2008. In 2009, 73% of Brevard households owned the house they lived in. The national rate was 65.9%.
In 2008, a number of mortgage insurers blackmarked Brevard, along with a quarter of the total nations zip codes. This was intended to thwart potential buyers who wish to pay less than 20% down on a home.
In 2009 an economist said that the Brevard housing market would not recover until at least 2011. A later analysis in 2009 seemed to agree, saying that the market would fall 41.4% to bottom out by the end of 2010.
Annual foreclosures rose from a low of 1,144 in 2005 to 9,228 in 2008. From 2007 to March 2010, there were 25,600 foreclosure filings. In 2010, it was found that 1/3 or more of real estate sales were due to foreclosures.
Note: originally named St. Lucie; renamed Brevard in 1855. The current St. Lucie County was created in 1905.