Small town dreams fade on land now occupied by space center


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Peck Harris, a well-driller, and his hound lived in Orsino around 1940.

Courtesy of State Library and Archives of Florida

At one time, you could have purchased stock in the Orsino Telephone, Telegraph & Power Company. What, you didn’t hear of that opportunity? 

Well, you didn’t miss much, because not only was the timing (1925) not right, but Orsino ended up engulfed by NASA’s land rush to provide a buffer between the rockets at the Kennedy Space Center and the rest of the Space Coast.

Once located midway on Merritt Island on State Road 3, Orsino was named after its first postmaster, Orsino Smith, who might have been named after Duke Orsino, the powerful nobleman in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”

The big name in little Orsino was Howe, the family who dreamt that their town would become a modern city with all the conveniences, including electricity, telephone and telegraph. Walter H. Howe was the president of the aforementioned — and ill-fated — Orsino, Telephone Telegraph & Power Company.

In its heyday, Orsino had, beyond its own post office, the Orsino Public School, the Indian River Garage service station and even a grocery store where Roy and Edna Roberts sold general merchandise, when they weren’t out farming the land, like most of Orsino’s residents. Beyond the farmers and fruit growers, a smattering of other professions were listed in the 1926-1927 town directory, including laborers, a carpenter, a railroad switchman, an engineer, a salesman and even a lawyer.

When the government purchased the land, some residents just packed up and left their homes. Others, in the spirit of Brevard County’s earlier pioneers such as the Sams family, who in 1878 moved their cabin from its original Eau Gallie location to its current site on Merritt Island, took lock, stock and barrel when they had to leave town. Several homes from Orsino, such as the Roy Roberts House, were relocated to Mims, only to later fall prey to time and disrepair. 

Although never much more than hamlets, places such as Orsino are nevertheless intriguing looks into a very different Brevard long ago. North Brevard historian Roz Foster first discovered Orsino in an unlikely location: a cemetery. While helping to restore historic LaGrange Cemetery in 1996, Foster began researching the names of the folks interred there.

“I would scroll through microfilm of the old newspapers dating back to 1880 and, as I looked for names of the deceased, I would also come across articles about these little towns and started collecting them,” said Foster, who included Orsino in her Lost Communities of North Merritt Island series for the Journal of the Brevard County Historical Commission. 

Orsino is history, but not totally forgotten. Its name remains at the Orsino Baptist Church, which stands not far from the site of the old town.