Pioneering communities cleared way for rocket launches from Space Coast
The Shiloh packing house prepared thousands of crates of citrus for shipment to northern states.
Courtesy of Brevard County Historical Commission
It started with bumper crops and ended with a rocket named Bumper.
Lured by a land they hoped would gift them in abundance, the pioneers arrived on North Merritt Island in the 1880s, and their descendants remained there until after 1950, when a V-2 rocket named Bumper was launched from Canaveral Air Force Station. It marked the beginning of Brevard County’s involvement with the space program, and the end of the little hamlets that dotted the area.
The settlers had built homes, schools, churches and businesses, all abandoned after the government purchased more than 80,000 acres as a buffer for Kennedy Space Center and Canaveral Air Force Station. Shiloh, Allenhurst, Clifton, Wilson, Heath, Orsino, Courtenay and Audubon were little towns that were in the wrong place at the wrong time when Uncle Sam went into the business of buying land in order to build rockets.
“As recently as 1962, there were approximately 17 towns, hamlets and settlements scattered across North Merritt Island and Canaveral,” wrote Roz Foster in the Journal of the Brevard County Historical Commission. Foster researched the area with the help of fellow historians Rose Wooley and Weona Cleveland.
Like today’s transplants to the Space Coast, the county’s early settlers had an itch for a better life. In 1883, John Kuhl packed the kids and possessions, hitched the horses and mules and headed south from Illinois to the 3,000 acres he had purchased at the north end of Merritt Island.
“When the Kuhls came to Florida, there were no wagon roads anywhere in this section, only trails through the wild scrub, palmetto and timber,” Foster wrote.
The family, which included six children, lived in a two-room palmetto shack for six months while a house/general store was being built. The oldest son, George, was the town’s first postmaster and named the community they helped settle, Shiloh, possibly after the Civil War battle.
“The dividing line between Brevard and Volusia counties ran straight through the little town and about one half of the population lived in Volusia County, where the post office originally was located,” added Foster.
The younger Kuhl delivered mail aboard the Golden Rule, a mail boat that also allowed him to sell the groceries and merchandise from his general store up and down the Indian River.
In the late 1880s, Shiloh served as a trade center along the Indian River. The Shiloh Fruit Packing Company shipped oranges by the railroad carload to Philadelphia, Boston and New York.
Shiloh’s first schoolhouse, a palmetto shack, was later replaced by a one-room house also used as a church and Sunday school. In 1925, the Titusville Star Advocate newspaper noted that a flagpole had gone up that year at the tiny school. The ever-resourceful settlers had recycled the boom pole of the Swallow, another boat that George Kuhl had owned decades before.
The 1926-27 Polk County Directory, which provided a list of residents plus the amenities of Shiloh, noted that besides the postmaster, school teacher and pastor, most of the community’s residents were citrus growers.
The buildings are long gone and ghosts of the past, plus a couple of abandoned streets that will soon enough be engulfed by the palmettos, are all that remains of Shiloh, annexed in the 1960s to the Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore.