Cemetery visit awakens Brevard’s past

Historian Roz Foster’s interest in Brevard County history was sparked after a visit to the LaGrange Community Church, built in 1869, and its adjacent cemetery.

A visit to a cemetery sparked a lifelong pursuit of the past for Brevard County historian Roz Foster.

In 1996, during the dedication of the restoration of the 1869 LaGrange Community Church, the Titusville resident wandered out to the adjoining forlorn cemetery, where Brevard pioneers such as Col. Henry Titus, were buried.

Besides enlisting the help of fellow members of the Titusville Garden Club to spruce up the grounds, Foster began researching the lives of the folks buried at La Grange.

“My interest in local history grew from there,” she said.

In La Grange, Foster found a wealth of history.

“It’s the oldest Protestant church between Key West and New Smyrna Beach, and considered the mother church for all churches in the area,”

she said.

Scouring through old newspapers, journals, diaries and tax records, the long-dead became alive for Foster.

“I started reading about all these families and ended up lecturing about them,” she said.

Foster started working at the Cape in 1964, just after NASA began gobbling up tiny settlements in the area to build a buffer for the subsequent rocket launches.

“I heard about the people who had lived there and how devastated they were to have to leave their land and their homes,” she said.

Foster later penned a series on the “Lost Communities of Merritt Island” for the Brevard Historical Commission.

“A lot of people don’t realize there were a lot of little settlements by the Kennedy Space Center,” she said.

The president and founder of the North Brevard Heritage Foundation, Foster was instrumental in saving several historic structures from the wrecking ball. Clifton Schoolhouse, three of the Gibson Shotgun Houses and the Hutchinson Barn were all disassembled and are currently in storage as the Foundation works with the county to find a location where they can be rebuilt as educational facilities.

She also was deeply involved in the restoration of the ornate Pritchard House in Titusville. The house was the home of one of North Brevard’s most influential pioneer families.

“The same family had continuously lived there since 1891,” Foster said.

Foster spent years helping restore the residence to its original glory. Pritchard House, which opened to the public in 2011, is one of North Brevard’s most important historical structures and a place that draws visitors with everything from weddings and high teas to Kentucky Derby parties and special vintage costume exhibitions.

For Foster, saving these old buildings is well worth the effort.

“It’s important that their stories be told,” she said.