Castles, Italian nobility and Brevard County are not usually connected in the same sentence.
Long ago in the scrubby wilderness that surrounds the Kennedy Space Center, an Italian nobleman decided to build a castle, albeit a modest one, for his American bride. It turns out that the castle was mobile, but more on that later.
Well-bred Eicole Tamajo, also known as the Duke of Castellucia, bought some acreage from the old Dummett Groves after Douglas Dummett, the "Father of Florida Citrus," died in 1873. The intent was to build a home for his new Duchess, his American bride, Jennie.
"I’m not sure what possessed them to move here, because they didn’t quite fit in with the locals," said Michael Boonstra, an archivist with the Brevard County Historical Commission.
Boonstra conjectured they fell in love with Brevard County after vacationing in Rockledge, then a popular winter resort for the likes of the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts.
The New York socialites were indeed an odd couple for that part of Merritt Island, then primarily populated by struggling farmers. He had the title, she had the money from her Brooklyn merchant dad, her previous marriage and her own investment savvy. Legend has it that she was related to the Anheuser beer dynasty, but Boonstra’s research proved otherwise.
Their unusual residence-by-the-scrub was finished in 1881 as a three-story mansion with 20 rooms, most octagonally shaped. The Tamajos flitted in and out of their Dummett’s Castle, or the Duke’s Castle, as their home came to be known.
He hunted, she hosted with the many moneyed guests they entertained. Local lore had them at odds with each other, but friends and their personal physician never found evidence of marital strife.
"They were together constantly," Boonstra said.
They were so in love with the place that the Duchess even contracted for a custom yacht to be built so they could sail in through the shallow waters that surrounded the house. The New York boat builder reneged and a bitter lawsuit launched by the Duchess made headlines in The New York Times.
By 1886, their honeymoon over with Dummett’s Castle, the couple sold the property and moved to New York City, where the Duke died in 1893. Mrs. Duke married Husband Number Three, who, alas, turned out to be a scam artist to whom she left just a 10-dollar bill from her fortune, estimated at a million dollars at the time.
NASA purchased the mansion and the surrounding groves in 1962 as a safety buffer in preparation for an expanded launch program.
"The Indian River Citrus League expressed interest in turning the house and grove into a citrus museum, an idea that fell through when NASA wouldn’t give assurances that the public would be allowed on to the site on a regular basis," explained Boonstra.
In 1964, Dummett’s Castle was on the move — literally — atop a custom flatbed truck that transported it on a 15-mile journey to Titusville. Brevard County had purchased the house from its last owner for $1,200, with the idea of moving it to Parrish Park, where it would be restored and turned into a museum.
"Legal tangles developed, interest shriveled away, the county decided it had spent enough money and the house became a permanent fixture on its temporary site," Boonstra said.
For three years, the house languished behind a chain link fence until vandals set fire to Dummett’s Castle in 1967, sending an extraordinary piece of Brevard history up in smoke.