HISTORIC COCOA VILLAGE, within easy driving distance of Florida’s bustling theme parks in Orlando and virtually within hearing distance of the thunderous rockets that soar skyward from the Kennedy Space Center, provides a relaxing link to the past amid the cacophony of the present.
Bordered by the Indian River, State Road 520 and Brevard Avenue, Cocoa’s restored downtown offers a wide variety of businesses, an active calendar of events and a glimpse of what life was like in coastal Florida long before families flocked to Disney World and scientists turned the fantasy of space travel to reality.
Cocoa, a town of almost 17,000 people on Florida’s central coast, was founded by fishermen in 1860. The first commercial building was constructed in the early 1880s in what was then called Indian River City. Apparently, U.S. Postal authorities deemed the name too long for a postmark. Several different stories are still in circulation concerning how the name Cocoa was chosen. The city survived a disastrous downtown fire in 1890 and a brutal freeze in the winter of 1894-95 that destroyed the area’s citrus crop and crippled the industry that had given the Florida coast a taste of prosperity.
Many of the Village’s early 20th century buildings remain. The Porcher House, included on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1916 by Edward Postell Porcher, a pioneer in the citrus industry, and his wife, who was the first postmistress of nearby Merritt Island. Today, the house is open to the community for meetings, weddings, parties and luncheons.
The oldest commercial wooden structure in Historic Cocoa Village is the Sur Le Parc Building, which means “on the Park” in French. Built in the 1880s by dressmaker Julia Roberts, it reportedly was the only building on Delannoy Avenue to survive the fire. It was moved to Florida Avenue in 2006.
The Masonic Temple, also known as the Village Tower, is a three-story brick building dating back to 1919. Allegedly a favorite watering hole during Prohibition, it houses several Cocoa Village businesses today.
What is now known as the Cocoa Village Playhouse was built as the Aladdin Theater in 1924 for what then was an astronomical sum of $80,000. It served as a movie house in the 1940s and, according to local lore, is occasionally haunted by a ghost named Joe.
No organization has done more to honor Cocoa Village’s past than the Mosquito Beaters, formed in the 1980s by George L. “Speedy” Harrell to preserve the history of towns including Cocoa, Rockledge, Merritt Island, Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral. Originally designed to unite people who lived in the area before 1950, the organization is now open to all current and former residents of central Brevard County.
The following are excerpts from Central Brevard Mosquito Beaters “Memory Books” that have been published over the years.