Modern History of the Banana River Lagoon
Historical Accounts on Florida's East Coast
Sunday September 24, 2017
County and City businessmen along with government officials lobbied for change in Brevard County with the vision of helping bolster the economy and bring jobs to the area in 1940 with the Naval Air Station Banana River. Prior to 1940 the land adjacent to the Banana River were small settlements built around agriculture and fishing opportunities. The roaring twenties and it's prosperity allowed a casino, boardwalk and hotels on Cocoa Beach, but the depression of the thirties brought a decade of little economic movement as with much of the United States.
Merritt Island had very little population and Cocoa Beach was a long drive on a wooden bridge across the wide Lagoon. Soft sandy roads greeted the arrival of the beach tourist and most vehicles were equipped with planks and tools for traveling the rutty unpaved roads. With the newly commissioned Naval Air Station, Brevard immediately felt the economic impact jobs that had people spending money in stores, buying more foods and getting more infrastructure for roads and bridges needed to service the small base.
Pearl Harbor Attack
The NAS Banana River was allotted one seaplane and remained very small until one epic event, the infamous day that changed everything and accelerated progress and development on this sleepy lagoon... The day was "December 7, 1941 a day that will live in infamy". It was the starting gun that transformed our bedroom community to a bustling waterfront town in a few short years. The federal government paved roads, built bridges and brought a new population of people seeking employment and opportunities to the new Naval Air Base. Supplying the war ignited the local economy with Florida's citrus production passing California's within three years. Whether we liked it or not change was upon us and the growth would be exponential in the coming 25 years as the base provided the catalyst for a guided missile testing range and put Cape Canaveral on the history map as the launching place to the moon.
The Banana River is not a river as it's name suggest, it's a saltwater lagoon that is filled by the ebb and flow of the ocean tides at natural and man made inlets along the coastline. This lagoon has been witness to the calm water canoes of the Ais Indians and modern fuel barges cutting across the dredged waterway and seagrass beds that once spanned across her whole width. Progress has been good to the Brevard County people, but this same progress has strained the life of the lagoon over the years. In a few short decades we've emptied our sewers and allowed storm water runoff to fill our vast lagoons to the point where it cannot sustain the byproducts of fertilizer nitrates and petroleum products that run from our yards, streets, roofs and parking lots. Many parts of the Indian River near Melbourne are no longer productive fishing grounds as less than a half of century of development has eliminated sea grass beds vital to marine life. Responsible conservation is the only hope for the immediate survival of the central and lower parts of the Banana River lagoon.
The Space Race and Men on the Moon
During the 1950's much of Merritt Island and all of Cape Canaveral was annexed and claimed as part of the Missile Range and later dedicated to NASA and it's endeavors to put a man on the moon and explore space. Entire towns and settlements were immediately uprooted and their inhabitants were displaced. Merritt Island was now officially a united community as State Road 3 connected the Space Center with newly constructed residential areas and housing for NASA employees. Consequently the NAS Banana River was decommissioned after the war and almost immediately recommissioned as Patrick Air Force Base in 1947. Settlements like Audubon and Angel City are no longer recognized as settlements and were absorbed into Merritt Island as an all encompassing town and unincorporated city.
Manned space flight was heralded in during the late 1950's and a new young president Kennedy pointed men toward the moon declaring in 1962, "By the end of this decade, we will put a man on the moon!"... and so we did... This is where my story starts as I was born in 1962 as a military brat and moved permanently to Merritt Island after a brief stint in the Panama's canal zone and Dad's shift in branch's from an Air Force Officer to the the Army. Dad's change in service required a year long tour in Vietnam that left his wife and family to the newly formed Space Coast and an burgeoning new community that was springing to life and rapidly changing.
As a child, I personally witnessed what much of the county watched on their black and white and new fangled color television sets. I saw every Apollo manned Saturn V Rocket launch from my hometown and several of them from my father's boat on the Banana River Lagoon. The Apollo rockets that lifted off from Cape Canaveral in the 60's and 70's made all other rockets including the space shuttle seem minuscule. They ROCKED! Of coarse we continued watching moon missions from our homes and classrooms as the rest of the world watched Neil Armstrong take his first step on the moon. Living on the space coast was fabulous and fishing with my father and family was the pinnacle of enjoyment in my childhood.
Little did I know that the crystal clear waters of the Banana River would slowly fad with the continued development on the adjacent barrier Islands. As a child I remember riding the boat bow and seeing miles of thick sea grass and shallow water flats. Today's lagoon is a shadow of it's former self, but there seems to be a glimmer of hope as wildlife management and conservation efforts are helping in many respects. As I've stated before..."Storm water runoff is the biggest threat to the shallow water lagoons on Florida's coastline"... We can manage the wildlife and fish, but if we ruin their habitat, there will be no home left for our precious sea life.
With coming and goings' of the Space program the tide has stemmed for much of the growth around the Banana River Lagoon since the 1980's and there's been an economic shift for employment with the arrival of tourism and retirees seeking sunshine and leisure. The corridor between Orlando and the coastline has been shortened to a thirty minute drive and many people visiting famous theme parks and tourist attractions take time out of their vacation schedules to visit the beach and take a day to go fishing or beach combing on the Banana River Lagoon.
Recent and Modern information about the history of the Banana River Lagoon on Florida's east coast.
Last modified: October 24 2015 17:01:34.
Published by: Captain Richard Bradley of Lagooner Fishing Guides©