In 1890 a location east of Titusville on North Merritt island was purchased by a group of wealthy graduates of Harvard University who had formed a club (called the Canaveral Club or Harvard Club) for the purpose of vacationing, hunting and fishing, as well as increasing tourism in the area. As reported in the November 28, 1890 issue of the East Coast Advocate, the group bought about 18,000 acres of land, including miles of Atlantic Ocean frontage, plus acreage connected with both the Banana and Indian Rivers. The land was purchased for an average of $1 an acre.
The original members of the club included:
C. W. Amory, Frederic Amory, Alexander Cochrane, T. Jefferson Collidge Jr, Charles B. Cory, F. L. Higginson, Charels P. Horton, George Von Lengerke Meyer,
Francis W. Sargent, Howard Stockton, Charles G. Weld, Stephen M. Weld
The membership fee was $5,000 (over $142,000 dollars in 2020), and the number of members was limited to 20 men, all graduates of Harvard University during the late 1800s . On the death of a member, the spot would be taken by that member’s eldest son. The club was to remain in existence until the death of the last member.
A three story, 22 room lodge was built on a rising knoll near Chester Shoals at Cape Canaveral, near what was to become Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad 39B (ed: Northernmost). It was on the west bank of a finger of Banana Creek, at the time known as Home Port Lake. Members could enjoy the ocean beach with a walk of less than half a mile around the head of the creek finger. The club’s beachfront property stretched approximately five miles north and south of the lodge.
At the time, all transportation connecting the club with Titusville was by boat via Pepper Flats, Banana Creek and the Indian River. Members and their guests were transported almost in a direct line east from Titusville to the property at Chester Shoals, by the club’s own shallow draft steamboat, the Canaveral. The club also owned a yacht, the Yankee Doodle.
The East Coast Advocate reported in the January 23, 1891 edition that the steamer Canaveral had made a trip down the north end of the Banana River for the Canaveral Club the previous Friday, and had “caused no little excitement among the residents”, being the first steamer that had ever entered from the north.
A circa 1900 issue of the East Coast Advocate reported on a launch, the Widgeon, that also belonged to the club. Built by Murray & Tregurtha of Boston, the launch was 35 feeet long with a 10 foot beam, was fitted with a 10 hoursepower Murray & Tregurtha gasoline engine, and was a stern wheeler. It was said to draw not over 8 inches, and was able to run at a top speed of about seven or eight miles an hour. The Wigeon was in command of Captain Fonda Reed, who was to make daily trips between the clubhouse and the Indian River wharf at Titusville.
Soon after acquisition by the club, the Widgeon’s shaft broke in two in Banana Creek on her way to the clubhouse, and had to be towed back to Titusville. The engineer (W.W. Benton) had to head to Jacksonville to have the broken shaft repaired.
The club’s lodge included a trophy room, in which were mounted the heads of dozens of the animals killed during those days of plentiful game on the island, a well-stocked wine cellar, and rooms for members and guests. Additionaly, the property contained an ammunition building housing an arsenal of hunting equipment and ammunition, a building for cooking, and several boathouses. There was also housing for the staff members who cared for the horses and maintained the clubhouse boats, as well as for the armed guards who safeguarded the property.
The club was open for members to come and go as they pleased from October through March of each year. Members sometimes brought their wives, children and servants.
In this picture taken of the “crows nest” the caretaker Godberg Gulbrandsen is sitting on the railing and Evelyn Briggs and Louise Thomas stood next to him.
Canaveral Club property included a swimming pool that was claimed to be the first in the Southeastern United States. It was fed by an artesian well and later used during the 1930s by Boy Scout troops camping on the property. The pool was also used by the pastor of the local Orsino Baptist Church to perform baptisms.
During the late 1800s the club was said to have hosted presidents Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison, who came for the winter fishing. Cleveland visited Brevard County in 1888 and may have made subsequent visits to the club.
Meticulous records were kept of the results of hunting and fishing. A carefully kept ledger affords a glimpse the club’s heyday, with such detail as the prices of items offered: In 1892 members and guests paid 15 cents for a cocktail, 10 cents for a grapefruit and 50 cents for a dish of strawberries.
The first to sign the club register were “Charles Cory, wife and maid”. Cory, an ornithologist, came to the property to study the flora and fauna of the area, and had a house built not too far from the clubhouse.
By the 1920’s the Canaveral Club was apparently in declining health, as evidenced by the 1921 purchase by John W. Winslow of 7000 acres of oceanfront property belonging to the club for the price of $30,000.
The last guest to sign the register in 1922 was Col. William A. Gaston, president of the National Shawmut Bank of Boston. The clubhouse closed in 1922, and the buildings were allowed to deteriorate. Falling plaster and cobwebs replaced the stuffed bears and heads of deer, panther and wildcat (shot by members and guests) that had once lined the walls.
Members and guests who continued to use the property for hunting and fishing avoided the decaying lodge and instead stayed in hotels in Titusville.
In 1945, Arthur K. Reading, a former Massachusetts district attorney and a Harvard graduate, bought the balance of the property that hadn’t been sold to satisfy tax liens. Reading considered restoring the main structure but never attempted it.
In addition to the hunting and fishing done by members, a portion of the club’s oceanfront property was used by the Coast Guard to build and maintain a rescue station that was very busy during World War I. This station was also used as headquarters for beach patrols during World War II, with a number of barracks added at that time.
The United States Air Force burned the Canaveral Club lodge for fire practice sometime in the mid 1900s.