Satellite Beach: 60 years young – and thriving

The 60th anniversary of the incorporation of the City of Satellite Beach, to be held Nov. 4, marks the amazing transition of a former uninhabited palmetto barrier island to a thriving, nearly-built-out residential beachside community with a strong and growing self-identity.

Since incorporation in 1957, the Founder’s Day event has taken on special significance and has helped raise money for charities (about $8,500 annually) through the participation and leadership shown by the Satellite Beach Women’s Club and its later establishment of a related “marketplace” this year with 90 vendors, said longtime member Dee Anderson. “It started out as an event held in August and it was just too hot so we moved it to November and put it in conjunction with marketplace. Now, people look forward to it and it’s a huge draw,’’ she said.

Compared to older Brevard cities, the history of Satellite Beach is relatively short but significant in its parallel with the U.S. Space Program, which at the time was centered largely at nearby Patrick Air Force Base, according to the town’s former official historian John Fergus, who has written extensively on the subject.

As late as April 1951, there was no development in the five miles between Canova Beach, on the eastern end of Eau Gallie Boulevard, and Patrick Air Force Base. Building residences on the roughly 5,000 properties on that section of the barrier island was later made possible by construction of State Road A1A by Joe Wickham, a local native who was a developer and active in Brevard County government. Wickham also was instrumental in dredging the mosquito control canal (now called the Grand Canal) between 1954 and 1958 to fill a mosquito-breeding mangrove swamp on the western shore of the barrier island along the Banana River, according to city history.

“At first it was way out in the Boonies and all there was were palmettos — that’s how rural this place was. From 1951 to 1957 there was almost a perfect example of exponential growth and later it became a bedroom community for the space program. It was sort of upscale at the time with a requirement for the homes to be built with block,’’ Fergus said.

Early developers were building the community in which they wanted to live and that attitude helped attract a unique group that remains today, he said.

“Folks that were asked to move here were educated, intelligent and represented a set of families who had a very special demographic. As engineers and technicians they were used to problem solving.

“Self-reliance, as you see in some of the city’s sustainability efforts today, is part of the ethics here and it’s carried the city through all these years. It’s part of the culture,’’ Fergus said.

The Satellite Beach Annual Founders Day and Marketplace, featuring more than 100 craft and specialty vendors, will be held Nov. 4 at the DRS Community Center, 1089 S. Patrick Dr., Satellite Beach.  Admission is free.

The event will have a “Let’s go to the Hop” theme. The parade will start at 11 a.m. from the Delaura Middle School parking lot off Jackson Avenue and wind through Satellite Beach streets before ending up at the DRS Community Center, 1089 S. Patrick Dr., Satellite Beach.

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