Vero News

Fellsmere historian tapped to update building survey

FELLSMERE — Twenty years after conducting its first historical properties survey, the City of Fellsmere is getting ready for an update that could lead to a Historical Destination designation. “A lot has changed since then,” City Manager Jason Nunemaker said of the 20-year-old survey during a recent Council meeting. Some of the buildings that had made the cut for historical significance have since been demolished or modified to the point where their historical ties have been severed.

Fellsmere historian Rich Votapka, who is known for dressing as Fellsmere’s founder E. Nelson Fell and giving walking historical tours of the city, has been tapped to update the existing the survey and evaluate more buildings.

He has until the end of July to complete the survey.

“I’m going to have my hands full,” Votapka said the day after the City Council hired him to do the work. Now that two decades have past, Votapka said he will be evaluating homes built between 1945 and 1965 to determine if any of those are of historical significance.

He will be focusing on those properties within the city’s downtown center – an area approximately 1 square mile in size. The Hall Carter James community, too, will be reviewed.

Figuring out what homes were built prior to 1965 could prove challenging for Votapka, he said, explaining that there is no building department in the City of Fellsmere and even the County’s building department dates back to only 1968.

“I hope to tap into people’s memories,” he said. Votapka plans to hold at least one community meeting in the Fellsmere City Hall auditorium, showing slides of the homes and buildings in question. The plan is to elicit comments and oral histories and paint a broader historical picture of the town.

While essentially working on his own to conduct and update the survey, Votapka said he plans to call on fellow history enthusiasts to fill in the blanks. Such helpers could include Pam Cooper, the lead archivist and professional genealogist based at the Main Library in Vero Beach, and Clarence “Korky” Korker, whose archive of early Fellsmere photographs is expected to shed light on potential properties.

“The more I get into it, the more fascinated I get,” Votapka said of delving into history.

Along with impersonating the city’s founder and providing tours, Votapka has worked on numerous historical markers that have been placed around the city – including in front of the Old Fellsmere School and where the first women voters cast their ballots, to name just a couple.

The Fellsmere Council approved $20,000 for the survey’s update, $10,000 of which will come from the City, the other half through grants.

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