This 1958 image shows Highway A1A rerouted from the Cape to Highway 520 in Cocoa Beach. Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: NASA.
When the military took over Cape Canaveral in the early 1950s, Florida's Highway A1A ran right through the heart of what would become the epicenter for the missile race between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Highway A1A used to run up the coastline to Daytona Beach. The old Highway A1A through the Cape today is known as General Samuel C. Phillips Parkway. The road continues north between the Atlantic Ocean and the active launch pads for United Launch Alliance and SpaceX. The old A1A continues north through Kennedy Space Center, known to many as “the Cape Road,” and into Canaveral National Seashore.
By 1958, Highway A1A had been redesignated to State Route 520 between Cocoa Beach and Merritt Island. At the western end, it connected to State Route 3, known today as Courtenay Parkway. Courtenay was a small town near what today is just south of the south gate of Kennedy Space Center. Before the arrival of KSC, parts of SR-3 were actually Tropical Trail, a two-lane north-south artery that parallels the Indian River.
If you drove north on SR-3, you'd pass through Courtenay and then through Orsino, another small town that would disappear once NASA bought up 144,000 acres on north Merritt Island to build Kennedy Space Center.
I've long been interested in locating any images of the towns and roads that existed when the government bought up KSC, so I visited the North Brevard Historical Society & Museum in Titusville.
Most of their collection reflects the lifestyles of those who lived in the region going back to the 1890s. A few artifacts are on file, which helped piece together the cartographical jigsaw puzzle.
A 1926 map of Brevard County produced by the Associated Map Co. of Miami. Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: North Brevard Historical Society & Museum.
The legend for the 1926 map. Click the image to view at a larger size.
In the museum's collection is a 1926 map of Brevard County by the Associated Map Co. of Miami, Florida. The map shows the major routes and small towns that dotted Cape Canaveral and Merritt Island at the time.
(Merritt Island is labelled as “Merritt's Island,” and Courtenay is spelled “Courteney.”)
In a December 2014 article, I wrote about how two dirt roads ran east from Highway A1A to the Cape Canaveral coastline. Look for the CANAVERAL town marker. The road paralleling the coastline was the Pier Road, so called because the paved road ended at the Canaveral Pier. The other road is Lighthouse Road; the map shows it ends just south of the LIGHT HOUSE. The road from the pier to the lighthouse was unpaved.
Lighthouse Road in 1928. Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation.
The road was still unpaved in 1950, when the first rockets were being launched from the tip of Cape just beyond the lighthouse. Those converted V-2 missiles were stored at Patrick Air Force Base to the south, then towed up Lighthouse Road to Pad 3 for launch.
Lighthouse Road in 1950, looking south from the lighthouse. Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: NASA.
This 1950 image taken from the lighthouse shows the road was still unpaved as of that date.
Highway A1A merged with Lighthouse Road near what then was known as DeSoto Beach. That's roughly north of today's Launch Complex 37, used by United Launch Alliance for the Delta IV booster. Early 1950s maps of the station show patrol roads at the north and south borders. North Patrol Road still exists today, running east-west between Launch Pads 34 and 37.
A Google Maps image of North Patrol Road. Click the image to view at a larger size.
A 1956 image of the former Highway A1A looking south from the station's north gate at North Patrol Road. Image source: Florida Memory.
The arrival of so many rocket and missile programs in the 1950s began to erase decades of Cape history. Small towns such as DeSoto Beach were purchased by the government and bulldozed.
Lighthouse Road was partially closed circa 1956 for the Thor pads at Launch Complex 17. The remnants of Lighthouse Road are still visibile in this 1958 image; the old dirt road was still visible running through the complex to intersect with the Pier Road.
A 1958 image of the Thor launch pads constructed on the old Lighthouse Road. The Pier Road is in the foreground. Image source: Florida Memory.
Further north on the old Highway A1A was Titusville Beach. That's roughly where Kennedy Space Center's launch pads 39A and 39B are located.
Much of that area was reworked in the early 1960s. NASA contractors dredged old swamp land and parts of the Banana Creek, using sediment and rocks and sand to fill the landscape.
A 1966 documentary called “The Big Challenge” about the construction of Kennedy Space Center, originally produced by NASA and the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Big Challenge is a 1966 film documenting the construction of KSC, including its launch pads. It shows the dredging and filling to construct the pads, the Vehicle Assembly Building, and the major causeways.
An undated image of Titusville Beach before the arrival of Kennedy Space Center. Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: North Brevard Historical Society & Museum.
Hanging on the museum's wall is this undated image of Titusville Beach. The caption at the bottom reads:
Houses along Titusville Beach prior to NASA acquiring the land in the 1960s. Playalinda Beach is in the far distance. The cleared area to the left of State Road A1A was the site of Sunrise Beach, the only subdivision ever constructed in the beach area.
I have to wonder if that lone condo on the shoreline across from the “cleared area” might be the famous Astronaut Beach House. According to a 2005 NASA article, the condo was built as a model for the Neptune Beach subdivision. The location in the image is about the right place. The black-and-white colors appear similar.
An undated image of the Astronaut Beach House as it appeared when purchased in the early 1960s by NASA. Image source: NASA.
After the old Highway A1A was rerouted off-base, travelers headed north on State Route 3 to reach Daytona Beach. But as NASA began buying up north Merritt Island in the early 1960s, Highway A1A once again was designated elsewhere.
The town of Orsino existed roughly where NASA Parkway and Kennedy Parkway intersect today. State Route 405 across the Indian River did not exist until 1965.
As seen in the 1926 map, travellers reaching Orsino from the south turned right on what was known as Orsino Road, then could turn left to proceed north. If they continued east, the road ended at the Banana River.
The convenience store and gas station at what is now the intersection of NASA and Kennedy Parkways. Image source: North Brevard Historical Society & Museum.
The above image is of a convenience store located roughly where today's NASA and Kennedy Parkways intersect. According to an undated Florida Today article by columnist Milt Salamon in the Museum's file, it was a combination “post office-store-gas station.”
The Orsino Baptist Church was located just south of the convenience store and a half-mile west of State Route 3. According to the Orsino Baptist Church web site, the original building was moved in its entirely about four miles south.
Orsino Baptist Church as it appears today. Image source: Orsino Baptist Church.
The church web site states:
The church was located in the community of Orsino approximately one-half mile west of S.R. #3 on what is now called the NASA Parkway. NASA took over the property where the church was located.
In 1963, the church was required to move from the small community of Orsino, named after the homesteader, Orsino Smith. The Chamber of Commerce was disbanded and the officers of the Chamber of Commerce voted to donate the money left in the treasury ($255.91) to the building fund for Orsino Baptist Church. The pastor at that time was Reverend J.L. Gaines. In July of 1963, the original building was moved to the current location at 4505 N. Courtenay Parkway in Merritt Island.
According to the Milt Salamon column, NASA paid to move the church building.
Where does Highway A1A run today?
According to Google Maps, it continues west on State Route 528, which loses the A1A designation at the Indian River west of Merritt Island. The A1A designation resumes in Volusia County at the north end of Canaveral National Seashore and the Mosquito Lagoon, south of New Smyrna Beach on a local road known as Atlantic Avenue.