Nestled among orange groves and tropical foliage on Merritt Island sits an important part of Brevard County’s history: the oldest documented home in the county.
Funny thing is, the home was discovered by accident.
When the Environmentally Endangered Lands Program (EEL) purchased the property as part of the Pine Island Conservation Area, they knew there were two homes on the property: a small, rugged cabin and a two-story white house. Program stewards just did not know the homes’ significance at the time.
“We did some research into the area and found out that the homes played a significant role in the pioneering of Brevard,” said Katrina Morrell, education manager.
The homes originally belonged to John Hanahan Sams, who with his family had lost everything after the Civil War. His home state of South Carolina suffered great loss due to the outcome of the war, so Sams came to Brevard County in 1875 to take advantage of the 1860 Homestead Act. He travelled with his wife Sarah, their five children, John’s brother William, and his sister Catherine.
The two-story Sams family home was built in 1888 and was joined to the original cabin on the property by a kitchen, which has since been torn down. The first home in which the Sams family lived was originally built in Eau Gallie in 1875. Sams dreamed of growing orange trees and a garden sufficient enough to sustain his family and make a profit. However, when the crops failed to produce the desired results, the family decided to move nearer to other relatives on North Merritt Island, and the house was rafted up the Indian River in 1878 to the present site. It is the oldest dated structure on Merritt Island and a perfect example of Florida vernacular construction.
Built to last
Fast forward to present day, some of the windows in the original home retain their original glass panes. The interior of the house is a mixture of recent (1890s-1950s) improvements, including walls partially covered with bead board panels and the installation of gas and electrical light fixtures. Square nails from its original construction can be seen on the exterior and interior of the house.
In 1884, Sams was granted a homestead deed for 156 acres, and by 1888, he built the second two-story home adjoining the older house on the property. The two homes were joined together by a kitchen, which has since beenwhich has since been torn down.
The two-story home was a symbol of success for the Sams family, as they found the rich Merritt Island land to be ripe for the growth of oranges as well as all of the other foods in the vast garden on the property.