Two of Brevard County’s historical gems can be found at the Pine Island Conservation Area in Merritt Island, Florida. The newly restored buildings known as the 1888 Sams family main house and 1878 Sams cabin serve as the Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) program’s central region management and education center. The Pine Island Conservation Area encompasses nearly 900 acres in Merritt Island and was acquired by the EEL program in 1996. After an in-depth assessment conducted by the Indian River Anthropological Society, archaeologists discovered a rich history that not only included Brevard County’s pioneering Sams family but one that dated back as far as the Ice Age. In fact, in addition to the Sams family who lived on the site continuously from 1878 until the land was purchased by the EEL program in 1996, archaeologists discovered prehistoric fossils and evidence of ancient human habitation.
Photo(s): Ice Age fossils: Vertebrae, Tusk, Tortoise Shell, Jaw Bone, Photo by: Lesa N. Lorusso
The prehistoric aspect of this site dates from the Middle Archaic Period (5,000-3,500BC) through the Malabar I Period (500 BC – AD750) and includes dense scatters of ceramic material, intact stone tools and an interesting array of fossils. Patterns have been found on the site that suggests locations of ancient dwellings and human habitation spanning 800 years. In fact, burial mounds still exist near the Sams homestead and can be viewed today. Ice Age fossils including remains of Mastodon, Giant Land Tortoise, Glyptodont, Mammoth and Tapir were unearthed when wetlands were dredged by developers prior to EEL acquisition of the property and can be viewed by visitors to the center.
Photo(s): 1878 Sams Cabin and museum, Photos by: Lesa N. Lorusso
The education center is housed within two buildings previously owned by the Sams family of Brevard County. John H. Sams was a former Confederate army officer who moved to Florida from South Carolina after the American Civil War. The family originally settled in Eau Gallie, located approximately 25 miles south of the center, to take advantage of the1862 Homestead Act. After a failed attempt at farming in Eau Gallie, the Sams family relocated to the Merritt Island location and brought with them their three room cabin which they floated down the Indian River and reassembled in its present location in 1878. Roman numerals are still evident on the structural parts of the cabin detailing how the family took the cabin apart for a planned reassembly, according to Education Coordinator Katrina Morrell. The windows, external siding, ceiling and flooring are original. The house originally sat on wooden piers and now rests on blocks. The interior bead board paneling is not original to the house but is true to the consistency of the structure. A separate kitchen was once located behind the cabin as well as an outhouse. The cabin is now air-conditioned and houses an interactive museum detailing the history of the site.
The Sams family was successful in their citrus, sugar cane and pineapple enterprises at their Merritt Island location and was able to build the main house in 1888 to better accommodate the family. The main house is a beautiful wooden two-story Florida vernacular structure. The white washed exterior has been restored back to its 1888 existence with an open, wrap-around porch and metal roof. An interesting and unusual detail to note is the double entry doors on the front of the home. The doors lead to the two main rooms downstairs: Mr. Sams’ office on the left and the family room on the right. Mr. Sams’ need for a dedicated office space arose from his agricultural success and his appointment as the first Superintendent of Schools in Brevard County. The family room downstairs houses a rustic fireplace and served as a gathering space for the family. Currently there are three bedrooms upstairs that are used to house volunteer workers and a bathroom.
Photo: Fireplace within 1888 Sams Main House and Restored porch roof detail. Photos by: Lesa N. Lorusso
Source: Katrina Morrell, Education Coordinator, Brevard County Pine Island Management and Education Center/Sams House, 6195 North Tropical Trail Merritt Island, FL 32953 (tour notes and brochure provided by Morrell)