History of Palm bay
Palm Bay, Florida, boasts rich history, which enhances the unique character of our city. Our very first residents were the Ais, a semi-nomadic tribe of Timucuan Indians, who settled along the Indian River Lagoon and the banks of Turkey Creek. The excellent fishing and plentiful wildlife attracted the Ais Indians. The Ais lived in this region for thousands of years, but they began to die-off quickly following the arrival of the Spanish explorers in the seventeenth century, victims of European diseases such as smallpox and measles, to which they had never been exposed. Others were enslaved or killed by the Spanish conquerors. By the mid 1600s, the Ais had completely vanished, leaving only signs of this lost, rich culture, including shell mounds, pottery, arrowheads, and other artifacts. In 1845, Florida was annexed by the U.S. and became the 27th state in the union. The first white settlers began to trickle into Brevard County around the same time. The 1850 U.S. Census recorded a population of 139 people in Brevard County, but this number would gradually increase as the Indians left and the citrus groves were established. A few of those early homesteaders selected a town called Tillman, located at the mouth of Turkey Creek, and they established the Tillman's Post Office in 1887.
The advent of the railroad in 1894 brought further development to the Town of Tillman. Visitors arriving by rail found a sleepy river village that offered a Post Office, hotel and a few stores. Around the turn of the century, the local population of Tillman totaled approximately 25 hearty souls, which changed in 1910 as the Indian River Land Company began to market this area. Approximately 105 families, many of whom were German and Slavic settlers from the mid-west, bought land in Tillman. In 1914, these early settlers built St. Joseph's Catholic Church on Miller Street, a vibrant parish now located in the heart of Palm Bay to this day. The original Miller Street Church is still standing, and, in fact, is Palm Bay's oldest structure and on the National Register of Historic Buildings.
Around 1925, the 200 residents of Tillman made a significant decision. Having concluded that the name "Tillman" didn't accurately depict the charming town, they petitioned the Postal Department in Washington, DC to change the town name to Palm Bay. The lush palm trees that lined the bay at the mouth of Turkey Creek inspired the enchanting name. With its new name, Palm Bay's population gradually swelled to about 800 families by 1950, six years later the Town of Palm Bay was incorporated under the general laws of the state. It installed its first Town Council and mayor, Harry Pollak. Under his leadership, Palm Bay continued to grow, finally incorporating as a city on January 16, 1960.
Palm Bay experienced a major surge in growth following World War II and the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958. The City continued to rapidly expand and space-related companies like Radiation, Inc. spawned industrial growth. In fact, local residents who worked for Radiation manufactured products that were used on America's first communication and weather satellites and on various manned space flights, including the Apollo missions to the Moon. In 1967, Harris Corporation, one of the current city's largest employers, acquired Radiation.
During the next few decades, Palm Bay continued to expand its infrastructure by developing a number of new buildings and services, including schools, a new City Hall, fire stations, police headquarters, library, and road. Likewise, new homes, shops and businesses kept pace with the flourishing population, thanks in part to Palm Bay's pro-business climate. Despite all of this growth, Palm Bay was careful to set aside land to preserve its natural qualities.
Today, Palm Bay is the 19th largest city in Florida by population with more than 100,000 residents and is the ninth largest city by size, covering 97 square miles. It encompasses 900 miles of paved roads, and is a haven for high-tech companies. With the recent opening of the Lagoon House, a visitors' center and public information resource for the Indian River Lagoon Scenic Highway, we remain a city focused on the future. Yet in many ways, we still retain the charming characteristics of that original small town situated on a scenic bay of the Indian River Lagoon.
For more information on the history of Palm Bay view the Palm Bay Historical Timeline.