• Apollo program's changes to Central Florida lasted long after moon landing

    By: Christopher Heath

    Updated:

    BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. - For centuries, Brevard County was largely unchanged -- beaches, orange groves and little else.

    Then came the rail.

    It was 1885 when rail first pushed through Brevard County, on its way to south Florida.  By 1912 when Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast made it to Key West, Brevard, one of the counties the rail cut through, had changed little.


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    Decades would pass before the next and most lasting change to the area: Kennedy Space Center.

    "We knew something was going on with a lot of influx of folks," said retired NASA employee Roy Tharpe. "My mom had a restaurant in downtown Cocoa called "Myrtle's Restaurant" and she saw the impact with construction work coming in, and with her restaurant she'd have to open earlier and stay open later."

    NASA was hiring.  So too were companies from Rockwell, to Northrup-Grumman, to Martin Marietta.  The people who would put a man on the moon were transforming Brevard County.

    Read: Race to the Moon took toll on Brevard marriages

    "Some of the companies that were coming here would tell people, we're giving you swamp pay, because they don't have hotels, they don't have restaurants," Tharpe said.

    From 1950 to 1960, the population of Brevard County grew by 371%, from 23,000 people in 1950 to more than 111,000 by 1960.  By 1970, 230,000 people called the county home.

    "We were in the boom days in the '60s, jobs were plentiful, people moved around a lot," said Bill Heink, a retired NASA employee.

    Just as the railroad had tied Brevard to the north and south, highways, including the beach-line, built in 1966, would be built to link the East Coast to the center of the state.

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