By Rebekah Duntz
Located on the edge of the Eau Gallie Arts District is the 1908 James Wadsworth Rossetter House and Gardens, as well as the 1901 William P. Roesch House and the 1865 Houston Family Memorial Cemetery. What’s even better than seeing these beautifully preserved houses in person is understanding the history behind them, and the history of Eau Gallie itself.
The Rossetter family arrived in 1902 to a growing destination because of Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway. In 1908, James Rossetter purchased land from William Roesch, who lived across the street, and built his house near the Indian River among a hotel and thriving commercial district. While raising five children, he was successful in the fishing industry and an agent for Standard Oil Company. At this time, people were converting to gasoline for their boats and James made good money shipping gasoline on his fishing boat.
When James died in 1921, his oldest daughter Carrie took over responsibility and preserved his legacy. She traveled up to Kentucky Standard Oil and asked to take over her father’s position. Naturally, in this time, women were not in high positions in companies and the company figured they would give her a year. During that trial year, she greatly exceeded expectations. She became the first woman to hold an oil agent position in one of the largest companies in the U.S., and she held that position for 62 years.
Carrie and her sister, Ella, lived in the Rossetter House together throughout the rest of their lives and neither of them married nor had any children. Carrie retired in the 80’s.
Carrie and Ella wanted to preserve the family’s home and the historic town of Eau Gallie, and so they sought to make it a historical monument when they founded the Rossetter House Foundation in 1992. The Rossetter House was later added to the U.S. National Register of Historical Places on July 27, 2005.
Carrie lived to be 101 years old, and Ella lived to be 92 years old. With their many accomplishments throughout their lives, they made an impact in Brevard County history.
The Roesch House serves as the gift shop today. The Houstons were the first settlers of Arlington (also later known as Eau Gallie), and their daughter, Ada, married William Roesch. He became the town treasurer, postmaster and founder of the first newspaper in Eau Gallie, the Eau Gallie Record. William built the house in 1901, as well as small cabins for slaves across the street where the Rossetter House now sits. William and Ada tragically lost five of their six children and those children are buried in the family cemetery.
The Houston Cemetery, about a half block away from the Rossetter House, is unusual in that it has 12 marked graves — the Houston family — and a suspected more than 20 unmarked graves, due to anomalies found during a Ground Penetrating Radar test in April 2010.
Today, tours are given on the hour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. of the house, gardens, and cemetery for $8 on Fridays and Saturdays. The house is fully furnished with the family’s old-style furniture and things that Ella and Carrie had purchased, as if stepping through the doorway takes you a step back in time.
Among the hustle and bustle of traffic and city life, this historical place serves as an example of what a profound history Eau Gallie has, and how it all began.
Rossetter House Museum
RossetterHouseMuseum.org, (321) 254-9855