A Meeting in the Garden
The five men stood at the entrance to the university’s botanical garden. It was a cold January morning just after daybreak in 1996. Lynn Weaver, Florida Tech’s president, had invited the directors of the F.W. Olin Foundation to make a clandestine visit to the university as part of his campaign to win the Foundation’s support for a major grant. One of the Olin directors asked about the Little Red Schoolhouse. There was a pause and the professor* who President Weaver had asked to lead the campus tour responded, “the men and women who made the twentieth century went to school in buildings like this.” Then, the professor pointed his hand towards the Quad and Crawford Science Building and declared, “the real foundation for scientific and engineering education in the Southeast and in Florida, in particular, in the 21st century is located on the campus of Florida Tech.” Four months later, the F.W. Olin Foundation awarded the university a $50 million dollar grant.
Since 1970 the Little Red Schoolhouse has welcomed visitors to the university’s botanical. Originally, the 10’ by 12’ foot schoolhouse was located on Riverside Drive adjacent to US1 in Melbourne. In 1883, Melbourne’s pioneer families led by John Goode raised the funds to build the one room schoolhouse. The schoolhouse was segregated with white students attending in the morning and African American students coming in the afternoon. The little red schoolhouse remained in use for six years. In 1889, John Goode’s son, Richard, paid for the construction of a larger schoolhouse adjacent to his home.
According to Helen De Groodt, a local historian, the schoolhouse “languished in disuse” for nearly fifty years. In 1940, the schoolhouse was restored and moved to the grounds of the Ruth Henegar Elementary and High School in downtown Melbourne. Shortly after the restoration’s completion, the schoolhouse was moved across Crane Creek to serve as emergency housing for an African American family whose home had been destroyed by a fire. In 1968, the newly formed South Brevard Historical Society and the Abigail Wright Chamberlin Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution used funds raised by the Melbourne Rotary Club to reimburse the African American family for improvements they had made in the building. In 1970, the schoolhouse was moved to its present location at the entry to the university’s botanical garden.
The Foundation of Higher Education in Florida
There is a certain poetry in the schoolhouse’s presence at Florida Tech. The coquina rock foundation on which the schoolhouse rests was given to Florida Tech by Lansing Gleason and his daughter, Jean Madry**. Gleason’s grandfather, William Gleason, came to Florida in the 1860s as an agent for the Freeman’s Bureau. In the late 1860s, Gleason, who went on to become Florida’s lieutenant governor during Reconstruction, settled in a small town along the Indian River that was then called Arlington. Gleason used his political influence to change the town’s name to Eau Gallie. The “Eau” was his homage to his hometown, Eau Clair, Wisconsin and the “Gallie” came from the rocky, coquina shore where Gleason built his home. In the 1870s, Gleason convinced the Florida Legislature to launch a state-funded land grant university in Eau Gallie.
A multi-story building for Florida Agricultural College was completed but the end of Reconstruction brought the Democrats back into power and no classes were ever held at the site. The Democratic legislature moved the college to Lake City and in 1905 the college was relocated to Gainesville where it became the College of Engineering at the University of Florida.
Thus, it was not entirely an act of impudence on the professor’s part when he told the F.W. Olin Foundation on that January morning in 1996 that the real foundation of scientific and engineering education in the Sunshine State lay on the campus of Florida Institute of Technology.
*I was the professor.
** William Gleason’s great-great-grandson, John Madry, earned his Ph.D. from Florida Tech in computer science.