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North Brevard History - Titusville, Florida

The old Clifton School on North Merritt Island

CICRA 1890

Historical Marker

The Clifton School House was built around 1890-1891 by Butler Campbell and Andrew Jackson, black land owners who homesteaded on north Merritt Island. A nearby neighbor by the name of Wade Holmes provided a one- acre lot as the building site, which was located in the north west corner of his property adjacent to the Campbell's. Prior to building the school house, the Campbell and Jackson children attended school in the home of a black man by the name of Mahaffey who lived nearby.

According to an article printed in the Florida Star newspaper dated November 15, 1883, a meeting was called to organize a Board of Public Instruction for Brevard County, and the following rules were adopted:

  1. Any locality claiming a school (at least nine students) must provide a public school house, must select at least one trustee, and secure a teacher holding a valid certificate.
  2. Any family so isolated that they can have no school in their locality, and who shall employ a teacher holding a valid certificate, shall be entitled to $5.00 per capita, for every child of school age taught. The children must be of one family only.
  3. The Superintendent shall examine the children of the home schools, and on satisfactory evidence of sufficient progress in their studies, he shall pay the amount due said family.
In 1890-91 Campbell and Jackson decided it was time to build a proper structure for their nine children in which to receive their education. They bought the lumber and building materials in Titusville and had them shipped by sailboat to north Merritt Island. Together, and with the help of Wade Holmes, they built a 12 x 16 wooden structure of heart pine lumber. Two sets of glass-paned windows were placed opposite each other on the north and south sides of the building. The front of the school house faced west which was fitted with a double paneled door, and the roof was made of cedar or cypress boards. The entire structure rested on wood pilings about one foot off the ground.

Closing Exercises - 1892

An article published in the Indian River Advocate newspaper, dated August 5, 1892 titled "Closing Exercises of the Clifton Colored School," describes the activities that took place on September 27, 1892.

"The school end examination to grade the students accomplishments was completed by 4:00 pm. Their studies consisted of reading by primary classes, physiology and higher lessons in English, and primary and advanced classes in math. Professor Mahaffey was praised for the high quality of education of his students. A concert was held with students presenting songs and recitations as well as receiving awards. Those who participated were the Campbell children; Florida, Eugenia, Agnes, Henry and Willie. The Jackson children were; Annie, Mary, Floyd and Douglas, who was class Valedictorian. Mr. Butler Campbell and Andrew Jackson were congratulated for the hearty support that they have given to the school, Jackson being Superintendent.

The old Cllifton Schoolhouse - North Merritt Island.
Click on the photo for an enlargement. Note the name "Clifton School" on the chalk board. Photo from the collection of Bob Paty

Year End Examination - 1893

Another article published in the Florida Star dated August 18, 1893 describes the year-end activities at the school. The school year ended in August, after the children attended school during the summer months so they could help with grove work and crop work in the fields during the growing session in the winter months.

The examination commenced at 9:00 am and closed at 3:00 pm and showed proficiency of all the students in all their studies, especially math and Latin. It was stated that " although the school is small, it is one of the best in the county and speaks well of any community, and the children are orderly and well behaved. After seeing what this school has done, and knowing what the efforts of the superintendent are (Mr. Jackson), it should prove to the outside world that no obstacles are being placed in the way of the colored people, but they are being helped whenever they manifest a desire to go on...."

In the evening a program of songs and recitations were performed by the nine students comprised of the Campbell and Jackson children, and Willie Campbell was class Valedictorian that year.


BUTLER CAMPBELL was born October 26, 1848, at Anderson, South Carolina October 26, 1848, the son of Dock and Bedie Campbell. When the Civil War ended, Butler Campbell, a former slave with new found freedom, confused with what to do and at the age of 17, decided to come to Florida in 1872 to start a new life. He heard that land grants were plentiful in this area of the East Coast, and after homesteading the wrong piece of land, he ended up purchasing 80 acres located on North Merritt Island for $75.00 from the State of Florida. In 1873 he married Lucy Warren. The Warren Family had homesteaded property in the LaGrange/Mims area which they had received as land grants under the Homestead Act from the United States around the same period of time. In 1875 Butler purchased 118 acres on North Merritt Island (Lot 1) for 75 cents per acre from the State of Florida under the Internal Improvement Fund. Butler, father Dock and wife Lucy settled just north of the Haulover, where he built his home situated on the edge of a little cove of Mosquito Lagoon, which was named "Laughing Waters" by their daughter Florida. Eleven children were born to this happy couple between 1878 – 1899, five which attended Clifton Colored School.

ANDREW JACKSON was a young black man who worked for Douglas Dummitt in the famous Dummitt Groves, located not far from Campbell's home. Jackson married one of Dummitt's daughters, Katie in 1872, and in 1881 bought 60 acres from Butler Campbell which were located just to the north of Butler's land. Here he built a house and raised four children who went to school with the Campbell children at Clifton Colored School.

WADE HOLMES a quiet, mild-mannered, single and wealthy black man arrived in 1883 and purchased the south half of Lot 2, which was approximately 39 acres and located on the south side of Campbell's property. He grew onions and vegetables for the northern markets, and sometimes the Campbell and Jackson children would work for him. He donated the one- acre lot for the school to be built on. In 1905 he deeded this one acre to the Board of Public Instruction for one dollar for rights of easements. In 1910 they deeded the same piece of property back to him for $50.00.


By 1910 most of the Campbell and Jackson children were of the age to be out of school or attending a school in Titusville that offered a higher education, and the little wooden structure no longer was used as a school house.

When the Government took over all of North Merritt Island in the 1960's the families had to relocate to other areas. Most of the structures where demolished or disassembled board by board until there was little visible evidence that any inhabitants had lived in that area. Somehow the old Clifton Schoolhouse was overlooked, or maybe thought not to be of any value, and would eventually fall to the elements of weather and time soon enough.

Sometime in the late 1960's or 1970's, someone discovered the old wooden structure still standing under a heavy growth of vines, and after investigation of the site, found an old trunk inside, filled with old letters, post cards, receipts, greeting cards and other personnel items belonging to the Campbell family. Letters found told of Eugenia's travels and working for different families as a domestic up and down the East Coast of the United States. They give accounts of how, after her father's death, Eugenia had moved back home in 1924 to "Laughing Waters" and worked the land to make a living. Eugenia and sister Agnes Campbell jointly owned 34 acres of land in 1935 that was left to them by Wade Holmes, where the one room school house was still located. They shipped crops of citrus fruit to the New York market on a regular basis. She was a registered voter and still may have been active in the NAACP. She also worked as a cook at the Allenhurst Hotel located not too far from her home. She had the land title searched by the Indian River Abstract and Guaranty Co. of Titusville and was a valued customer of the Bank of Titusville and Trust Co. Many others stories unfolded in the written accounts of other Campbell family members. Unfortunately, the trunk and the contents fell into the hands of private individuals and not family members. However, the trunk and treasures inside have been saved from being destroyed by the elements if they had been left in the building. Hopefully they will rightfully be returned to the Campbell family members who still live in the area, and who would cherish the stories recorded on pieces of yellowed, aged and torn papers so many years ago, providing a deeply rooted connection to their past.


A group of well determined and excited historians accompanied by the great granddaughter of Butler and Lucy Campbell, were lead by John Steiner of Canaveral National Seashore to the site of the Clifton Colored School House, which is located in a remote area of North Merritt Island. After wading through heavy brush and tall grass and vines, we spotted the half fallen structure, and I knew it had to be the school house. The tell-tale sign would be the two sets of windows on each side. There they stood, the glass panes still in some of the frames which were located on the north side of the building which was still standing upright due to the divine intervention of a tree that was holding it in place. Heavy vines had caused the south side to clasp under their weight, but the roof was still in one piece and was most of the front section. The bead board was still on the north side and most of it had fallen during the clasping onto the floor boards. The wooden front door was propped up against the north side just waiting to be restored, with the insert panels gone. We can't believe it was still there! After all the years of blowing winds, heat, rain and neglect. The great granddaughter stood in front of this remainder of another time and relatives who she pictured going to school there - - and for just that very moment she had a connection to her past. That's what it's all about! I don't have to say anything more.


The Brevard County Historical Commission proposed entering into an agreement with Canaveral National Seashore –National Park Service to salvage materials from the structure in whole and in parts to be used in the reconstruction of the Clifton School House, to be used as a museum and to be located at the Chain of Lakes Park located in behind the BCC Titusville Campus and Parrish Medical Center. We would like to make arrangements to retrieve the Campbell trunk and contents from the private individual who has them in their possession and return them to members of the Campbell family.

A letter of intent has been written to the National Park Service requesting that the Brevard Historical Commission/County enter into a working relationship with them to accomplishment the tasks proposed.

A return letter from them stated that they are excited about this discovery and are looking forward to working with us to bring the fascinating history of Clifton and its inhabitants to life.

However, there are several complicated factors: The site of the structure is within the Canaveral National Seashore, but that portion of the Park is owned by NASA and primarily managed by Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. Through an agreement with the Refuge, the Seashore is responsible for cultural resources. Since the structure is government property, it cannot simply be given away, although some form of loan agreement may be possible. Thorough documentation of both the structure and site will be required before any actions are taken that would affect them.

They will review the matter with NASA, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and the National Park Service Cultural Resources Stewardship Office in Atlanta to see how they can meet our goals while staying within government regulation.


We can all work together on this exciting and profound project to save a part of the past that has stood the test of time, so we can collectively recognize it today as tangible evidence of Black History in Brevard County.

Roz Foster
Brevard Historical Commission

North Brevard Heritage Foundation (preservation)
Indian River Anthropological Society Clifton Schoolhouse Project
North Brevard History
Education Directory