The location of the community of Capron Ridge, Melbourne, FL is steeped in the early history of this state. Capron Ridge was the site of a massive undertaking in the 1830s by Brigadier General Joseph M. Hernandez. His mission, given to him by the United States Army, was to construct a road along the ridge from St. Augustine to Fort Pierce. Its purpose was to link together all the forts along the way.
Florida in the 19th Century
In the 1800s, Florida was caught up in the Seminole or Florida War. The settlers in this state were fighting against the Seminole Natives who were being driven further and further out of their homes into unsettled areas. The military was in charge of keeping the peace and protecting the settlers. To do so, they needed a trail that would connect their forts along the eastern section of the now famous Space Coast.
At the time, one already existed. This trail was used by the Seminoles and the military, but it was not sufficient to address the needs of the growing army presence. They needed something wider and more easily accessed by oxen and mule drawn carts and wagons. It was to serve the needs of the army but also was intended as an encouragement for any future settlers. It would make easier for everyone to get around.
Florida was, after all, largely unsettled and had few passable roads. It has only recently become part of the United States. This was in 1822 after having experienced unsuccessful rule by the Spanish (1513- 1763 and 1781-1819) and British (1763-1781/1783). It would not become a state until 1845. The settlements, such as they were, were few and far between. Even the forts were scattered in diverse directions along the coastline. It was during the turmoil of the Second Seminole War that the decision to create the Capron-Hernandez Trail.
Building the Trail
The work was not easy. It was also during the winter months. This was a smart move, one meant to avoid the complications caused by malaria and heat. Hernandez had to be on guard against the Seminole, particularly as he was pushing further into their territory as he built the trail southward. There were also predators to worry about. The forests and ridges were home to panthers and the swamps housed alligators. In spite of the challenges, Hernandez completed the trail in 1838.
The Fate of The Trail
The development of first the Haulover Canal (1854) and then the railroads (1880s-1890s), reduced its military importance, although settlers did rely on it to get to their new homes away from the coast and the Indian River. Usage began to decrease further with the construction of highways in the state. Paved roads attracted all but those who drove their cattle to market.
Today, you can see where it existed where markers or monuments have been placed honoring the trail and those who built it. You can reach parts of it near Capron Ridge Melbourne FL or visit the trail segment forming part of the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary near Titus Ville.