History Happened Here

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Indian River County

Year Founded: incorporated 1924 - inhabited many years priorPreviously known as: New Haven


In 1605, a Spanish soldier sent from St. Augustine to Ais Indian settlements is the first known to have seen the St. Sebastian River, which wraps around Sebastian from its south and west, eventually flowing east into the Indian River Lagoon across from Sebastian Inlet. The name St. Sebastian River later appears on a Spanish Chart in 1774. Ais Indians inhabited the area and disappeared in the 1700s. Many Indian shell mounds were later found by settlers along the riverfront and used for roadways.

Across the lagoon on the barrier island in the Sebastian Inlet State Park is the site of the wreck of the 1715 Spanish fleet of ships and the area is well known for the treasure hunters who visit, and some who stay, including the family of Mel Fisher, which runs a treasure museum in Sebastian.

In the 1800s the area was first called Newhaven for its first postmaster Thomas New, who was also said to have dug the first inlet to the Atlantic through the barrier island from the Indian River Lagoon by hand. Though since replaced by the Sebastian Inlet it is still referred to as “News Cut” on maps.

The name of the town was later changed to Sebastian by decree of the Post Office Department by request of new postmaster Sylvanus Kitching, who came to Sebastian with his family from England in 1883.

One of our most famous residents was Paul Kroegel, who so loved the pelicans which lived on an island off the coast of Sebastian in the Indian River Lagoon and were being killed for their feathers to make ladies’ hats in the late 1800′s that he compelled President Theodore Roosevelt to declare the island as a wildlife refuge. Pelican Island Wildlife Refuge became the United States’ first national wildlife refuge. A statue of Paul Kroegel, designed by local artist Rosalie Hume, stands at the Sebastian waterfront looking southeast keeping watch over Pelican Island. A replica of the statue was displayed on a White House Christmas tree soon after it was created.

Sebastian was officially incorporated by a vote of its residents at a Special meeting on December 8, 1924 as the “Town of Sebastian,” and later changed to “City of Sebastian.”

The City attained a working waterfront property in 2009 with State of Florida grant funding, and is working to develop an old building, once a garage used as a hiding place for rum running during prohibition years and later known as “Hurricane Harbor Restaurant”, and an adjoining active fishing operation, into a working fishing operation, fish market and museum.

Citizens of Sebastian are known for their appreciation of the City’s rich history, their love of nature and are passionate about the beauty of their waterfront and protection of their environment.

(Source of some dates and information – Tales of Sebastian (1990) – published by the Sebastian Area Historical Society)

Little Known Facts

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