During the period of 1885-1889, a boat yard and basin was established by Capt. Aaron Bennett, known eventually as the Eau Gallie Yacht Basin. It was considered the best safe deep-water harbor along Florida’s East Coast. Thus Eau Gallie (and later Melbourne) became known as the Harbor City.
The Kentucky Military Institute moved its winter headquarters and school to Eau Gallie in 1904, coming here from Lyndon, KY. In 1906, a small colony of Japanese farmers settled in Eau Gallie. There were four families: the Ohis, the Haradas and the Ozakis (two separate families of Ozakis). The first “railroad doctor,” Dr. W.J. Creel, came to Eau Gallie in 1910.
The first bridge across the Eau Gallie River was built in 1895. It wasn’t until 1924 that the first bridge across the Indian River at Eau Gallie was built. The bridge was built by Grover Fletcher and opened on February 22, 1926. It frequently caught fire in the 1920s and 1930s. After having his sleep interrupted by 16 bridge fires in a 14-night period, fire chief Joe Wickham resigned.
In 1927, John R. Mathers constructed a toll bridge from the mainland to Merritt Island, known as Mathers’ Bridge, located elsewhere. This bridge named after Dr. W.J. Creel was constructed later. On May 8, the 51-room Harbor City Hotel opened at the Eau Gallie end of the bridge. First owned by Dr. W.J. Creel, it was later renamed the Oleanders, the Imperial in 1958, and then the River House.
As Eau Gallie grew, it became a community center. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, visitors flocked to the Oleanders Hotel. A local poster in 1935 lists an array of community activities celebrating George Washington’s birthday. Crowds of residents and visitors marked Washington’s birthday at the corner of Pineapple and Eau Gallie Boulevard with fish fries, horseshoe and shuffle board contests, girls’ and men’s athletic events. There were Baby Parades and political speeches. A dance at the Eau Gallie Yacht Club capped the activities.