The Archie Smith Fish House acquisition by Indian River County preserves a small part of the once-thriving working waterfront that defined the town of Sebastian from the early Twentieth Century until development changed much of the Florida's East Coast during the last quarter of the Century. Fish Houses were the critical land base operations that allowed local pioneering families and their descendants to harvest huge quantities of fish, oysters and clams from the rich waters of the Indian River Lagoon, the Sebastian River and the Atlantic Ocean.
The Archie Smith Fish House property includes approximately 3,200 square feet of land on the east side of Indian River Drive, with two buildings and the dock structure extending approximately 240 feet into the Indian River Lagoon. These are the historically significant structures on the property: the Historic Residence located just east of the public road, the Dock and the Icehouse located near the end of the pier. West of Indian River Drive, the property consists of approximately 47,500 square feet of vegetated and cleared upland.
Indian River County acquired the Archie Smith Fish House for three main purposes.
Thousands of years ago early Floridians ate tons of shellfish and piled up this and other debris in middens. Middens are heaps of shells, bones and broken pottery that once covered large areas of coastline along Florida's east coast. Over time, these middens have been mined for use as road bed material, or cleared for development. To the south of the fish house, the County has acquired the Kroegel homestead which is part of a larger tract that contained one of the largest known middens in this area.
Stories of the abundance of fish within the Lagoon date back to the arrival of the Spanish in Florida. Fishing was a daily activity in 19th century coastal Florida, and most settlers in Sebastian relied on fish as a staple of their daily diet. Archie Smith purchased this property in 1927 and established a business during one of the most difficult times in our Country's history. His fishing business exemplifies the independence, resourcefulness, and resilience of small town entrepreneurs, who had to deal with rugged conditions and limited means. In the early 20th Century, exporting commodities out of the Sebastian area was a complicated endeavor. Local fishermen worked primarily at night in the Indian River, and would bring their catch (primarily mullet) to the Smith's dock in the wee hours of the morning to be paid. Cleaned fish were packed in barrels with shaved ice, then placed on a trolley that was pushed by hand to the nearby road. Trucks would then pick up the fish for transport to the railway, destined for cities as far away as New York.
The Smith's business became an important part of the local economy. The Smith's expanded the facilities on the site to include an expanded house, a shed for net storage, a crab house, a fish house and extensive docks. During the period between 1927 and through the 1980's, the fish house facilities were expanded and included export of an abundance of fish species, as well as shellfish. An interesting fact is that between 1942 And 1945 the house became part of the national air-warning system with the construction of an observation room on the roof of the house. Volunteers in the community would man the room to monitor aircraft movements twenty-four hours a day, and would report their observations to authorities. A 1979 fire destroyed much of the original fish house, but the structure and accompanying deck were re-built to conform to the original design.