Fort DeSoto, established about 1840 to give protection to settlers from Native Americans, was located at the northeastern edge of present-day Brooksville on Croom Road about one-half mile east of U.S. Highway 41. The fort was also a trading post and a regular stop on the Concord stagecoach line which ran from Palatka to Tampa. The fort was built on top of a heavy bed of limestone, a fact which they were unaware of at the time. This made it exceedingly difficult to obtain water, thus causing the location to be abandoned.
On September 12, 1842, Seminole Indians attacked the McDaniel party near the community of Chocachatti, south of Brooksville, killing Charlotte (Mrs. Richard) Crum.
Brooksville was settled in 1845 by four families: the Howell family which settled the northern part of town; the Jon L. Mays family which settled the eastern part of town; the Hale family on the west; and the Parsons family on the south. In the early 1840s the population shifted about 3 miles (5 km) to the south, where a settlement formed by the Hope and Saxon families became known as Pierceville. About this time, another community about 2 miles (3 km) northwest of Pierceville, named Melendez, was formed.
In 1850 a post office was established at Melendez, which in 1855 was listed as the Capital of Benton County, now Hernando County. In 1854 it was replaced by a post office at Pierceville. Both towns were situated in the area that would become Brooksville.
In 1856 the town of Brooksville was established by the merger of the towns of Melendez and Pierceville and served as the county seat of Hernando County. The name was chosen to honor Preston Brooks, a congressman who had caned abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner nearly to death in 1856 on the floor of the Senate after Sumner gave an anti-slavery speech and disparaged Brooks’ uncle, Senator Andrew Butler.
The Pierceville post office was renamed Brooksville in 1871. The city of Brooksville was incorporated on October 13, 1880.
A study of lynchings recorded in Hernando County in the late 19th and early 20th centuries revealed it had one of the highest per capita rates of violence against blacks in the United States. In Brooksville, the county seat, several African-Americans were killed in the 1870s and 1920s. Arthur St. Clair, a community leader, was murdered in 1877 after he presided over an interracial marriage. After the murder, the investigation was stymied by local actions to prevent bringing to justice the white men accused in his killing. In 1882, there was a brief uprising by blacks, three of whom were killed and many of whom were wounded by whites.
The 1920s saw a resurgence of Ku Klux Klan activity and lynchings; as a result, many black residents left the area. During the Great Depression, Brooksville suffered from a lack of currency. The school board paid teachers with chits, and Weeks Hardware “accepted chickens and sides of bacon” as payment.
In the 1920s, Brooksville was a major citrus production area and was known as the “Home of the Tangerine”.
In 1948 Brooksville instituted a zoning law segregating neighborhoods. Schools remained segregated until the late 1960s. One of the most notorious examples of racism in the city was the creation of the “Lewis Plantation and Turpentine Still”, which claimed to show life in African-American rural communities, but in reality contained black residents dressing and acting in grotesque stereotypes as a means of entertaining white tourists.
Brooksville is a residential-commercial community. There are several modern medical facilities in the area including Bayfront Health Brooksville, Oak Hill Community Hospital, and Bayfront Health Spring Hill. A campus of Pasco–Hernando State College is a mile north of the city limits. The business section includes eleven shopping centers, and Brooksville–Tampa Bay Regional Airport is 6 miles (10 km) south of the city. There are three city parks with walking trails, sports, and picnicking facilities, including a nine-hole golf course and a library. The region also offers abundant hunting, fishing, biking, canoeing, kayaking and camping opportunities.
Jerome Brown, defensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles was a graduate of Brooksville’s Hernando High School. In June 1988, he received praise for his calm demeanor as he helped disperse a group of Ku Klux Klan protesters in his hometown of Brooksville. Brown, and his 12-year-old nephew Gus, died on June 25, 1992 after Brown lost control of his car and crashed into a tree; Brown was 27 years old. In 2000, the Jerome Brown Community Center was opened in Brooksville in memory of Brown.
A minor controversy arose in the summer of 2010 when local media and residents brought attention to the origin of the town’s name, calling it “shameful”. The suggestion was made that the town should change its name in order to distance itself from its pro-slavery history. The idea was opposed by locals and not entertained by the city council. However, the city’s official website did remove a page which discussed the Brooks/Sumner encounter and had cast Brooks in a positive light.
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