The Historic Rossetter House Museum and Gardens in Eau Gallie is presenting a free program of Christmas music and stories, Saturday, December 5, from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm. The Dickens Carolers, dressed in Victorian Era costumes, will perform.
Christmas celebrations at the Rossetter House date back to the early twentieth century.
The last resident of the Rossetter House was Caroline P. Rossetter. In 1921, at the age of 23, she took over her father’s Standard Oil Agency, becoming a successful business leader just months after women received the right to vote in this country. She was the first female Standard Oil Agent, and the longest running, operating the business for 62 years.
During an interview conducted in 1980, Rossetter remembered her family hosting Catholic services before a church was built.
“The first Catholic Masses in this area were held in our home,” Rossetter said. “The priest would come from DeLand. He was Father Michael Curley, who later became an Archbishop. Father Curley was very handsome. He was a tall blonde, with blue eyes, and he was extremely handsome. We small children adored him.”
Having Catholic services held in her home made the Christmas holidays particularly special for Rossetter and her family. Young Carrie and her sister Ella were unhappy when their beloved priest moved away.
“We came home one day, and they had brought Father Curley’s replacement, a priest from Fort Pierce,” said Rossetter. “His name was Father Gabriel. He was from Switzerland, and he was bald-headed, and he was short, and he was far from Father Curley’s appearance. We were very, very heartbroken and very disgusted, and we treated Father Gabriel very coolly for quite some time. Later on, he proved to be one of the great men of his time.”
Eventually, Rossetter and her sister warmed to the new priest.
“He would come up on the noon train, spend the night in our home, and go back the next afternoon on the five o’clock train,” Rossetter explained. “We had Mass in one of mother’s parlors. She’d pull out her Queen Anne table and her best Damask table cloths. That parlor had folding doors that would close. Over in the corner, the Catholics of that area made their confessions to the priest. We closed the folding doors, and we kneeled down by the Father, and we had our confessions.”
The population of Catholics in early twentieth century Brevard County was small. Father Curley helped to establish good relationships with the larger Protestant community.
“He was a great diplomat and did more to develop the feeling of friendship with the Protestants than any priest has done since,” Rossetter said.
By 1914, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church was constructed in Palm Bay.
“Early church services were attended by residents of Melbourne and Eau Gallie who arrived by horse and buggy or by boat and it is said that the primitive road conditions often kept parishioners from attending services,” according to the Historic Brevard Landmark Guide published by the Brevard County Historical Commission.
With the construction of St. Joseph’s, Christmas services and other masses were no longer conducted at the Rossetter House.
Today, the Rossetter House Museum and Gardens invites everyone to celebrate the holiday season with music and stories provided by the Dickens Carolers.
The Dickens Carolers are part of the Brevard Theatrical Ensemble, which maintains a busy schedule this time of year.
“As the holiday engulfs us, and we are subjected to a barrage of sentiment and commercialism, which are often indistinguishable from one another, simpler days seem so much more attractive, and many of us tend to look to the past,” says Lady Gail Ryan, director of the Dickens Carolers.
“Thanks to Charles Dickens and a flood of nostalgia for the nineteenth century, the Dickens Carolers take you on a musical and storytelling adventure into some of the traditions that we now include into the celebration of Christmas, which indeed have been around since before the Middle Ages,” Ryan says.
The Florida Historical Society, which manages the Rossetter House Museum and Gardens for the Rossetter House Foundation, has decorated the home for the holidays. The Dickens Carolers performance is made possible by a grant from the Brevard Cultural Alliance.