You have to REALLY want to visit Kenansville. It’s not the kind of place you stumble upon. I have wanted to visit for years, so I took the lonely stretch of 441 north from Yeehaw (instead of the Turnpike) to arrive in Kenansville today.
The area was originally settled just after the Civil War. A small pine courthouse was located west of the Turnpike on a marshy lake called Courthouse Slough. It served as the county seat for what was then part of Brevard County. The original settlers were along the north shore of Lake Marian, and the village became known as Lake View.
Around 1878, the village of Whittier began to develop two miles east. The church and cemetery are still there, and there were once many homes, stores, and a wooden schoolhouse. In 1892, the town received a post office, housed within the general store.
Henry Flagler built his railroad through the county on its way to Okeechobee, bypassing Whittier by a mile and a half to the east. Flagler named the station Kenansville after his third wife, Mary Lily Kenan Flagler. Regular service began in September 1914. The depot was located at South Canoe Creek Road and Bow Street. The two towns were considered rivals in the early years, but slowly the gravity of the rail line and better-funded Flagler town consumed Whittier.
The Bank of Kenansville opened across from the depot in 1914, and a year later, the Piney Woods Inn opened… which was renamed Heartbreak Hotel in the 1950s. Some suggest it inspired the Elvis song, but that is likely an urban legend and it’s the other way around.
In 1914 a small wooden post office was opened in Kenansville–in 1915, the Whittier office closed–just a block from the depot. That year the new town also opened two general stores, a drug store, dry goods store, and a two-story concrete storehouse.
The original post office served the community until 1976, when the modern brick building was constructed. Bud Adams purchased the original post office in 1979 and moved it to his ranch in Fort Pierce. In 2005 the old 300 sq foot was reunited with Kenansville and placed in front of the large historic schoolhouse. The post office is awesome and still contains the original mail slots!
The Kenansville School, located about halfway between historic Whittier and Kenansville, was opened and donated by Flagler in 1917. The large brick building replaced the wooden one in Whittier. Over 100 students from K-12 once attended the impressive rural school. It has been lovingly restored into a museum.
At one time, Kenansville was a major cattle town. It was located along the Peavine Trail (a cowboy highway before 441 was built) and the Flagler railroad. Another railroad opened in 1916 that spurred off the Flagler line at Kenansville depot and headed south to Prarie Ridge with plans to reach Bassenger at the Kissimmee River, despite the promise to open up that region during the Great Florida Land Boom. The railroad grade, which followed the old Peavine Trail, was abandoned after the Boom went bust in 1926.
Kenansville lost its bank to the Great Depression, and the town slowly faded from prominence. The railroad closed in the 1950s and when the Turnpike routed traffic away from 441, the town’s prospects evaporated. Still, it is home to a proud few hundred citizens (many descendants of the pioneer families) that do an excellent job of upkeep its remaining historic buildings and cemetery.