by Michael Knight, grandson of "Sam" Knight
Around 1885 George W. Scobie moved to the Titusville area and was instrumental in starting the first commercial fishing business in the Titusville area. The 1893, 1899 and 1903 survey maps of Titusville show the steamboat wharf extending out into the river from Broad St. and the fishing wharf extending into the river from Main St. but none of these surveys shows any of the fish houses or any other structures on the wharfs.
At least by 1897 George Scobie had built fish houses on stilts in the Indian River, as this picture above shows, to facilitate the offloading of fish from the boats directly inside where workers could clean the fish and pack them in ice for transport to consumers. The fish houses were attached to the Main St. wharf. This is the beginning of "Mullet Row" as it came to be known.
The 1908 survey map of Titusville shows six fish houses, a boat builder house and the Indian River Yacht Club on the Main St. wharf. The great hurricane of 1910 demolished most all of the structures on the wharf including the Indian River Yacht Club. The Indian River Yacht Club was not rebuilt afterwards but the other structures on the wharf were rebuilt including the buildings listed in the 1915 survey map of Titusville.
The 1915 survey map of Titusville shows six fish houses, a fish packing & fish smoking house, a boat builder house, a ship chandler house, a cooperage house and a warehouse on the Main St. wharf.
The 1920 survey map of Titusville shows eight fish houses, a fish packing house, a boat builder house, a boat repair house, a ship chandler house, a cooperage house, a warehouse and a Gulf Refining Co. building on the Main St. wharf and seven fish houses along the shore from Main St. north to Orange St. The following postcards and pictures give us a glimpse into what "Mullet Row" looked like.
At this point in time the Indian River Lagoon was a virtual paradise and there was an abundance of fish. Among the many kinds of fish in the Indian River at this time the most commercially marketed were mullet. Mullet were prolific in these waters but because they are vegetarian and do not bite hooks, seine, or gill nets were used to catch them.
The River Front, Titusville, Fla.
City Dock and Indian River, bird's eye view - Titusville, Fla.
The Fishing Fleet, Titusville, FL.
Waterfront View: Titusville, FL.
The water craft of choice for a commercial mullet fisherman was a 14 foot wooden flat boat that was propelled by oars. The fisherman would row out of his dock or fish house in the morning and look for signs of mullet such as pelicans and sea gulls diving into the water to catching their own fish. The fisherman would approach the disturbances in the water and throw out the end of his seine net with an anchor and a float attached to it. The seine nets had weights all along the bottom and floats all along the top of the net. He would then row around the disturbed water paying out the net in a giant circle until he returned to the beginning float. Then he would start hauling in the net by hand. As he pulled the nets in, many of the mullet were caught in the gill nets and came in with the net. He would continue hauling in the nets until they were all back in the boat.
The fisherman would extract the fish from the nets and place them into wooden boxes of ice to preserve the fish from the heat of the sun for the sometimes long row back to the dock. When he got back to his dock, he would then have to unload the fish to his wholesaler who would weigh the fish and pay the fisherman for his fish, minus the cost of the ice the fisherman received before he went out to fish. Then the fisherman would then have to row out to the wooden racks mounted on wooden posts that had been driven into the bottom of the river for net drying. The fisherman would have to untangle his nets and place them on the racks to dry just like an old clothes line. When he got all the nets on the racks he would inspect them for broken netting. The nets were all made of cotton string and were very fragile. A thrashing fish that had been caught in the net could do some damage to the nets. If any damage was discovered, the fisherman would have to mend the nets in preparation for the next day of fishing.
Mike Knight (L) & Harold Smith (R) at Knight Fish Market boats & net racks
Fish net mending needles or shuttles as they were called then, similar to the modern day ones pictured below, were used to mend the nets. The twine wrapped needle was used to span a gap in the damaged net and then tie knots to secure the patch.
Fishing Net Mending Needles
Mending Mullet Nets
Sea Gulls on Fish Nets in Titusville, Fla.
In 1912, my grandfather Samuel Davis Knight and his wife Nina Thomas Knight and their three sons, William Thomas Knight, Branning McSwain Knight and James Guy Knight moved from South Carolina to the Titusville area. The highway system back then was mostly pine needle covered sand roads. In 1915, the fourth son, Samuel DeVoux Knight was born. Samuel Davis, "Sam" Knight, as he was called, had been a blacksmith in South Carolina but when he looked for work in Titusville there wasn't much work for another blacksmith. He had to find some work so he tried the fishing business. His 1918 World War I registration card listed him as a fisherman working for the Seminole Fish Co.
The fishing business was doing well and there was always a need for able bodied men. There was also plenty of fish and a good market for them. He worked his way up in the business and finally owned his own commercial fishing business. Then in 1928 the Great Okeechobee Hurricane made a semi-circular route through Florida, passing over the coast near Lake Okeechobee, then heading West near Tampa and exiting back into the Atlantic Ocean above Jacksonville.
The Great Okeechobee Hurricane wiped out all the structures and the wharf itself with its terrible destruction. The destruction was so bad that the wharf and the fish houses were never rebuilt. That was the end of Mullet Row.
Sam Knight moved his business to a location on the north side of Broad St at the east end of Broad St. It was located next to Carrow Fish Market as the picture below shows. This picture shows the two fish houses and the net drying racks that were in the river.
The Knight Fish Market on Titusville's lagoon front.
I remember listening to my father, William Thomas Knight, reminiscing about the early days of working for his father in the fishing business. He said one of his jobs would be to deliver fish orders from Knight Fish Market in Titusville to local restaurants and businesses up and down the river, such as Hubs Inn and others, by driving a mule and wagon on oyster shell roads similar to the picture below.
The River Road in Titusville, FL
When the fishermen came in each day and after all the fish cleaning was done; the saleable fish parts were stored in iced containers until they could be delivered to customers. The remaining entrails were just thrown out the wide back door into the river. There developed a tremendously large catfish population outside that back door as you can imagine. My father and I would occasionally go to the fish house and my father would go to the office and visit with my grandfather and I would mostly hang around and get in the way. To keep me out of trouble, my father made me a small bamboo fishing pole with a short line and a hook with no barb on it to catch the catfish out the back door of the fish house. We didn't keep the catfish so it didn't matter if they wiggled themselves off my hook and it made it easy to remove them when I did pull one in.
One day we came to the fish house and my dad went to see my grandfather. I was barefooted that day and as I went towards the back door I slipped on the wet slippery floor and fell into the river. I was afraid that the catfish that hung around the back of the fish house would stick me with their fins but as luck would have it none of them did. But to my surprise when my dad pulled me out of the water, I had cut the big toe on my right foot on an old rusty piece of metal. My dad took me to the doctor and as fate would have it, I got stuck that day anyway - a Tetanus shot instead of a catfish fin.
Sam Knight owned and managed the Knight Fish Co. up until shortly before his death in 1955. Upon his death, his son Branning McSwain Knight Sr. stepped in and continued the operation of the company. The business remained at this location for a while longer and then had to relocate to the edge of the river on the north side of Main St. because the part of the river just north of Broad St northward to the SR 402 causeway was dredged in with soil from the bottom of the river to extend Indian River Ave. from Main St. north to the SR 402 causeway. The picture below is of the relocated business at the end of Main St.
Knight Fish Market in 1958
Branning Knight ran the business at the Main St. location until his death in 1958. The city was growing because of the space program and wanted to dredge in some more land between Main St. and the causeway. So the last vestige of Mullet Row finally left the edge of the Indian River. The business was relocated to Mims, FL where business dropped off and it eventually faded out of existence.