The Road less traveled – the first road to Miami

In an earlier post, I reviewed the history of Military Trail, which is a mid-county road (one time trail) to Fort Lauderdale. But as most of the population in the 1890s was along the coastal areas, getting to Miami was no easy manner. It was common, although not inexpensive, to take a steamer or sailboat from Jupiter or Palm Beach to Miami along the ocean. For those who couldn’t afford it, like the US Postal Service, you could walk along the beach and get there, as the famous “Barefoot Mailman” did. Just watch those inlet and river crossings with their hungry crocodiles and alligators.

Its hard to imagine but in the 1890s the area that today comprises Martin, Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties was one huge county called Dade County. Miami was then known as “Fort Dallas” and had held the county seat. That changed in 1889 when the county seat and courthouse was moved to Juno, which had more population and the only railroad line in Dade county (the Celestial Railroad from Jupiter to Juno). The total population in Dade county was about 1,000. As commissioners and other officials from Miami had to trek up to Juno on the water, they realized that some sort of stage coach line would be more reliable. This was also prompted too for a better mail route after a barefoot mailman (Ed Hamilton) was eaten by alligators during a river crossing.

So it was decided that a road would be built from Hypoluxo south to what was called “Lemon

Bridge

Crossing the Hillsboro River

City” (today’s north Miami). The trip from Juno to Hypoluxo was quite manageable by way of Lake Worth via boat,  so a road was not needed for that part of the route. Charles W. Pierce, in his book “Pioneer Life in Southeast Florida” provides a very detailed description of the road and why it was built. He writes in his book that a more reliable way was needed for people and mail to reach Miami. Pierce was appointed to the “road commission”, which met a total of two times. They put a request out for bids to survey and plat out the new road to Miami, designed of course not for cars, since they had not yet been invented, but for a mule wagon, or as he refers to it, a hack. The road was all of eight feet wide, and built along the natural sand ridge adjacent to the barrier islands on the peninsula.

This was no speedy form of travel. Pierce stated that because of the soft white sand, the speed was little more than a slow pace of about 2-3 miles per hour. At that rate, it was a two-day tripto Miami, but still better than walking the beaches. Bridges were built over smaller waterways such as the Hillsboro

Sand Road in Boca Raton

River. It took 14 hours to travel from Hypoluxo to the New River in Fort Lauderdale. Once you reached there, you camped with Frank Stranahan in some tents. According to Pierce, “He was the general manager, cook, dishwasher, chambermaid, and entertainer for the guests.” The next day you would cross the river by boat, then enjoy another seven hour ride to Miami. In all references I can find to the road, it is always just referred to as the “Sand Road.” The Sand Road brought the time of the Barefoot Mailman to an end.

There is not an accurate map of the exact route that the Sand Road took, but it is believed that large parts of it became the Dixie Highway and U.S. 1.  You can actually walk the only remaining portion of the Sand Road that is still sand. The northernmost portion of the Sand Road is located within the Hypoluxo Scrub Natural Area on Hypoluxo Road and U.S. 1. This land was never built on and only has had some light agricultural use over the years.

In this aerial photo from 1953, the sand road is clearly visble down the middle of the tract.

1953 Photo the Sand Road in Hypoluxo

 

Today, the returning vegetation is reclaiming the road, but service vehicles in the park still use the road.

The Sand Road in 2010

Take a walk through the Hypoluxo Scrub area and experience for yourself the road of a bygone era, the road that helped people “get there from here.” The Park is open sunup to sundown seven days a week and admission is free.

Take a ride on my time machine (kinda sorta)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about wanting a time machine to go back and see how Palm Beach County looked decades ago. I have often thought how cool it would be to have “ancient” Google-maps, to be able to have a bird’s eye view of your property. Well, you can. Thanks to a project by the University of Florida, you can find out what your property looked like decades ago. Depending upon where you live in the county, there are maps posted from 1940, 1953 and 1968.

I stumbled across the link on the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s website. I looked first at the property where my house resides. I was lucky in that there is a house along Lawrence Road that was built in 1940, so I could use that as my reference point. I scrolled over to see what was on Congress Avenue at that time. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong, but I could not find it. Then it dawned on me. There was no Congress Avenue in Boynton Beach in 1953. I did a search through the Palm Beach Post Archives and found that Congress Avenue stopped at Lantana Road. It was extended to Hypoluxo Road in 1964, then to Boynton West Road in 1965 (today’s Boynton Beach Boulevard). In later years, it was extended down to Yamato Road, where it terminates.

The search tool at the University of Florida website uses Google Maps so you can enter an address from today. Using GIS technology, it finds which aerial photos matches those coordinates and draws a red circle where your house would be on the old photos. When you examine these photos, you realize how things have changed and see the incredible building boom that has occurred.

Here is an example of what these maps can show:

Palm Beach State College - 1953

Palm Beach State College – 1953

Palm Beach State College – 2010

In the 1953 photo, the dark line along the bottom is not 6th Avenue South, but the drainage canal. 6th Avenue South was not extended to Congress Avenue until the early 1970s. The aerial photos are in black and white, but the resolution is not bad for seeing detail. In my neighbhorhood, I was able to find some oak trees that still exist.

The University of Florida website is located at: http://ufdcweb1.uflib.ufl.edu/ufdc/?a=flap

Use the MAP SEARCH feature to find your location on a modern map. Once you have found your house, please answer the poll question:

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If you want to see other parts of the nation, check out Historic Aerials at http://www.historicaerials.com/Default.aspx and see what they have. The site has a few neat visual tools like the ability to see a split screen using the “compare” tools. You can move the arrow to “swipe”across and see how things changed. Here is Meadows Park in Boynton Beach just south of Hypoluxo Road. The property was a dairy – the dots you see near the bottom of the photo are cows.

Split view of Meadows Park in 1968 and 2007

This picture was so special to me as it confirmed a memory I had from childhood about this dairy. In the front of the dairy was a small bridge on Congress Avenue that allowed the cows from the east field to get over to the dairy on the west side of Congress.

So take a fly around the county through the decades. If you find something neat or solved some old mystery about what was where when, leave me a comment.

Got Milk? Alfar Creamery made sure West Palm Beach did

Sometimes, life is just weird. I did my research for this blog last night, I sat down to write at 8:00 PM, flipped on the History Channel for Modern Marvels – and the whole show was about milk. We all pick up gallons or half-gallons of milk at our local supermarkets, not really knowing where the milk was produced, or how old it is. That wasn’t true of West Palm Beach back in the 1920s, when milk had to be delivered fresh each day. There was quite a bit of demand for milk and milk products such as butter, ice cream, sour cream and cream, and a growing city needed a dairy that could meet those needs. Alf R. Nielsen, a native Swede, who had been president of the Palm Beach Creamery Company, founded the Alfar Creamery Company in 1930. A dairy plant was built at 456 Flamingo Drive at the cost of $75,000,

Alfar Creamery Logo

Alfar Creamery Logo

and opened with great fanfare and a party til midnight on November 20, 1930. A.E. Parker, the former city manager of West Palm Beach was vice-president and was also president of Bertana Farms. He was also Major Boynton’s son-in-law and managed the Boynton Hotel for many years. Bertana Farms was a combination of a part of his first name “Bert” and “Ana”, his wife.

They bought their milk from the big dairy producers of the day, the famous Pennock Plantation in Jupiter with its Jersey cows (specializing in unpasteurized milk), the Bertana and Winchester dairies in Boynton, and the Clark Dairy in Kelsey City (today’s Lake Park). The white trucks of the Alfar Creamery delivered milk daily all over West Palm Beach, packed in ice to keep it fresh in the heat.

Alfar Box

Alfar Ice Cream

Service was extended to Belle Glade in 1934 with the opening of the western plant. Alfar also was famous for its ice cream in a variety of flavors, even Palm Beach!

Alfar also sponsored bowling teams and kid’s baseball teams, so they were a real supporter of the local community. The Alfar logo was everywhere to be seen, but probably no more iconically than on “The Hut”, the famous lakeside drive-in that was in West Palm Beach.

The Hut

The Hut Drive-in – West Palm Beach

Alfar provided all the dairy products for the milk shakes and malts, and the refrigeration equipment and neon signs as for this icon of West Palm Beach. Alfar also sold many thousands of the famous “Dixie

Dixie Cup

Collector Dixie Cup lid with Bob Hope

Cups” with ice cream, and the old lids are highly sought by collectors.

As time went on, the local dairy business became more difficult as consumers began buying milk at supermarkets. I can remember as a kid that the milkman still did stop by (McArthur Dairy) and would sell milk, ice cream and other dairy products and I loved it when my mom bought things from the milkman, but she said it was more expensive than the store.

In 1963, Alfar merged with the Boutwell Dairy in Lake Worth. The Boutwell Dairy was founded by William Boutwell, who had invented the process that produced half and half. At its peak, the Boutwell dairy had more than a 1,000 Guernseys at his dairy located at Congress and Forest Hill Boulevard (then called Selby Road). After the merger, products were sold as Alfar-Boutwell. Then in 1968, the T.G. Lee Dairy in Orlando bought the Alfar-Boutwell Creamery, and the Alfar name dissappeared from the West Palm Beach area. In the continuing mergers, Dean Foods bought the T.G. Lee brand. By the end of the 1970s, all of the dairies in eastern Palm Beach County had closed as the land had become too valuable for dairy farming.

So what happened to the Alfar plant? Did the property become housing or a shopping center? Nope. In some miracle, the property is still a dairy distribution plant and serves as the headquarters of McArthur Dairy (also owned by Dean Foods).  It is still located at the same address on Flamingo Road along the Florida East Coast railroad.
Information for this article was researched through the historical archives of the Palm Beach Post.

McArthur Dairy

McArthur Dairy Headquarters

Jupiter Lighthouse – 150th Anniversary of its First Light

July 10, 2010 marks the 150th anniversary of the first lighting of the Jupiter Lighthouse. This beautiful and majestic lighthouse is Palm Beach County’s oldest structure, and has withstood wars, hurricanes, and worst of all, development. Its 108 feet of brick has overseen all the changes, good and bad. As I grew up in the Jupiter-Tequesta area, the lighthouse was always my favorite monument and the guiding light home. When we visited my grandparents in Lake Worth and made our way home along U.S. 1, I would wait to see its light and know home was not far away.

jupiter sign

The commemorative plaque at the Jupiter Lighthouse

On our tour today, we spent some extra time with one of the staff members who was helping set up the tables for tonight’s event and ceremonial re-lighting of the lighthouse. He told us that in recently putting in a new wall, excavations produced several old french perfume bottles, and a blue bottle for a health tonic from a Dr. Pierce (more information here). His best find was an old conch shell that he recognized as being a trumpet shell. He quickly rinsed it off with a hose and he gave it a good blow, and it produced its first tone in probably 1,000 years. Anytime a tree is planted or the ground excavated for repairs, an archealogist has to be called in to look for indian artifacts.

Jupiter Lighthouse

The Jupiter Lighthouse in the sun

Jupiter Lighhouse

The Jupiter Lighthouse through the trees

The lighthouse sits on a natural hill that is 46 feet high (a mountain for Florida). Surrounding the hill are several kitchen “middens” where the Native Americans buried their kitchen garbage of bone and shell refuse. The U-shaped hill is called a “parabolic dune” and was probably first settled by the English in post-Colombian times. The name “Jupiter” is a twist of many languages. The Native Americans referred to themselves as the “Hoe-Bay,” which to the Spanish sounded like “Jove”, the Spanish word for the god Jupiter, so the English translation was applied.  Old maps from the 1770s mention that the area was renamed “Grenville” when the territory was ceded to the English. Some very old “tabby” building material and other British items were found in a recent excavation.

If you have an afternoon, the tour and museum is more than worth the time. The trek up the lighthouse is a 150 steps of winding staircase, so if you have vertigo or do not like heights, the climb may not be for you.

Lake Boynton Estates – Neighborhood Tales

“Some day I shall buy myself a little home…the house of my dreams. In Boynton it shall be…not very far beyond the big gates of Lake Boynton Estates…up on the cool, wind swept ridge from where I can view the sunrise over the Ocean, and see it set in a riot of red beyond the Lake to the west.” So starts a 1925 ad from the Palm Beach Post for the Lake Boynton Estates subdivision. As I reported in an earlier blog post (http://www.palmbeachpast.org/?p=32) Boynton Beach had several lakes that stretched from Lake Osborne in Lake Worth to Lake Ida in Delray Beach.

On the largest of those lakes, the developer K.D. Purdy had purchased the land to the east of Lake Boynton and platted out 50 foot lots complete with paved streets and water. The subdivision was directly accessible from the Dixie Highway and downtown Boynton through Ocean Avenue. He took out several large ads in the Palm Beach Post to sell lots in his subdivision. The lots were sold for $1,750, quite a sum of money in its day. Many lots sold in the land boom of the 1920s, which all came to a halt with the subsequent land bust and Great Depression of the 1930s. In the Depression, I am guessing that the lots could have been bought for the owed taxes, probably less than $10. My grandfather bought hundreds of lots like these in the Wilton Manors and Progresso subdivisions in Fort Lauderdale for $2-$3 dollars apiece. Although we think the local land and housing market has crashed, it cannot ever match the depth of the crash that occurred in the 1930s.

Another factor that did not help Lake Boynton Estates was the Seaboard Air Line Railroad (now known as the CSX tracks). Flagler’s Florida East Coast railroad had no competition, so another railroad line was bound to make its way south. In 1926 it was announced that the Seaboard Air line would be extended down to Miami. The route of the tracks was just a few yards from the entrance to Lake Boynton Estates. I don’t know if Purdy knew that the railroad would come that close to his development, but the residents who were there certainly would not have been happy about the train, nor would that help sales of the lots once the railroad had announced.

I did not find any sales ads for the development beyond 1925. I think development pretty much came to a halt until the late 1950s, based on a search of Palm Beach County property records. Additional homes were built through the 1960s. The 1970s construction of I-95 isolated the neighborhood from downtown Boynton, cutting off the Ocean Avenue artery. Then the 1960s saw the filling-in of Lake Boynton for the construction of the Leisureville development. Another building spurt in the 1990s filled in most of the lots, although a few empty ones remain. Sadly, only three original houses in the development remain, two mission-style houses and one Mediterranean Revival style stucco house.

Boynton House

Mission-style house built in 1926

Boynton House

Mission-style house built in 1925

Boynton House

Mediterranean Revival Style House built in 1925

One of the elements featured in the original ads were the gates leading into the development, which were located on the south, east and north entrances to the development.

Boynton gates

The Gates at Lake Boynton Estates

Could these gates have somehow survived? Janet DeVries, the archivist and librarian at the Boynton Beach City Library, clued me in on where the sole remaining gate was located. At the east end of the development by the Seaboard Coastline tracks, one side of the gates remain, in somewhat of a sad state, a bit overgrown and with graffiti on one side.

Boynton Gate - 2010

The Lake Boynton Gate as it appears in 2010

The gate is almost exactly as it appeared in the ad, with part of the top ornament now missing. I doubt many of the residents even know why the gate is there and how old it is, some 85 years. If you have any additional information about Lake Boynton Estates, please leave a comment below.

Proctor’s Restaurant – Best fried fish in the world!

I was reading some of the comments over at http://www.historicpalmbeach.com/ about things people remember and loved about growing up in West Palm Beach. One restaurant that got more mention than any place else was Proctor’s Restaurant. It was the type of restaurant which is becoming so rare – family run, inexpensive and always good.

Proctor’s is the story of two families – there really was a Proctor at Proctor’s. The restaurant opened in 1947 on Dixie Highway just north of Belvedere Road. H.D. Proctor and his son H.D. Proctor Jr. ran the restaurant that featured seafood fare. Their most famous was the “All the fish you can eat” meal of golden fried fish fillets. In August of 1964, the Proctors sold the restaurant to a couple from Europe, Charles and Gertrude “Trudy” Seigner. According to the August 18, 1964 article in the Palm Beach Post, the Siegners paid $50,000 for the business and leased the building from the Proctors. At some point in the late 1960s or early 1970s, the restaurant moved about 100 yards to the south and to the opposite side of the street. I don’t know if this was an existing building or one they had built. Then, in 1975, they moved for the final time to an old A&P grocery store located across the street. It added 50% more serving space and a larger parking lot.

Proctor’s Original Restaurant

Proctor’s menu was so simple – a good selection of seafood entrees, both fried and boiled, along with a few steaks and chops, and fried chicken made fresh to order. When you ordered the chicken, you were told it would be a 20 minute wait. They also had daily specials such as pot roast on Mondays or corned beef and cabbage on Thursdays. This was real old school fare! The all-you-can-eat fish was delicious – served with french fries and a cole slaw that was finely chopped and delightfully sweet-and-sour. If everyone at the table ordered fish, your meal was typically served within 5 minutes! If your appetite was not huge, you could order the 2-piece meal and save a few dollars. My cousin told me that he was thrown out of Proctor’s more than once as he and his teenage buddies would get the “all-you-can-eat” and just keep eating…and eating, until they were asked to leave.

The “line” was always something to be dealt with, especially in the season from December through April. It started to form around 5 PM, and would begin to taper off around 7 PM. As in the postcard above, the line was typically around the building, but it was worth the wait. As you got closer to the door, you would get a number. The number set was used so much that they were all taped over on the top where they fit on the number stand. Proctor’s also had a busy take-out window. They closed during the month of September for vacation, and we would count the days until they reopened again.

Trudy was typically out front seating parties at tables, while her mother was at the cash register well into her 80s. Charles was in the kitchen, making sure the high-quality was maintained. The waitresses stayed for many years and the staff all around was very stable – it was just a great place to work.

They also had wonderful homemade desserts such as “Mississippi Mud” or the “Better than Sex” cake – who could resist that? The Seigners were also animal lovers – they fed and cared for a feral cat colony, even buying an old house at the back of the property so that the cats would have shelter from the weather. There was always a red collection box at the cash register for the Animal Rescue League.

The restaurant closed in 2006 when the property was sold to a spa operator. I have often wondered why they did not sell the business itself, but all good things must come to an end. The best approximation to their fish dinner is at John G’s on Lake Worth Beach. It’s close, but not exact.

If you have any more details or memories about Proctor’s, please leave them in the comments.

Living on Flagler’s lands? You probably are.

I often wish I could build a time machine and see Palm Beach County as it was in the late 1890s. One thing is for sure though – I better have some good wading boots with me. Almost all of the land would have been under water during the rainy season from June to November. So who would want all that swamp land? Henry Flagler would – and he got most of it for free.

The federal government had a long-standing program of granting land to railroad builders, usually to the tune of several thousand acres for every mile of railroad. Palm Beach County was no exception, and through land grants and purchases from homesteaders, Flagler had amassed more than 100,000 acres in Palm Beach county. Much of the land was useless as it was, so in stepped the Lake Worth Drainage District to make the land arable for agriculture and dairy. The work was begun in 1916 and more than 131,000 acres of land was drained at the cost of 2.8 million dollars. This involved digging hundreds of miles of canals and ditches to drain the land out through the major canals like the Southern Boulevard and Boynton

ad

Model Land Company ad from 1924.

(now the Weaver Canal). This also meant all lands were now part of a “taxing district” and owners had to pay a yearly drainage tax on land that was not producing anything. Check your tax bill – chances are you are still paying a tax to the Lake Worth Drainage District if you own land in their area.

Once work was largley finished by 1921, the land was sold in farming size tracts of many sizes. The Model Land Company was formed in 1898 and was led by J.E. Ingraham, whom Flagler recognized as having good business sense. The Model Land Company sold land up and down the east coast of Florida from the land Flagler amassed through the railroad. Flagler never made any money on his hotels, and the railroad itself was a financial disaster from day one. The land sales, however, kept everything else afloat. As individual settlers bought various land tracts from the Model Land Company, they probably farmed on it or leased it out to bigger agricultural concerns. Gradually, tracts were sold and consolidated until finally landing in the hands of developers. From the 1930s to the 1970s, these developments were more of the City of Atlantis-type where streets and utilities were laid and individual lots sold for a house custom-built for the owner. From the 1980s to today, the developments are the typical “cookie-cutter” variety with three or four models from which to choose.

As I searched through the online archives of the Model Land Company (available at http://merrick.library.miami.edu/specialCollections/asm0075/) I found a letter dated February 3, 1923 that mentioned a land owner who wanted to sell his tracts (all the land between Military Trail and Lawrence Roads from the Boynton Canal south to where Woolbright Road is today) to Norwegian settlers. The owner could not afford the drainage taxes and would eventually lose the land. He wanted the Model Land Company’s help in getting a road built through the land. A community center was to be built in the center of the tract. Hard to imagine we could have had a little Norwegian village with 100 families in Palm Beach County. A June 14, 1923 article from the Palm Beach Post proclaimed “Norse Colony to be formed near Boynton.” I don’t know if the families ever came, or whatever happened to the idea. That is a mystery to be solved.