The Last Cows of Boynton

I guess there has to be a last of everything, and in Boynton’s proud dairy history, these are indeed the last. The last cows of Boynton are in their 12 acre pasture, tucked between a gas station, a development and Knuth Road. You may have driven past them on Boynton Beach Boulevard. I often

cow

A cow in Boynton’s last pasture

take kids there to feed the cows carrots, so they can see what a real cow looks like. One evening we were lucky enough to meet Mrs. Winchester, who came by to check on them. There was a nostalgic gaze on her face as she told me of the days when thousands of cows grazed across Boynton’s prairies. She laughed as she told me her first name – Elsie! A perfect name for a dairyman’s wife.

These last cows hold the secret of all those that came before them. Boynton’s flat drained sandy and muck soils were ideal for cattle grazing, and in the 1920s,  the Model Land Company encouraged people to enter the dairying business.  The first large scale dairy had some very lucky cows, who enjoyed an ocean view. In 1920, Ward Miller decided that the lands that today make up Briny Breezes would make a fine dairy. Being near the ocean, diseases brought by ticks would be less of a problem. In 1923, he built the Shore Acres Dairy, along with owning the Miller-Jordan Dairy on Federal Highway, while W.S. Shepard had the Royal Palm Dairy.

Another large dairy in the early days of Boynton dairying was Bertana Farms, owned by A.E Parker and located on the Dixie Highway. He was also part owner of the Alfar Creamery in West Palm Beach, and a former city manager of West Palm Beach; much of the milk from Boynton was processed through the Alfar Creamery. Harry Benson and E.L. Winchester also had their dairys on the eastern side of Boynton.

As land along the ocean and the Dixie highway became more valuable, dairies began to pop up along the Military Trail, Lawrence Road and what would eventually become Congress Avenue (Congress was not put through Boynton until 1965). One of earliest and most famous dairy families of Boynton were the Weavers. Their dairy was located along the Military Trail, where the Cypress Creek Golf Club is today. M.A. Weaver served as mayor of Boynton for many years, and their house still stands in Lake Boynton Estates. His sons had land north and south of Boynton Beach Boulevard on Military Trail, all of which was eventually sold for developments and shopping. Stanley Weaver was also very much involved in Boynton, serving as mayor in the 1950s and serving longer than anyone else ever has on the Lake Worth Drainage District Board. The Boynton Canal is now named in his honor.

Many other families also entered the dairy business. The Melear family, from Alabama, had many dairies in Palm Beach County. In a June 25, 1955 article from the Palm Beach Post Historical Archives,  the eight brothers and one sister had over 2,200 head of cattle and 2,800 acres of land. All of the Melear siblings settled in Palm Beach County, except one who stayed on in Hawaii after World War I. Carlton Melear had his place at Hypoluxo Road and Congress Avenue. At the time it was built, there was no Congress Avenue, so when the road was put through in 1965, two cattle paths were built under

Melear

Carlton Melear

the road so the cows could get to the milking barn on the west side of Congress without disturbing traffic (see earlier post on my memory of the cows on Congress here). That property today is The Meadows development, including the Meadows Square Plaza, where the Melears’s house once stood.  Tyler Melear had his dairy on Lawrence Road north of what today is Gateway, C.B. Melear was on Old Boynton, Bill Melear and Charlie Melear were on Boynton West Road (today’s Boynton Beach Boulevard) and operated the Learwood dairy, and Lester Melear was on Lantana Road west of the Turnpike. A sister was even in the business. Nonnie Melear White and her husband Louis White were also on Boynton West road. The Melears milk was distributed through the McArthur, Alfar and Boutwell Dairies.

The 1945 Florida Census for Boynton Beach listed several people with the profession of “dairyman” – C.F. Knuth and his son Orville and his Few Acres Dairy at Lawrence and Old Boynton, A.E. Allen at the Eldorado Dairy, the Winchesters (who also raised pineapple), the Williamson and Goodman Dairy, the Goodwin Dairy, Harry Benson’s Gulf Stream Dairy, Albert Teele, who ran a “milk counter” in the Northwood neighborhood of West Palm Beach, B.L. Tuck on Lawrence Road, and Herbert Keatts and Grover Bell, who had their dairies on the Military Trail.

Walter Goolsby and his son Theodore ran Goolsby and Son Dairy along the Boynton Canal and Lawrence Road. They had 20 acres on the west side of Lawrence (where the Artesa development is today) and a hundred acres on the east side of Lawrence, which actually was originally platted in 1927 as the “West Boynton” subdivision. They bought both pieces of land at tax sales. They were featured in

Five Legged Calf at Goolsby's

Five Legged Calf at Goolsby’s

the Palm Beach Post in 1960 when a five-legged calf was born at the dairy. The Goolsby children sold the West Boynton subdivision portion in 1977, and the developer simply took the original 1927 plat and sold lots. These are the avenues today called Aladdin, Barkis, Coelebs, Dorit and Edgar.

As time went by, the land was becoming more valuable and the profit margin in the dairy business was razor thin. The inflation pressures and oil crisis of the early 1970s were the last blows to both the Weaver dairy in Boynton and the Melear dairy on Congress. Both were closed by 1973. Many of the cow herds were moved to the Okeechobee area to larger operations. Some cows remained across from the Boynton Beach Mall until about 2005, when the land was sold for the Boynton Commons shopping center.

So few today are even aware that Boynton Beach played such a large role in dairy production in South Florida. I miss seeing the cows across from the Boynton Mall; it somehow allowed me to believe that I

cow

One of the last cows of Boynton

still lived “in the country.” I know that very soon the last ones will too be gone, bringing a whimpering end to almost 100 years of dairying history in Boynton. Take a ride out and visit them while they are still there.

This story was researched through the Palm Beach Post Historic Archives, the 1945 Florida Census,  and a history written by B.W. White, courtesy of the Boynton Beach City Library and Janet DeVries, archivist.

 

Need a job? Look to the Madisons for inspiration.

I recently had the great pleasure to present some of my research at the Boynton Beach Historical Society’s monthly meeting. At that meeting, I mentioned an article I had found in the Palm Beach Post archives while looking for articles on the orange groves that once surrounded Lawrence Road in Boynton Beach. The article I found told the story of Warner Alexander Madison and his wife Juanita. It’s the type of story that reminds us how much things have changed, and yet that hard work transcends time and can get you through anything.

W.A. Madison and Juanita

The Madisons in 1939

The Madisons came to Florida in 1937 from Des Moines, Iowa, hoping to help Mr. Madison’s health. Mr. Madison was born in 1882 in New York. In 1916, he had contracted polio (or what at that time was called “infantile paralysis”) and was confined to a wheelchair. Land records indicate that the Madisons bought 18.6 acres from the Lake Worth Drainage District, right where Military Trail curves in Boynton Beach, in the vicinity of where Le Chalet Boulevard is today. In the first article published April 23, 1939, their story of purchasing the land and living for three months in their car was told.  They cleared the land and built a house with the help of the local Salvation Army. A contractor from Lake Worth even mined some rock from the property, creating a swimming pool for Mr. Madison to help his paralysis. Mr. Madison was a Mason, so the local chapter helped him build his house. The article does not give Mr. Madison’s exact age, except that he was past fifty. His wife Juanita had been a dancer and actress on the Keith vaudeville circuit.

Mr. Madison was a trained chemist, so he used his skills to create perfumes from the flowers that grew nearby at the Sun-up Grove, owned by Mabel Maull. Mrs. Maull sold the perfumes in her gift shop, and the Madisons finally had some steady income. They planted many acres of roses, planted vegetables which they canned, prepared datil peppers in vinegar for hot sauce, and raised chickens. One of the audience members at the historical society meeting remembered the couple and mentioned that the land became a little tourist attraction called “Madison Jungle Garden.” This gave me another clue to search on the Palm Beach Post archives. I found two more articles on the Madisons, and how they had indeed expanded and become one of those wonderful old Florida roadside attractions which have vanished from our landscape.

Jungle Garden

Madison’s Jungle Garden in 1953

In the February 11, 1940 article, it is mentioned that Mr. Madison wheeled himself out to their flagpole to fly the flag everyday. It had been a hard year, with a freeze claiming much of their flowers, vegetable crops and datil pepper plants. In the article published November 28, 1941, the Madisons tell of their attraction, how they had blazed a trail to the dense jungle that was in the middle of the property and how they set up picnic tables and a souvenir stand.  They even featured an old still that had been destroyed during Prohibition, still displaying ax marks . Mr. Madison made his perfumes, and Mrs. Madison handcrafted novelties from shells, pine cones,  palmetto fiber and fronds. She made dolls, hats, wall hangings and brushes from materials on the property. She made hundreds of visors from palmetto fronds and from the proceeds they were able to buy a small refrigerator.

To add to the feeling of their jungle, they added some animals such as a bobcat, monkeys, snakes and pheasants. To give the illusion of parrots perched in the trees, Mr. Madison carved the birds from wood and painted them in bright colors.

At some point between 1941 and 1953, Military Trail was rerouted to eliminate the awkward westward curve. This meant that Military would cut through the north end of the property.

The aerial photo above from 1953 shows that, but it looks like the attraction was still active at that time. I did not find any other articles about the Madisons, so in my next visit to the courthouse I’ll have to see when they sold the land. Today the land  is the Grande Palms development and parts of Gateway Palms.

Gateway Gardens Development

I am sure that everyday was hard for the Madisons. Being disabled, coming out of the Great Depression and moving to a strange and wild land were all obstacles that the Madisons overcame with hard work and creativity. I will see if I can find out what eventually happened to the Madisons and their little slice of Florida heaven.

UPDATE: Through FamilySearch, I found a 1945 Florida Census record for Lantana, Florida that listed a Juanita Madison, age 53, born in 1892. Mr. Madison had passed away in 1944. I also found an obituary in the Palm Beach Post archives for a Juanita Madison Ring, who died in 1961 at age 69 in Lantana. That would agree with the 1945 Census for her age. I think it is her because the listing said that a Christian Science reader would be presiding at the funeral. In the 1939 article about the Madisons, it is mentioned that Mr. Madison had regained the use of his arms from a Christian Science healer.