Every time I think that coincidence is just that, I discover something that somehow tells me I was meant to find it. I had noticed Germantown Road in Delray Beach off of Congress Avenue and wondered how it was named. I searched through Google and found a posting on HistoricPalmBeach.com where the best guess was that the German immigrants in the town of Delray had their farms and small cottages away from their houses in town. That made sense to me as I know that is a common practice in Germany to build a tiny cottage, maybe 12 x 12 feet, near your plot of land. It is used as a summer cottage for weekends and to store tools.
Germans in Delray? I thought this would be a neat research project. My friend Janet DeVries, archivist at the Boynton Beach City Library, mentioned a book called “Letters from Linton” written by Charles
Hofman. The book tells the story of Adolf Hofman, his wife Anna and their children through letters that Adolf and Anna sent home to relatives in Germany. I bought the book and figured it would help me find out more about the German immigrants in Delray Beach. What I would find was truly amazing. When I learned there were German farmers in Delray Beach, I had thought they probably would be from southwestern Germany; there the people are called the “Schwaben,” or Swabian in English. They have a reputation as a hard-working, frugal people who love their land and dream of building a house.
As I started reading the book, sure enough, Adolf Hofman was from Mönchhof, about 30 miles northeast of Stuttgart, which is the capital of the southwestern German states called Baden-Württemburg, which is where the Swabian people live. The book then tells of his wife’s family history, and gave her maiden name and village – Anna Maria Dreher from the village of Erpfingen. Dreher? Could it be that she was related to Paul Dreher, the one-time West Palm Beach parks director and founder of Dreher Park Zoo? Indeed, it was true; Paul Dreher was Anna’s nephew. As I blogged last June, my uncle in Germany is friends with a descendant of the Dreher family and he lives in Erpfingen, the village where Anna was born. He was here about 17 years ago to visit his Uncle Paul Dreher. So with all of the millions of German immigrants that came to America, I manage to have a direct connection to the ones here locally!
The book is an excellent read and conveys how hard life was in early South Florida. Hofman arrived in New York in 1895 and first went to a family member’s farm in Illinois, but he had heard of the bounty of South Florida. He had been trained in agriculture in Germany, and had apprenticed at several large estates there. He took the train as far south as West Palm Beach, where he met with William Linton and several others pioneers. They took a boat down Lake Worth, then a barge down the narrow Florida East Coast Canal. Hofman bought his first five acres from Linton. He lived in a tent while he built a small cabin. He then sent for his wife and baby daughter Annie. After sailing across the Atlantic, they took the train to Delray (then called the Town of Linton). Hofman subsequently built a fine two-story house for his growing family. He bought more land so that soon he had 60 acres that stretched from the canal to Swinton Avenue. On the western part of the property he grew pineapples and on the eastern part fruits and vegetables such as mangos, oranges, bananas, tomatoes, beans and potatoes. He continued to buy land east of the canal on the barrier island to grow more vegetables. As the land boom of the 1920s hit, he began to subdivide the land.
In the mean time, two more children had joined the family, a daughter Clara and son William. The letters included in the book describe the difficulties in living in South Florida in the 1910s – mosquitos so thick you had to brush them off before entering someone’s home, rattlesnakes in the scrub palmetto,
and disease such as malaria, yellow fever and typhoid. Through their farming they always had plenty to eat, but profits were at the whim of the weather and the high freight charges of the Florida East Coast Railroad. Hofman also made other contributions to the community such as being a founding officer of Delray’s first bank. As years went on, Hofman sold his land on both sides of the canal. Many of the Royal palm trees he planted are still to be found on Seabreeze Avenue on the east side of the Intracoastal Waterway.
The book does not touch on this subject, but I am sure Adolf and Anna did not have it easy during the two World Wars, being naturalized citizens from Germany. I am so pleased that their grandson took the time to put the book together from all the letters sent back to Germany. The oldest daughter Annie stayed with her parents until each passed away; Anna in 1945 and Adolf in 1953. Annie stayed in the family homestead until 1965, when it was sold; unfortunately it burned the same year. What a treasure that house would be today. Today all of Adolf’s and Anna’s lands have houses or businesses on them. I went by there and did notice some large mango trees lining the back of the lot where their house once stood; I can only hope they are from the seeds of some of his trees. The pioneering spirit of America’s immigrants is what shaped so many communities, even right here in our backyard.
The book “Letters from Linton” is published by the Delray Beach Historical Society and can be purchased at several local bookstores and the Historical Society of Delray Beach, or online at Amazon.com.