The Real Boynton in Boynton Beach – 100 years later

I was browsing through old Miami Metropolis newspapers online when I came across the obituary of Major Nathan S. Boynton, founder of Boynton Beach. I had heard and read some about Major Boynton, but more research into his past revealed him to be a very interesting person. The date too on the obituary was intriguing – exactly 100 years ago this month!

Major Nathan S. Boynton

Major Nathan S. Boynton was born June 23, 1837 in Port Huron, Michigan. Boynton was a descendent of Sir Matthew Boynton, credited with introducing sheep and goats to America. Boynton attended high school in Waukegan, Illinois and married Miss Anna Fidelei in 1859; together they had six children. Boynton began his military career in 1862, rising to the rank of major during his service in the Civil War. After the war, Boynton returned to Michigan and resided in Marine City. There he became Postmaster, Tax Assessor and eventually Supervisor of the town. He also served in the Michigan state legislature and owned a local newspaper. A true Renaissance man, Major Boynton also invented several pieces of firefighter equipment including the Boynton fire escape, the Boynton hook and ladder truck and a system for ladder rope trussing. He also founded the Knights of the Maccabees, a fraternal society that had over 200,000 members nationwide at its peak. In addition to the social aspect of the fraternity, sick payments and a death benefit were paid to members. It eventually became a full-fledged insurance company.

One of Boynton's Patents

One of Boynton’s Patents

As he approached his 60s, a desire for new frontiers and warmer weather brought him south to Florida with his fellow Michiganite, William S. Linton. They traveled to the area in

The Boynton Hotel on the beach

1894, guided by Captain Frederick Voss, sailing down the Florida East Coast Canal (today’s Intracoastal Waterway). Boynton purchased 500 acres in the area along the ocean and on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway. In 1896, construction began on Boynton’s oceanfront hotel, primarily by Michigan families who had moved to the area. “The Boynton” opened in 1897, with a main building and small cottages. The hotel expanded several times, and remained popular with guests each winter season. A.E. Parker, who had married Boynton’s daughter Annie, served as hotel manager for several years.

Major Boynton spent each winter in his town until the year before his death in 1911 at the age of 74 in Port Huron. The Boynton Hotel continued on to 1925, when it was torn down so that a larger, more modern structure could be built. The 1926 hurricane and subsequent land bust put an end to those plans.

Boynon House

Major Boynton’s house in Port Huron

The families who had come to build the hotel stayed and began to farm the areas along the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway. The Town of Boynton continued its growth westward with citrus groves and dairies, which eventually became the manicured suburbs seen today. Today’s Boynton Beach has over 68,000 residents and is the third largest city in Palm Beach County.

So what would Major Boynton think of what has become of his tiny hamlet? Being a forward thinker, I don’t think he would be terribly surprised. He knew a good thing when he saw it.