Today the Palm Beach Post ran a story on a proposal I had written to rename a park in downtown Boynton Beach for Fred S. Dewey and Byrd Spilman Dewey. This week’s blog will relate how this discovery was made.
It happened this way: Readers from earlier blogs will know that I did quite a bit of land research on who were the original owners of land in the Boynton area. As part of that search, I wanted to see the history of the downtown Boynton Beach area and the ocean coastline. I opened the old registry books to the section, township and range for Boynton Beach. A rather puzzling mystery presented itself – it was not the name Nathan S. Boynton that was appearing, but the name Birdie Dewey, over and over again on that very first page of entries. I found that strange because I had never heard the name – who was Birdie Dewey?
I searched for Birdie Dewey and found the Lake Worth Pioneer’s website that had a page for Fred S. Dewey and his wife Birdie Dewey, whose full name was Byrd Spilman Dewey. The page indicated that Birdie Dewey was an author.
Further research at the courthouse gave the history of the downtown lands. The records revealed the land that constitutes the original downtown area was given to the state of Florida from the Federal government in 1879. The idea was to sell lands to raise money through the Improvement Fund. In 1890, the land was awarded to the Florida Coast Line Canal and Transportation Company that was to dig the canal that came to be known as the Intracoastal Waterway. The Canal Company in turn sold the land to George H.K. Charter, who intended to farm the land. Charter changed his plans and sold all of his holdings in the
area to relocate to Jamaica. Birdie S. Dewey purchased the land January 29, 1892, all 120 acres, for $700.00. This was the 40 acres that made up the original townsite and 80 acres along the Intracoastal Waterway. It turns out that Birdie Dewey had quite the eye for real estate, and bought and sold land throughout Palm Beach and Broward counties.
I looked in the original plat books at the courthouse and found that indeed the Deweys had filed the original plat for the Town of Boynton on September 26, 1897. They also platted “Dewey’s Subdivision” on the other 80 acres. The lots in Dewey’s subdivision were subdivided into five-acre plots for sale as farmland. The rich muck soil along the canal was perfect for raising tomatoes. Mr. Dewey even had the first orange grove in Boynton, which was located south of where Ocean Avenue is today.
They sold lots in the town to settlers along the streets they had named for native plants, such as Palm Street and Poinciana Street. The only street to retain its original name is Ocean Avenue; the rest of the streets were renamed in the 1950s to numbered streets and avenues to aid in postal delivery. One street disappeared completely – Dewey Place, which would be slightly east of the Oscar Magnuson house on Ocean Avenue.
The Deweys had sold their holdings in West Palm Beach and had built a fine two-story home at the corner of Federal Highway and Boynton Beach Boulevard. They had planned to retire to Boynton; those plans were short-lived as Mr. Dewey’s health took a turn for the worse, the direct result of his service in the Civil War. The Deweys left in June 1910; Mrs. Dewey donated her extensive collection of literature and a small lending library was started at the Post Office. Mr. Dewey entered a military hospital in Tennessee and was in and out of military hospitals until his death in 1919 at the Sawtelle Old Soldiers Home in California. He is buried in the Los Angeles National Cemetery. Mrs. Dewey sold her last holdings in Boynton in 1925. She passed away in Jacksonville in 1942, and is buried in the Greenlawn Cemetery.
It is my great hope that these two pioneers will be recognized by the city they founded. January 29 will mark the 120th anniversary of their land purchase, so the timing of this could not be better. Our pioneer days before Flagler’s arrival are times of unimaginable beauty – and sacrifice. The Deweys truly embody that spirit.
UPDATE:The City Council of Boynton Beach did not approve the renaming of the park for the Deweys.
Mrs. Dewey’s image is from the book The Blessed Isle, published in 1907; the other images are from the Florida State archives through the Florida Memory Project.