Life is a Circus – Even on a Ship

I love old Florida pictures, especially those that capture a time or a place that is today completely transformed. An old photo intrigued me on Facebook; its owner was looking for the location of where the photo might have been taken. The image, seen below, is of a smiling young woman fishing from a bridge. On the right was an intriguing clue – a vessel called The Circus Ship. The name was stenciled on the side of the ship along with several painted animals. A small sandy parking lot and a roadside sign also announced the ship’s berth. Many of the early comments on Facebook speculated that the picture was taken in the Sarasota area, given that the Ringling Brothers Circus had its winter headquarters in Sarasota.

Woman fishing from a bridge

My first look at the picture though told me it was probably South Florida, given the coconut palms in the photo. I went to Newspapers.com to see if any mention was made of The Circus Ship. There were many articles from 1947 about a tragedy at sea with a circus ship in the Caribbean, where many lost their lives, but that didn’t seem to fit. I found a small classified ad from the Miami News, January, 1950, that began to tell the story: “Eat, drink and be merry? Don’t you miss! You’ll always remember The Circus Ship. Board at MacArthur Causeway. Dancing, entertainment, free parking. $1.50 plus tax. 3 hour voyage.”

I then found an article by Carlton Montayne of the Miami News that gave the history of the new attraction. The ship was a surplused World War II Navy Landing Craft Infantry (LCI) troop carrier that had seen action in the Pacific. It was repainted in bright colors and animal murals, and would set sail from Watson Island by the MacArthur Causeway, opposite the Goodyear Blimp station. It sailed the Intracoastal Waterway to Ojus, where the Cole Brothers had their wintering grounds for the circus. Montayne wrote “And so the weapons of war have been changed to the panoplies of peace. The swing of the pendulum of events, changing the whole pattern for which this former navy vessel and other implements of war were originally created, seems to paint a graphic topsy-turvy that parallels the summersaults of a clown.”

The ship was again in the news in March, 1950 when the 185-foot vessel ran aground five miles south of Miami. This article provided the actual name of the ship as the Delphi. Then, inexplicably, the ship is never mentioned again in the newspapers. A Google search also failed to find any more information about the ship. I knew that Watson Island was the original “cruise terminal” of sorts in Miami, and I was lucky to find an old linen postcard that provided a view that was the

Postcard of Watson Island

exact location of where The Circus Ship docked, and where the woman was standing on the bridge. The key feature was a small rounded embankment at the causeway, clearly visible in both the fishing picture and the postcard and noted with the arrow. The woman was standing about where the small red box is on the postcard. There was the small man-made Watson Island on the MacArthur Causeway, with the Goodyear Blimp base and several small ships moored along the western edge of the island.

Watson Island of course is still there, now home to the Miami Children’s Museum and Jungle Island, the renamed old-time Parrot Jungle attraction. The cruise ships now dock a few hundred yards away on Dodge Island.

The small round embankment is long gone, encased in layers of concrete, and today no one fishes from the MacArthur Causeway. But 1950 was a very different world, as Miami emerged in post-war America. That casual fishing shot captured a little piece of forgotten Florida history, and The Circus Ship’s place in history is assured.

Watson Island today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special thanks to Lawrence Kraemer for permission to use the photo of the woman fishing from the causeway.

The Mystery of the Lonely Delray Beekeeper – UPDATE

UPDATE # 1 – March 23, 2018 – See below for new information on the Beekeeper saga.

UPDATE # 2 – April 4, 2018 – We have found Elsie!

As I was searching in the Newspapers.com database for references to “Boynton, Dade County,” I stumbled across a personal advertisement in the 1902 Baltimore Sun newspaper that intrigued me. The Town of Boynton was then a part of Dade County, until Palm Beach County emerged in 1909.  A humorous ad I thought, from a lonely German bachelor, keeping bees on his farm: “Wanted to get married – Bachelor, 33 years old (German) with farm and bee range. 1 ½ miles from Town; please state means and send letters, with photograph. Address G. Honess, Boynton, Dade County, Florida.”

Personal Ad from 1902 Baltimore Sun

I posted it on the Historic Boynton Beach Facebook page to get a few laughs, and people made comments such as “old-time online dating” and such; but some were curious – did our Mr. Honess find his “honey?” I was curious too, and started searching through Internet sources – and the story that emerged was far more interesting than I could have ever conjured up, relying on every obscure research source I had, and some knowledge that was particular to me. It made me think that Mr. Honess was somehow reaching out to have his story told.

First, did Mr. Honess find his bride? Ancestry.com didn’t have any marriage records for him, but a database maintained from old Dade County marriages found the blessed event. In 1905, George Honess married Mrs. Anna Price of Hampstead, New York, in the Town of Delray. I began to wonder if George was one of the Linton/Delray Germans, a small colony that included people who were among Delray’s most important early pioneers – the Hofmans, Wueppers, and Zills. I searched Newspapers.com for any stories on George Honess. There was but one, from the 1905 Miami Metropolis, under the “New Suits” column – “George Honess vs. Annie Price Honess, bill for divorce. George G. Currie, plaintiff’s attorney.” (The Daily Miami Metropolis, April 25, 1907, Page 1). Mr. Honess was back to being a lonely bee-keeping bachelor. All references seemed to place Honess in Delray rather than Boynton as his ad stated – I surmised that he didn’t want the Delray postmaster to see all the letters coming in from the ladies! That gossip would probably have spread through town rather fast.

Cover of American Bee Journal

With the newspaper archive disappointing, I turned to a general Internet search. This revealed that The American Bee Journal had featured Mr. Honess for his uniquely-built beehive, or bee apiary. There he was, on the front cover of The American Bee Journal, February, 11, 1904. He is pictured by the stately structure, sitting proudly with his long German pipe. He had two such structures three miles apart, each holding 75 bee colonies.  “Bee-keeping is not the only work I have to do. I am a truck-farmer, shipping pineapples and tomatoes, and have to cook for myself besides. That is what makes me think so often about the sisters who are interested in bee-keeping, and who make the future still sweeter.” This would indicate that Anna Price had already left George by this time.

George Honess and his Bee Apiary, 1904   

The unique bee apiary was also featured in a 1915 bee-keeping journal. The author had heard of Mr. Honess, and found the bee apiary in Delray, but Mr. Honess had been gone a few years: “No one seemed to know very much about the owner, except that his name was George Hoeness [Honess]. He owned a couple of town lots, and the bees there, and had been gone for two years.” The author, E.R. Root, was very interested on how he kept out ants by having each corner supported by a concrete piling with a tiny “moat.” (Gleanings in Bee Culture, Volume 43, page 286, April 1, 1915).

The unique design for keeping ants from the beehive.

 

Now that I had Honess’ first name, I started searching at Ancestry.com. I found his 1910 census entry, stating that he was living and working at the Boynton Hotel, Major Nathan S. Boynton’s beachfront estate. He listed his marital status as “widowed,” which was not accurate, and listed his Florida arrival date as 1896.  There were several Delray city directory entries for George, from 1916 through 1924.

The most revealing document found was a 1924 US passport application. The application listed his full name as John George Honess, and that he was born October 30, 1868 in Erpfingen, Germany – the connection to Delray now made sense to me. I knew of this tiny 1,200-year-old village in Germany, as it

House designed and built by George Honess. Courtesy of Charles Hofman.

was near where my grandmother lived in Germany.  Adolf Hofman, who was one of the pioneer Germans of Linton/Delray, had arrived in 1895 and sent for his wife Anna Dreher, who was also from Erpfingen; she arrived in 1896. In the book “Letters from Linton” by Charles Hofman, Anna’s diary stated that a “Mr. Hoenes” built the Hofman house in 1896. That would agree with him listing 1896 as his arrival date in Florida. The beautiful, stately two-story home that George built stood until 1965, when it was consumed by fire.

Another Erpfingen, Germany immigrant, Paul Dreher (Anna’s nephew) came in 1924 and became the City of West Palm Beach Parks Director, starting the Dreher Park Zoo. George’s passport application said he sailed for America December 15, 1893 from Le Havre, France. He had resided in Tennessee, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Florida. He became a naturalized citizen July 12, 1900 in Memphis, Tennessee.

I then searched his name using the German version, Johan Georg Höneß, and found his birth and baptism records on Ancestry.com– born on October 30, baptized on All Saints Day, 1868, son of Michael Höneß and Regine Enzle. The name Höneß seems to be almost unique to the village of Erpfingen, according to present-day telephone directories.

After 1924, George does not appear in city directories or census entries on Ancestry.com. I suspected he had returned to Germany with his newly received passport, and decided to stay.

Excerpt from the State Department report

I started trying different spellings of George’s last name, and combinations of searching using John George Honess and John George Hoeness, and finally, found the document that revealed George’s true story. The Reports of Deaths of American Citizens Abroad, 1835-1974, are a series of declassified documents from the US State Department. On May 17, 1942, George had passed away in Gammertingen, Germany, while living with his brother, probably of cancer, according to the death certificate.  On the report, they listed a startling new detail – George had a daughter, and had been married before he emigrated to America. The extensive sets of files, numbering over 30 documents, were from 1942 and 1948.

The 1942 file had documents from the Swiss Foreign Office reporting his death to US officials in Bern, Switzerland– this was wartime Germany, and no official communication existed between Germany and the United States. They informed Elise Hoeness, George’s daughter, on October 9, 1942 that her father had passed away. Elise (or Elsie) Hoeness responded back, and asked the following in her letter “Now could you tell me, how I could go about finding out if he willed me

Letter from Elise Hoeness, 1942

anything. He once told me he would, then he told me he wouldn’t. He got mad at me at that time. I’m 50 years old, live with my mother she is 76 my father now 74 I believe. I have not seen him since I was 9 as he divorced my mother in Memphis, Tennessee. I’m the only child.” Elise was living in Houston, Texas, working as a waitress. She married Henry Dry in 1927, but the 1935 Houston city directory listed her with maiden name.

The State Department had to ask special permission from the Office of Censorship if they were permitted to give Elise details about her father’s estate. The permission was granted. They notified her on November 6, 1942 of the following:  “This dispatch stated, in pertinent part, that your father died leaving you a considerable fortune; also, no will has been found. Under German law, you appear to be his sole heir.” They cautioned her, however, that she could not pursue the estate during wartime: “…nothing can be done at the present to obtain the estate or to communicate with Germany concerning it. This is in conformity with the Government’s policy in enforcing the Trading with the Enemy Act.” Did George sell his Delray lands at a huge profit in the Florida Boom? A Palm Beach County courthouse trip will answer that question.

Using various other spellings, I found George and his family on the 1900 census living in Tennessee, with the mother listed as “Katie” and Elise listed as “Lizzie” – does this indicate her name might be Elisabeth?  George and his family were living on the estate of druggist Peter P. Van Vleet, where George worked as a coachman, and Katie as a servant. This is the only reference to George’s first wife – perhaps she was named Katherine. Other Internet searches didn’t provide any clues on her identity. The family emigrated from Germany in 1893, so Elise was a baby when they arrived in America. The census listed the couple as being married 10 years.

So what was the fortune that Elise inherited? To investigate this further, the probate courts in Houston and Germany will have to be consulted – online records can’t answer this question. Elise Hoeness falls from the Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com records after 1948. She just isn’t there. How much she actually inherited probably depends on what her father had – cash, or tangible properties, such as land or a house. If he held cash, in the old Reichsmarks, she probably didn’t inherit much. In 1948, Germany issued new money (Deutschmark) and the old Reichsmark could be exchanged for the new money, but at a fraction rate – 65 pfennig (pennies) for every 10 Reichsmark.

UPDATE # 1 –  Charles Hofman sent me the manifest from the S.S. LaBourgogne, the ship Anna Dreher and her daughter had sailed on to New York from Le Havre, France. And right above Anna was George Honess, wife Katherine, and daughter Elsie (Elise). Charles also told me that Anna Dreher’s cousin had sailed too – Phillip Bez and his wife Ursula, along with their two children. So this adventurous party of nine immigrants from tiny Erpfingen, Germany  listed their destination as Linton, Florida (what would become Delray). The Bez family became the Betz family. They bought land on the “muck lots” in Boynton, the fertile land along the Intracoastal Waterway, where son Frederick was born July 31, 1896. That makes Fred Betz the first child born in the village of Boynton! Previously it had been thought that Charles Pierce Jr. was the first Boynton child, but he was not born until October, 1896.

Excerpt from Ship Manifest

With the help of Janet Devries Naughton, we also found out more about George’s first wife. We learned her name from the ship’s manifest, Katherine. Janet found a marriage record for Katherine. After the divorce from George in 1900, Katherine married Louis Buchner, also from Germany. Somehow, that name sounded familiar to me.  I looked again at the 1900 census – and Louis Buchner worked as a gardener at the same Van Vleet estate as George and Katherine! So did Katherine and Louis start an affair, and did she leave George – or was she in an unhappy marriage? That question we cannot answer. Katherine’s maiden name was listed as “Sellers,” but I suspect it was Zellers, which would be a more common German name. Louis and Katherine had two sons, Louis Jr. and Otto. They eventually moved to Houston, where Katherine passed away at the age of 80 in 1946. Looking at obituaries, I have found the Buchner descendants, so I will be contacting them to find out what happened to Elise and the fortune.

 

UPDATE # 2 – I received a letter from one of the Buchner descendants, and now we know Elsie’s story. Sometime in the 1950s, she married a man named Sturdivant. Elsie lived to the advanced age of 97, passing away in 1989. According to the family member, Elsie was a clairvoyant! She was very sought after in the Houston area as a

Block 25 on Linton town plat

palm-reader and psychic. The relative did not know the extent of her holdings when she passed away, but that information should be in the Houston court records.

We also looked up land records from Delray. George Honess bought block 25 (5 acres)in the original Town of Linton plat on June 16, 1900. This block was in the “Orange and Lemon” section of the town plat. Today the block has houses and borders Lake Ida Road. He bought it for $100.00, sold it to Adolf Hofman, then bought back a few lots in the same block. This agrees with what the man in the beekeeping magazine had heard about George. So the money or holdings that George had in Germany when he died did not come from land sales in Delray – perhaps he himself had inherited money or property.

This wild, twisted tale all emerged from a simple personal ad in a 1902 newspaper. Stories can and do emerge from the smallest events, as if those from the past are reaching out not to be forgotten.

The Land that Time Forgot

It is said in India that mangoes bring Eternal Life. I don’t know if that’s true, but I did stumble across a little piece of Heaven, tucked away in a West Palm Beach neighborhood. I was out exploring with Janet DeVries Naughton, trying to find what looked like some sort of grove from the Google maps aerial map, near Dreher Park. Up and down the streets we went…and came upon Camellia Road. I had read an article that this was where David Sturrock lived, one of the area’s early residents and horticultural expert on mangoes.

David Sturrock

Sturrock, born in Scotland, came to Miami in 1913 at the age of 20. He began working in the horticultural field on the Deering Estate in Miami (today’s Vizcaya). Later he worked in Cuba at the Hershey Agricultural Station and was superintendant of the Harvard Botanical Gardens. He then settled in West Palm Beach with his four children. In the 1950s, he began his love affair with mangoes and developed many new varieties. Sturrock worked with colleague Edward Simmonds on some mango hybrids and the result was the Edward, still grown today. Sturrock struck gold with his next creation – the delectable Duncan mango, named for Ralph Duncan who had drawn maps for one of Sturrock’s books. I sampled this mango and I can attest that it is delicious, peachy, with no fiber or odd taste that many Florida mangoes can have. David Sturrock lived on his beloved farm to the fine age of 84, eating the beautiful fruits in all manner from fresh, to jams and chutney.

And that brings us to the slice of Heaven, or what I call The Land that Time Forgot – somehow, the Sturrock farm exists in the sprawling West Palm Beach, still selling the delectable mangoes. At this writing in July 2017, Palm Beach County is in the middle of mango season. The original Sturrock home still stands on the property, surrounded by mango trees in all stages of growth – babies not yet bearing, to giants with enormous trunks. It is all here, just as David Sturrock left it.

The farm, under the moniker Tropical Acres Farm, 1010 Camellia Road, is just south of Southern Boulevard on Parker Avenue. The farm is open daily during the short summer mango season. Find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TropicalAcresFarms and make sure they are open before you venture to the farm.

Check out my earlier blog on how mangoes came to Florida – The Mango and the Reverend

Source: The Palm Beach Post Archives

 

 

Deliverance – West Palm Beach’s Post Office History

John C. Stowers

The postal service’s role in our everyday lives has changed so much that it is hard to imagine how important the postal service was to people years ago.

With email, digital publications, and online bill pay, we simply do not “get the mail” as we used to. But imagine a small community emerging from sugar sand and pine woods – fledging Westpalmbeach, as it was spelled then, a little sister to the grand resort of Palm Beach. The post office that emerged has seen its share of unusual characters serve as postmaster, sometimes with tragic results.

When John C. Stowers arrived on the scene, fresh from adventure mining for gold in the Black Hills of the Dakotas, he wanted to open a grocery store. The Maine-born man could see that the community needed a post office, so he applied for one on March 8, 1894 with the Post Office Department in Washington D.C. On April 17, 1894, Stowers was appointed postmaster of Westpalmbeach and opened the first post office in a tent at the corner of Clematis and Narcissus.  On his lots, Stowers planned to construct a wooden building with space for his post office and a grocery store on the first floor, and office space on the second; but the need for hotel space led him to instead build the Palms Hotel, with a space for the post office and other shops on the ground floor.

Post office within the Palms Hotel

On April 11, 1895, West Palm Beach had its first real post office building. West Palm Beach saw two tragic fires in 1896, and many blamed the town’s name as it had 13 letters; it was about this time that the name was officially changed to West Palmbeach, and finally, West Palm Beach on postal records. Stowers served 16 years as postmaster, and was succeeded by J. Paul Clarke on March 2, 1910.

Post Office, 1910

Clarke would achieve his fame not from postal work, but from his work with poisonous snakes, which he kept at the post office and in a museum adjacent to his house on Rosemary Street. More about that later.

The third postmaster was appointed November 29, 1913 and was a man all in the community knew – Guy Metcalf, who published the area’s first newspaper The Tropical Sun, put in the first road to Miami, and sold real estate through his Tropical Exchange Company. With Metcalf, the post office gained a new home. Metcalf’s father, Judge W.I. Metcalf, built an office building at 107-109 North Olive Street, and rented out space for the post office on the first floor.

Metcalf Building, 1915

The Metcalf Building still stands; it was remodeled twice as part of Hatch’s department store, then the first J.C. Penney in West Palm Beach in 1940,  and later  in 1950 it was remodeled again into a Burdine’s store. Metcalf’s tenure as postmaster was short; he was succeeded by J.D. Argyle. Guy Metcalf, who was elected the Palm Beach County Superintendent of Public Instruction, died tragically in 1918 when he committed suicide in his courthouse office over a disputed bill.

In 1920, West Palm Beach had its first woman postmaster in Miss Lena M. T. Clarke, Paul Clarke’s younger sister. She had served many years as assistant postmaster, and served a couple of stints as acting postmaster, and was finally appointed to the top spot. But after Paul Clarke died from a coral snake bite on Christmas Day, 1920 in his makeshift museum, Lena’s life began a downward spiral. A rumored affair with a married man left her scorned and looking for revenge – she found it when she shot her alleged former lover and fellow postal employee Fred Miltimore dead on August 1, 1921 in Orlando. Postal authorities immediately removed Lena from the postmaster position and she was replaced with C.W. Campbell. Lena Clarke was eventually found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity (see this blog for a more detailed account of the Clarke murder case).

As West Palm Beach prospered, the post office outgrew the Olive Street location. Larger quarters were built at Datura and Railroad Avenue (today’s Quadrille). The Post Office Arcade housed the post office and other businesses such as real estate offices. Being housed near the post office was a selling point in many real estate ads. With the new building came new postmaster George W. Smith. This post office served West Palm Beach through its “Land Boom” years in the 1920s.

Post Office Arcade Building

The 1928 Okeechobee hurricane and the 1929 Wall Street crash swept away all the big plans and big money from West Palm Beach. In 1934 O.B. Carr was named postmaster at the height of the Depression. It was about this time that West Palm Beach started lobbying the federal government to build a dedicated post office. Work began on the selected site at Olive Street and Fern in July 1936. The land chosen had a storied history, being a part of the original homestead declared by Irving R. Henry, who was the first to claim land in what would become West Palm Beach. John B. Beach eventually acquired the land. Beach, a nurseryman, raised tropical fruit trees for sale at his large nursery on the site. His widow, Annie Beach, presented the deed back to the federal government, 47 years after it had been deeded to Henry. The Beach house was demolished and rare plants and trees were moved to other locations in the city.

Officials laid the cornerstone made of Stone Mountain, Georgia granite on October 31, 1936 at a ceremony with dignitaries present. A sealed lead box with documents of the time was placed in the cornerstone. The Palm Beach Post wrote “Local historians of the future may open the post office cornerstone in years to come… .” Construction continued on the modern concrete and granite building, taken from a California design made to withstand earthquakes – and hurricanes. On May 1, 1937, the new building was ready for business. That building served West Palm Beach for many decades as both a service office and sorting facility.

Dedication Day

As the 1960s came to a close, once again the need for a new post office developed. Representative Paul G. Rogers was instrumental in seeking funding for a comprehensive federal building and post office for West Palm Beach. A new post office was constructed at 801 Clematis Street, just west of the new Federal Building, named the Paul G. Rogers Federal Building; that site now houses the Social Security Administration building. Finally, the current post office at 640 Clematis Street serves downtown West Palm Beach.

Olive Street Post Office

The 400 South Olive Street building stood abandoned for years until 1979, when it was demolished to make way for affordable housing for older citizens as the St. James Residence to adjoin the St. Andrew’s Residence. What became of the cornerstone and the lead box with the documents remains a mystery as no mention of the artifacts appeared in the newspaper. Either it went unnoticed by the demolition crew or was taken by a worker as a souvenir.

Through all these locations, the same services as over a century ago are provided – mailing packages, purchasing stamps, picking up the mail; but something has been lost from those early days of the post office. The anticipation of a letter from far away, a catalog with the newest fashions, or an eagerly awaited magazine with the latest gossip is now instantly available to us. The ghosts of those old post office buildings still haunt their original locations with excitement, or dread, and the hope of good news.

Post Office Demolition, 1979

 

Original Post Office application from the National Archives

Sources:
The Palm Beach Post
The National Archives
The University of Florida
Historical Society of Palm Beach County
The Mandel Public Library, West Palm Beach
The United States Postal Service

For a complete list of West Palm Beach Postmasters please see this web page: Postmasters of West Palm Beach

What’s in a Name? The Curious Case of Deweese Road

This blog has so many twists and turns it is really difficult to know where to start. While researching how Palm Beach County acquired the land that would become Palm Beach State College, John Prince Park, and Lantana Airport, I found an article that stated the western border of the acquired land was “Deweese Road.” That had me stumped as there is no Deweese Road on a current map. After researching the Palm Beach Post archives, a much more complex story began to unfold. It made me realize once again how much things have changed, the past paved over and forgotten. Deweese Road was a dirt road that went from Second Avenue North to what would become Sixth Avenue South in Lake Worth.

George W. Deweese, his wife May, and daughter Flora came to Lake Worth in 1926 from Poplar Grove, Missouri. Deweese was a jack of all trades, being listed at various times as machinist, builder, farmer, and plasterer. He bought the land and put in the dirt road sometime in the late 1920s and sold lots and tracts. Twelve residences were along the west side of the road, and the area was considered “West Lake Worth.”

As the Depression took hold, Palm Beach County had federal Works Project Administration (WPA) money for road improvements. According to an April 11, 1939 Palm Beach Post article, a new road would be built with WPA funds that would extend the existing Congress Avenue, from Belvedere Road to Lake Worth Road, some four miles.

New Road

New Road to be built

But they needed a bridge for the new road across the West Palm Beach Canal. So they reused a bridge that was being replaced in Boca Raton, rather than demolish it. The Camino Real bridge was being replaced, which spanned the Intracoastal Waterway and was probably made of wood. The same article mentioned the road would be on the west side of “Engle Field” in Lake Worth. Engle Field? Did Lake Worth have an airport? Who was “Engle?”

Engle was Arthur B. “Pop” Engle, born in 1880 in West Virginia. He and wife Emilie had purchased a tract of land in April of 1937 from J.I. Keller to open his own private airport for small planes and flying lessons, mostly using Piper Cub aircraft. Many articles refer to the place as “Engle’s Field” or “Lake Worth Airport.” According to the obituary for Emilie Engle, who died in 1984 at the age of 96, the Engles came to Lake Worth in 1922 and operated an ice plant and managed the LaVerne Apartments.

They were flying enthusiasts, and taught hundreds of new pilots to fly. It became more difficult to operate a private airport during World War II, due to the need for armed security.screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-1-57-42-pm

The 1949 hurricane destroyed what was left of the airport. Finally, the Engles sold the property in 1953 and it is now the Englewood Manor subdivision east of Congress between Second Avenue North and Tenth Avenue north.

Back to Deweese Road. That name stuck until the late 1940s – many references to selling livestock, chickens and other farm goods were found in old classified ads. Even a circus stopped by, held on the present day site of Palm Beach State College in 1951. A 1940 Department of Agriculture photo shows Deweese Road and some of the airfield buildings along Second Avenue. The Deweese family did have many heartaches over the years; their house burned to the ground in 1931, and their 32 year-old daughter Flora died in 1944 of a sudden illness.screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-1-57-09-pm George Deweese also knew sign language as he was asked to be an interpreter in court in a case involving hearing impaired litigants.

In later years, the Deweese Road name was lost to Congress Avenue, as Congress was expanded through the years to stretch all the way to Yamato Road in Boca Raton, through what was then cow pasture and woodlands as it meandered south. Both the Deweeses and the Engles are interred at Lake Worth in Pinecrest Cemetery. Very few, if any, persons living in Lake Worth today would have any memory of these places. But next time you venture down Congress, think of the vast open spaces of what was considered the “country” part of Lake Worth.

1940 Aerial Photograph

1940 Aerial Photograph

The Barefoot Mailman’s Wife – The Amazing Story of Yallahs Pierce

Something was gnawing at me today – a name I see every time I help conduct cemetery tours at Woodlawn Cemetery in West Palm Beach – an unusual name belonging to a woman whose husband is among the most well-known local pioneers. Charles W. Pierce, of Barefoot Mailman fame and chronicler of local history, married a woman named Yallahs Lizette Wallack February 26, 1896 in Lemon City, north of Miami.

Yallahs Pierce, 1906

Yallahs Pierce, 1906

It was said she was from Jamaica, but nothing more was known of her. I surmised she was named for the Yallahs river in Jamaica. The 1910 federal census entry for Yallahs states that both her parents were born in England. Yallahs died early at age 47, February 14, 1922. Articles had mentioned she was treated for an illness at Jacksonville and at Johns Hopkins, and was not expected to live.

I began to search for Jamaican records in various sources such as Familysearch.org and general Google searches. A most unusual story emerged, pieced together which told of her famous parents. I found the first clue in a book by Errol Hill titled “The Jamaican Stage, 1655-1900.” In it, Hill told the story of Walter Hope “Watty” Wallack, born January 23, 1830, a traveling showman from Liverpool, England who was a one-man production of comedy, singing and acting involving dozens of characters he would portray on stage.

The book mentions his many stops in Jamaica, with his young wife, Fannie Wallack. Searching their names revealed that Fannie Wallack died of malaria when only 30, and her obituary helped to crack the case. Fannie Louise Petersen was born in London, England May 1, 1854. She traveled with her parents to St. Kitts, where her father, Peter Petersen, a native of Sweden, had a mercantile house. Fannie’s musical talents were known very early, with her beautiful soprano voice. She first appeared with Watty Wallack at the age of 10, and married him when Fannie was 15 in the Cathedral of St. John’s, Antigua.

Together with Watty Wallack and his cousin the comedian James A. Rider, the three formed the group “The Wallack Tripologue.” They toured the Carribbean, South America and the American South. In 1872, Yallahs Wallack was born in Jamaica, probably as her parents were on tour, and her emigration date to America was listed as 1874.Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 2.53.40 PM

In 1880, Yallahs appears on the federal census as living in Key West at the age of 8 (listed as the phonetic “Alice Wallack”), with the Patterson family, one of Key West’s most important families. Fannie Wallack died in Kingston, Jamaica, November 26, 1885 at the age of 30. Her obituary mentions  “She leaves one child, a daughter thirteen years old, who is at college in Key West, Fla.” It could be that Yallahs was boarding with the family while attending school in Key West.

Fannie Wallack and her troupe were renowned on the stage. In 1881, they played a six-month stint at Vercelli’s Theatre on East 42nd street in New York City. Fannie could sing in seven languages, and was much loved for her singing, dancing and elaborate costumes. The resemblance between Yallahs and her mother in the illustration below are striking.

 

Fannie Wallack

Fannie Wallack

After Fannie’s death, Watty Wallack continued to tour with his cousin and managed the Heine Concert Hall. Watty Wallack died in St. Louis, Missouri, July 26, 1901 at age 71 with cousin James A. Rider by his side.  The obituary stated “In recent years they lost their fortunes. Captain Rider is now in St. Luke’s Hospital, prostrated with grief over the death of his friend.”

Yallahs eventually moved to Lemon City where she met and married Charles W. Pierce, and the couple moved to Boynton at its beginning.

Charles W. Pierce

Charles W. Pierce

They had one child, Charles Leon “Chuck” Pierce, one of the first babies to be born in Boynton, who had a long career in banking. The Pierce family lived on Ocean Avenue, where Yallahs passed away.  She now rests at Woodlawn Cemetery, with Charles by her side.

 

 

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The Palm Beach Mall – Outta Time…

Yesterday I took my last trip to the Palm Beach Mall; not even the whole mall, just the JC Penney store as they are closing out its last merchandise. It was with such reflection that I looked over the chain link fence to the rubble that once was one of the largest malls in the nation.

The Wonderfall in the Mall's center

The Wonderfall in the Mall’s center

The Palm Beach Mall opened in 1967 and began that era in American shopping that is coming to an end. There were several shopping centers around the county at that time, but nothing that rivaled the Palm Beach Mall until Town Center in Boca Raton opened in the early 1980s. In those early years, you didn’t need to say “I’m going to the Palm Beach Mall” all you had to say was “I’m going to the mall.” Everyone knew what you meant.

I was four years old on my first visit. I can remember going there with my parents and grandparents, and being allowed to pick out something. For me, it was Gumby and Pokey figurines from Richard’s Department Store, which was on the east end of the mall, in the space where Sears eventually located. Over the years, it became an almost weekly ritual to head to the mall for anything we needed, especially school clothes, shoes, toys, records, anything a teenager could want. It was our Internet for shopping and our Facebook for friends – we could rendezvous with others, and even with no cell phones, communication was easy – we just went to the information booth and had them paged! Sometimes the customer service clerk would not be accommodating if you asked too many times.

So as I entered Penney’s yesterday, I had to buy one last item in the mall. The shelves were pretty empty around the store. A display of clocks caught my attention, and I thought that was very fitting – a clock, to signify that the mall was out of time. It is made of slate with just simple clock hands, practical for the patio, where metal clocks always corrode.

So I took the clock to the check out, where a woman who was perhaps 20 years-old

Palm Beach Mall, 1967

Palm Beach Mall, 1967

was working. She looked at the clock  and was rather puzzled. “The clock does not have any numbers. How will you know what time it is?” I replied “I think I will know.” She said “Well maybe if its 6 o’clock you would know, but I don’t see how you would know other times.” Oh my. A generation that tells time in a different way and shops in a different way. My mall has made way for her new shopping experience. But that is progress, I guess. And I can tell the time just fine without numbers.

To learn more about the Mall’s history, see the web page at http://www.africa-usa.com/pbmall/ 

When Curiosity Changes your Life

Curiosity has solved many mysteries and helped spin many tales. But how a simple question could evolve into such a story that changed my life and how I view history and time is the subject of this blog posting. I had become interested in land research and how our current landscape came to be. For my city, Boynton Beach, the question was quite simple – where was the Boynton Beach hotel exactly located on the oceanfront? My history

The Boynton Hotel

The Boynton Hotel

readings told me that Major Boynton had built a large hotel on the beach and he had founded the town located to the west. But when I reviewed Palm Beach County Court records, a different story was told. Records did confirm Major Boynton’s hotel and its location on a plat map, but the town site records told a very different story. A different name emerged that was to send my co-author and I on a journey of discovery, inspiration and meaning.

Birdie S. Dewey was that name.  I was intrigued that a woman was selling all the lots in the Boynton town site. The name didn’t ring any bells for me, but it did for my co-author, Janet DeVries. She knew the name. She knew that Birdie S. Dewey was an author. We then embarked on a research effort that eventually resulted in the publication of our book “Pioneering Palm Beach: The Deweys and the South Florida Frontier.”

Our research reconstructed the lives of Byrd Spilman Dewey and her husband Fred S. Dewey from their early days of marriage in Illinois to their adventuresome move to Florida, from newspaper articles, letters, land records, court documents and most

Byrd Spilman Dewey

Byrd Spilman Dewey

important of all, Mrs. Dewey’s writings. Her books provided the insights and clues that unraveled the mystery of their lives and roles they played in Palm Beach County and the founding of Boynton Beach. Being the “true founders” of Boynton is firmly established and supported by the historical record.

But the Dewey’s personal story is much more compelling and had a profound affect on me. Being forgotten to history and time is certainly sad, that our contributions to the community and its development can become covered over by circumstances as they occur.

What we build in our lives –  houses, farms or buildings – completely disappear with development, especially here in South Florida. What stood for decades can be gone in minutes when the bulldozers wipe the land clean of our existence. So the realization of the temporary nature of all of our creations hit home with me. There are but a handful of

1893 Tea Party

1893Tea Party

buildings in West Palm Beach left from when the Deweys lived here – St. Anne’s Church, a few buildings on Clematis, and scattered homes.  All else has been lost to hurricanes, fires and most of all – development and redevelopment. Which means the South Florida we know and recognize today will also not exist in the next century – we too will be demolished and paved over with something bigger, better and more massive.

Our book resurrects those pioneer times; their wildness, adventure and bravery. That time has been paved over, literally, by our high rises and parking lots. The majestic Dewey home, as it stood on Lake Worth, was expanded and reimagined by its subsequent owners, the Baldwins, as a fine home on South Flagler Drive, which had its direct ties to the shores of Lake Worth cut in 1952 when Flagler drive was completed. The house survived until 1971, when the bulldozers sounded its death knell early one morning. In its place, a 19

The Dewey-Baldwin House in the 1950s

The Dewey-Baldwin House in the 1950s

story Rapallo condominium was built, and a parking lot sealed over the footprint where the house once stood.  No one who lives there now even knows the house existed.  And that is cruelest fate of all – to be forgotten. So in some small part, we did our best to make sure the Deweys would not be forgotten again. A book does that. Words are put to paper and become a part of the permanent history, to be read and remembered, to be archived and preserved. Mrs. Dewey’s books played that role in our research, providing the timeless tale that had to be retold.

Woodlawn Cemetery Tour – Remembering our Pioneers

Woodlawn Cemetery, located on Dixie Highway across from the Norton Museum, is the

Woodlawn Cemetery at Dusk

Woodlawn Cemetery at Dusk

resting place of some of Palm Beach County’s most prominent pioneers. With Janet DeVries, I had the great pleasure of sharing some pioneer tales with about 250 people on Wednesday night for our inaugural tour. It was wonderful to see such interest in our local history, and the enthusiasm of those present for an evening tour.

Woodlawn Cemetery was developed by Henry M. Flagler in 1905 on an old pineapple field and first served as a place to stroll with its fine landscaping and pathways. It replaced an older cemetery that was located across the street (Lakeside Cemetery) where the Norton museum buildings are now located. About 40 people remain interred under those buildings.

People ready for the tour

People ready for the tour

Our first tour featured the stories of 22 pioneers, citing their triumphs and tragedies that are life. Donations were received, and those monies will be donated to the Woodlawn Foundation for restoration and improvement of the cemtery grounds.

Look for announcements of future tour dates from the city of West Palm Beach websites.

Christmas at Ben Trovato – 1897

This fictional short story presents the characters of Judith and Julius Sunshine, Byrd Spilman Dewey’s characters that were stand-ins for herself and husband Fred. It is a little glimpse of life along Lake Worth more than a century ago. The story takes place at the Dewey’s lakefront home, Ben Trovato, which is pictured in the masthead above.  The Rapallo Condominium now occupies the homestead. Ben Trovato means “well invented” in Italian, and I hope you find this little story “well invented” as well – enjoy the holidays! – Ginger Pedersen

Christmas 1897 at Ben Trovato

Preparations were well underway for the Christmas holidays on The Blessed Isle. The two stockings, that of Judith and Julius, were carefully hung on the hearth in the parlor of their lovely lakefront home, Ben Trovato. Judith was busy preparing Julius’s favorite sweets, cinnamon sugar cookies. She had to keep a careful watch on the oven to make sure the temperature was just right, and a watchful eye on their cats, Kitty Winks and Catty Meow, as they were eyeing the butter.

“You kits will soon get your little treat,” said Judith. “But you’ll have to wait till I’m finished.” As Judith put the last of the cookies in the oven, the kits eagerly awaited as Judith placed a large dab of butter on a dainty plate. Two very happy kits licked away at their prize.

Christmas was always different in Florida than it was up north. This year it was especially warm, and everything was a shimmering green. Julius had found a perfectly shaped spruce pine in the woods around the Blessed Isle, and cut it to display in the parlor. This much amused the “cattle,” which is how Julius always referred to the cats. Kitty Winks found it silly to bring a tree in the house when so many were all around the house. When the ornaments began to adorn the tree, the kits were certain they were carefully placed toys just for them!

As Christmas Eve approached, Julius had a real dilemma – how to get Judith out of the house for a few hours so her Christmas surprise could be delivered. He spoke with their nearby neighbor, the old German professor. “Maybe you could come over and say that your wife needs some assistance in baking”, said Julius. “Then I could get everything set up and it will be a great surprise.”

But Julius was not the only one planning. Judith also had a Christmas surprise, something she had been working on for weeks. Julius was very proud of his naphtha launch, the Calamity Jane, so Judith thought it fitting that he should have a fine cap and coat – a commodore’s coat! She worked on it on the days he was away on business over in the settlement. Soon it was finished and carefully wrapped under the tree.

On Christmas Eve morn, the old German professor appeared just as planned. “Oh Mrs. Sunshine, do you have a few minutes?” said the professor. “My wife is having some trouble in the kitchen.” “What sort of trouble?” said Judith. “I am not entirely sure, except that she was crying that she is such a hopeless housewife.” Looking very downtrodden, Judith was not happy about being out of the house on Christmas Eve; she had lots to do herself to prepare for Christmas Day.

She put on her bonnet and followed the professor over to his place a few hundred yards to the south. There sat the professor’s wife with a kitchen full of ingredients. Judith sighed at lack of cooking skills of the young wife, but soon things were progressing in the kitchen.

After about an hour, suddenly Kitty Winks appeared, meowing in great distress. Judith heard her cries, and went out on the piazza to see what could be wrong. As Kitty Winks saw Judith, she cried even louder and ran towards Ben Trovato. Judith knew something was wrong at home. She rushed back in to say she must check on things at home. As she dashed through the woods, she could see the house – and strange figures upstairs! Julius was away in the settlement, so she was certain it was not him.

What to do! She thought how smart the cats were to alert her to this most serious situation. She went back to the professor’s house and told of the burglary underway. “If only Julius were here!”

Of course the professor knew who it was, but did not want to spoil the surprise. “We’ll go over there and check things out.”, said the professor.

As they walked through the woods, just then Julius was arriving at the wharf. The professor quickly approached him and apprised him of the situation. Julius chuckled a bit. He walked quickly towards Judith and said “don’t worry, we’ll catch that burglar!”

“Oh please be careful Julius!” cried Judith.

After a few minutes, Julius called to Judith from the upper piazza “I have the culprit up here – come up here and see.” Judith thought this odd, but she proceeded up the stairs. As she rounded the corner, she saw it…a beautiful new writing desk! “Oh Julius!” she cried “you planned this whole thing!” “Well, not the part with the cattle sending out the alarm!” said Julius.

Judith then scurried down stairs and took Julius’s package –“you can’t guess what it is!” Julius opened the package and beamed like a child “Oh its perfect – I’ll put it on right away -let’s go for a ride!”

Julius put on the new coat and cap, and Judith and Julius motored happily along the moonlit waters of Lake Worth that Christmas Eve…Judith dreaming about the new writing desk, and Julius happily attired in his new coat. And at Ben Trovato sat two very relieved cats, comfortable under their spruce pine Christmas tree, contented in their Florida paradise.

Read the Dewey’s biography – Pioneering Palm Beach: The Deweys and the South Florida Frontier – http://www.amazon.com/Pioneering-Palm-Beach-Florida-Frontier/dp/1609496574/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1356447734&sr=8-1&keywords=pioneering+palm+beach