Lights! Camera! Action! Palm Beach’s First “Moving Pictures”

A few weeks ago the Academy Awards were held, and I wondered, what was the first movie ever filmed in Palm Beach County? The Palm Beach County Film Commission maintains a list of films shot in Palm Beach County, but it only goes back to the 1960s. Then I got a clue from the book “Loxahatchee Lament”, a collection of pioneer tales from

Dorothy Dalton

the Jupiter area. One of the articles in the book was based on excerpts from a scrapbook kept by Mrs. Frank Shuflin. In the scrapbook she clipped an article about a “moving picture”being filmed in the Jupiter area in 1923 starring Dorothy Dalton, a major star of the silent film era. In the movie being filmed, they needed a tropical swamp for a scene. The article describes how they could not find a suitable location in West Palm Beach, so they headed up to Jupiter for filming. They filmed at the Pennock Plantation and the Lainhart orange grove west of Jupiter.

The article did not mention the title of the film, but did mention the director, Irvin Willat.

Fog Bound Movie Poster

A bit of Internet searching revealed that the film was entitled “Fog Bound.” The AMG movie guide provides the following synposis: “Pretty Dorothy Dalton co-stars with the handsome but not as stellar David Powell in this action-packed Paramountdrama. The wealthy but idle Roger Wainright (Powell) finds himself falling in love with Gale Brenon (Dalton), a modern, independent young lady who manages several Florida orange groves. While Wainright is enjoying himself at a local gambling resort, the place is raided by revenuers and Sheriff Holmes (Jack Richardson) is killed in the ensuing gun fight. Wainright escapes and Gale hides him, later helping him to escape into the swamp. But the dead man is her father, and when she discovers that Wainright is suspected of being the one who discharged the fatal shot, she leads the posse to him. At the last moment, her love for him causes her to weaken, but he turns himself in anyway. A friend, Mabel Van Buren, reveals that she witnessed the killing, and that it was another officer, Deputy Brown (former matinee idol),who did the dirty deed. Evidence backs her up, and Wainright and Gale are reunited.”

The Heart Raider Still

The Heart Raider Movie Still

Further searching in the Palm Beach Post provided two more movies made in 1923. A comedy called “The Heart Raider” starring Agnes Ayres, was shot in Palm Beach.  Time Magazine provides a short summary of the film: “Agnes Ayres proceeds through this picture as a society siren against whose heart of gold other hearts, of lesser, masculine metal, shatter themselves by scores. Then one day in walks a misogynist. On board his yacht heart-of-gold meets heart-of-iron.The cast is pleasantly supplied with Mahlon Hamilton as the misogynist and Charles Ruggles as supplementary clown. All in all the results justify two hours expended in their inspection.”

The third film to shoot that spring was “The Exciters” starring Bebe Daniels. This comedy’s plot is as follows, from Moviefone “The Exciters is the old one about a footloose heiress who must marry by the age of 21 or forfeit her fortune. The girl (Bebe Daniels), an

The Exciters Lobby Card

inveterate thrill-seeker, chooses as her mate a handsome gangster (Antonio Moreno). Lots of thrills and laughs occur as a result of this shaky union. The gangster eventually reveals that he’s an undercover cop, and the girl finally agrees to curb her craving for excitement. Veteran scenarists Sonya Levienand John Colton adapted The Exciters from a novel by Martin Brown.” Bebe Daniels returned in 1926 to film “The Palm Beach Girl”, where many locals served as extras at a train station scene in the movie. Another scene with a train was shot in Jupiter, where a train rammed a prop car.

I wish I could provide clips from these films, but only The Heart Raider exists in a private

The Palm Beach Girl Movie Poster

collection.  It is estimated that 60-80% of the silent movies filmed are no longer in existence (http://www.silentera.com/lost/index.html). Films of this era were made with a type of material called cellulose nitrate, which was extremely flammable. Old black and white movie film also contained quite a bit of silver, so thousands of movies were destroyed for their silver content. This kind of film is no longer used; it was replaced by “safety film” which was still stamped on film and negatives well into the late twentieth century. The George Eastman House has a Czech copy of The Heart Raider in its collection, and it would be interesting to see the Palm Beach and West Palm Beach of 1923.  I don’t know if indeed these are the oldest movies ever made here, but they certainly are among the earliest.

Palm Beach County’s Lost Towns – The Complete List

Back in November, I was at the Old Key Lime House in Lantana for lunch. On the wall near the front of the restaurant was a great old map that was labeled “New Sectional Map of Florida” and dated 1920. I looked at the map and traced down the east coast of Palm

Farm for sale in Ameron

Beach County. And then my finger just stopped. Right above Boynton was a town I had never heard of – Ameron. A bit of searching in the Tropical Sun, the area’s first newspaper, revealed it to be a farming community to the north of the present day Boynton Beach.

That got me to thinking – how many other towns or settlements have dissapeared or been renamed in Palm Beach County? I started a list back in November, and it has been growing ever since. The following list was compiled from many sources including the websites listed at the end of this blog posting, and the online Palm Beach Post and Tropical Sun historic archives. From the best that I can tell, this is the most complete listing of lost towns ever published for Palm Beach County. Is it 100% complete? No. I am sure I will come across more with continued research. This list does not include towns and cities that exist today. The ones listed below are either towns or settlements that have completely disappeared or been renamed, so the town’s original name appears here. If one of the entries below has dates, that indicates the years in which a post office operated. Each of these could really be a story on its own, and it provides a glimpse of the many broken dreams and abandoned places that could have been.

UPDATE – March 10, 2011 – Added four additional towns – two that were planned and became Lake Worth (Lucerne and Osborne), and two towns in the Glades area (Sand Cut and Fruitcrest).

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Ameron (1900-1903) – Farming community of mostly tomatoes, pineapples and strawberries that was located between Hypoluxo and Boynton Beach along Lake Worth. Settlers include J.M. Carroll, Dan Smith, George Smith, S.W. Kratzer, John Griffith, Freeman Griffith, George Lyman, Frank Palmer, Charles Carroll, C. R. Baker, the Forrey Brothers and Joe Prescott.

Azucar (1930-1946) – Sugar-based town with housing for workers. Mentioned in an April 7, 1938 article from the Palm Beach Post about a barbecue held there. Later it was renamed Bryant in honor of Harold Bryant (See Lucerne entry).

Bacom Point (1918-1925) – Along Lake Okeechobee. Established by William “Dad” Bacom as a vegetable and catfish farm.

Bare Beach (1920-1925) – Along Lake Okeechobee near Lake Harbor. Lawrence E. Will in A Cracker History of Okeechobee relates: “This Bare Beach settlement, as I’ve said, was once an important place. It really got its start in 1916 when William C. Hooker from Arcadia, together with his brother Steve and the Alderman Brothers from Wauchula began to raise tomatoes there. The next year Isaac H. Stone, another Wauchula man, farmed, financed other farmers, and built a store. The winter of 1921-22 was the biggest and last season here, for after that the high water compelled everybody to leave, then later on the sugar company gobbled up the land so there was no place left to farm. Before it was drowned out, Bare Beach supported the stores of Charles G. Price, who had fished here in 1911, Charlie Hurd from Moore Haven, J. W. Putnam and Ferrell Revels, besides the drug store of Dr. Harbin, later run by Penick Suther, Bohannon’s garage, four tomato packing houses, a light plant, a post office, two church houses and a school. It even had a cemetery, too. “

Bean City (1936-1973) – Started by former Belle Glade mayor Arthur Wells in 1916, wiped out in 1928 hurricane, became a sugar cane area, a few buildings and residents remain. An extensive May 12, 1970 Palm Beach Post article tells the story of Bean City, which indeed, was mostly supported by green beans.

Bocaratone (1899-1923)– Original name of Boca Raton – one word with an “e”

Boynton (1896-1941)– Original name of Boynton Beach.

Bryant (1946-1959)– Second name for Azucar settlement. Bryant was located on the east side of Lake Okeechobee near Pahokee. F.E. Bryant founded the Lake Worth Drainage District, and is for whom Bryant Part in the City of Lake Worth is named. Bryant started the Southern Sugar Company and the town was platted by the United States Sugar Corporation to house workers. All the streets and signs remain and the site can be visited today as a “ghost town”.

Ghost Town of Bryant

Ghost Town of Bryant

Chosen (1921-1955) – Founded by J.R. Leatherman, a preacher from Virginia. From the Biblical reference of being the ”chosen” land. Chosen was on the site of a Calusa Indian mound which was excavated in the 1930s by the Smithsonian Institute. It was located on the east side of Lake Okeechobee and a few buildings remain. The town was destroyed in the 1928 hurricane.

Connorsville/Connorstown – A September 7, 1947 article from the Palm Beach Post explained what happened to Connersville. W.J. Conners, from Buffalo, New York, bought over 12,000 acres of land in the Glades through many purchases. He built the Connors Highway toll road in the early 1920s at the cost of $2 million to the Glades, which the state bought in 1932 after Connor’s 1929 suicide. It was located on the south side of the West Palm Beach canal about three miles from the lake. Only thing left in 1947 was a well dug on the property.

Connors Highway Toll Gate in Canal Point

Deem City– Deem City is still listed on some maps as being on US 27 right at the Palm Beach-Broward county line. The sign said “Deem City – population 2.” There was a gas station there and a tiny house where the owner operated the Super Hamburger stand. Numerous code violations piled up and eventually the owner died. The buildings were demolished in 2008.

Delray (1898-1928)– Third name of Delray Beach.

Earman (1918-1923) – Earman was located near where Lake Park stands today. John Earman served as the first mayor of West Palm Beach. The family owned a hotel near West Palm Beach called The Earman House.

Figulus (1886-1891) – Estate on Palm Beach owned by the Charles Bingham family on the old Potter homestead land on Palm Beach, south of the present day town. Figulus is Latin for Potter.

Fort Jupiter (1855-1856) – Oldest post office and settlement in Palm Beach County by the lighthouse.

Fruitcrest – Another Thomas Will dream that ended up being a nightmare. The land could be purchased at $20 an acre, but the 1928 hurricane destroyed the town, which was southeast of Belle Glade. Today the land is sugar cane fields.

Sign advertising Fruitcrest

Geerworth – H.G. Geer and C.C. Chillingsworth bought 16,000 acres east of Belle Glade; much of the land was bought by British settlers. Continual flooding doomed the small community.

Gladecrest (1915-1917) – The Tropical Sun reported on February 4, 1915 of the new town site on the Hillsboro Canal south of Lake Okeechobee. The Holland & Butterworth Company sold land claiming that one acre could support a family; it couldn’t. The peak population was 72; the town was abandoned by 1921.

Golfview (1937-1997) – This small community was named due to its proximity to West Palm Beach’s first municipal golf course. That golf course eventually became a part of Palm Beach International Airport, and the municipal course moved to its present location on Forest Hill Boulevard. Airport noise caused the land and houses to be purchased by the Airport Authority. The town entry gates were moved to Yesteryear Village at the Palm Beach County Fairgrounds.

Hillsborough Canal Settlement – Original name for Belle Glade. A tourist remarked how the settlement was the “belle of the Glades” and that was chosen as the name of the new town.

Hongry Land – Not really a settlement, but the area of land west of Jupiter to Lake Okeechobee. Supposedly several Seminole Indians were starving in the area during the Seminole Wars.

Jewell (1889-1903)– Original name of Lake Worth, which was named to be the “Jewell” along Lake Worth. The town was changed to Lake Worth, and that has always led to the confusion between the City of Lake Worth and the body of water known as Lake Worth, which stretches from North Palm Beach to Boynton Beach. Settled by Samuel and Fannie James, Mrs. James ran the post office while Mr. James was a carpenter and farmed. The other names she considered were “Deer Park” and “La Paz” but she settled on Jewell.

Juno (1890-1903) – Became Juno Beach. The town was located slightly south of present day Juno Beach. Terminal southern stop on the Celestial Railroad, the town was the county seat for Dade County from 1890-1899. Mostly pineapples were grown, and the town consisted of the courthouse, newspaper office where The Tropical Sun was published, and seven houses. The county seat was moved back to Fort Dallas (Miami) and the courthouse building was moved to Miami via a barge. The remainder of the town burned in 1899.

Pineapples in Juno

The Old Dade County Courthouse in Juno

Kelsey City (1921-1939) – Original name of Lake Park. Founded by Harry Kelsey, a Boston entrepreneur, who at one time owned 100,000 acres in Palm Beach County. Town was never built as originally planned due to the land bust in the late 1920s.

Kraemer (1918-1932) and Kreamer (1932-1936) – Agriculture and fishing community on a small island in Lake Okeechobee. Damaged in the hurricanes and pretty much flooded after the dikes were built around the lake.

Inlet – This reference came from a 1919 Tropical Sun article on a school census which listed children attending school at “Inlet.” My best guess is that this would become Riviera Beach, as it was called the “Inlet City”, but there may be a better answer somewhere.

Linton (1895-1898) – Second name of Delray Beach, named for pioneer William S. Linton, a Michigan Congressman who bought the land and laid out the town plat. Name was changed after Linton defaulted on loans.

Long Beach – Former name of Canal Point. First it was called New Town, then Long Beach, then Canalpoint as one word, then Nemaha, and finally Canal Point. See http://www.pbcgov.com/pzb/Planning/hrrb/canal_point_history.pdf for a very informative history of Canal Point.

Lotus Cove – Several small articles were published in the Tropical Sun on Lotus Cove. Based on those descriptions, this is the cove north of Lantana point along the west side of Lake Worth between Lantana and Hypoluxo. Today it is considered Lantana. One of the first settlers was Edwin Bradley, who came to the area in 1877 from Chicago.

Lucerne – This was a planned townsite platted by the Bryant Brothers and William Greenwood. If you bought land out in the Glades through the Palm Beach Farms Company, you received a “free” 25 foot town lot in Lucerne. They held a land auction in 1912 and hundreds bought land at $250 for a five-acre plot. Of course, when they saw the land out west it was very much under water. When they went to register the name as a post office (renaming Jewel) the name Lucerne had already been taken in Florida so they settled on the name Lake Worth. The name “Lucerne Avenue” in Lake Worth is from this plan.

Mabry (1922-1923) – Mabry was the original name of the settlement on Ritta Island in Lake Okeechobee.

Mangonia (1894-1906) – Areas north of West Palm Beach, what would be called Northwood today. The name was derived from mango growing in the area.

Mosey – This was listed on a map as being north of the then Kelsey City (Lake Park). Nothing more is known.

Munyons Island (1903-1905)– Island that is now in the John D. MacArthur Park on Singer Isand. The island was originally called Nuctsachoo by the Seminoles, which means “Pelican Island” . The Pitts family bought the island in 1892, built a house and grew many types of fruit. They then sold the island in 1901 to Dr. James Munyon and he built the Hotel Hygeia. Named after the Greek goddess of Health, the five story, twenty-one room hotel followed trends of the time with having spa-like hotels for wealthy clients. The cure-all was “Dr. Munyon’s Paw-Paw Elixir”, which was a patent medicine consisting of fermented papaya juice, which he bottled on the island. The hotel burned to the ground in 1917. The landing can still be seen on one side of the island.

Nemaha – A platted “metropolis” as it was called in the Palm Beach Post that would have replaced Canal Point. L.M. Simons and G.A. Walker from Kansas named the city from their home county in Kansas. It was never built to their plans.

Neptune (1895-1908) The name of the post office at the Carlin Hotel and terminal north station of the Celestial Railroad. One item from the Tropical Sun mentions a wedding in the hotel at Neptune. The hotel closed after the railroad ceased operations. What is interesting too is that when the railroad was dismantled and sold, the right-of-way was purchased for $10.00. In subsequent years this prevented some development of the land along US 1 on the east side. The land now belongs to Palm Beach County.

The Celestial Railroad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Celestial Railroad trail still visible today

The Celestial Railroad trail still visible today

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oak Lawn (1889-1893) – Hotel and resort located where the Port of Palm Beach is today. The hotel, built by Judge Allen Heyser, was situated on a very large Indian mound overlooking Lake Worth in what today is Riviera Beach. The large Indian mound was trucked away for road fill and never properly excavated.

The Oak Lawn House

Okeelanta (1915-1929)– Okeelanta was a planned community, started in 1913 by Thomas Will. The name was derived from combining “Okeechobee” and “Atlantic.” Pioneers included R.A. Little, S.A. Hughes, Herman Walker and Lawrence Will. Despite many problems by 1920 Okeelanta had 200 residents, a school and town hall. Potatoes, corn, beans, tomatoes, and eggplant were grown and shipped north via a packing house that was located at where Southern Boulevard and I-95 are today. Okeelanta was flooded and destroyed by the 1928 hurricane. Thomas Will attempted to rebuild the community, however due to lack of financial backing The Okeelanta Corporation declared bankruptcy.

 

Osborne – The Osborn family was the original owner of Lake Osborne and all the surrounding lands (somehow the “e” was added through time). They platted a townsite at where 12th Avenue South is today as part of Lake Worth. A few people still refer to that area as Osborne

Palm City (1887-1887) – Original name of Palm Beach – had to be renamed as there was already a Palm City. There is also a Palm City in Martin County that still exists.

Paso Robles (1920)  – This town to be was the brainchild of Marshall Hartman – at least that was the name this schemer used. He bought a tract of land north of Boynton west of the Federal Highway on a mortgage, sold lots at a big event, pocketed the money, and skipped town.

Pelican Lake (1939-1964) – Also called Pelican Bay, this little community on Lake Okeechobee had hundreds of deaths from the 1928 hurricane. Newspaper articles from the time speak of finding 200 bodies one day, and 200 more the next. In 1932 a farmer’s cooperative purchased 1,000 acres of land from the state under the name Pelican Lake Farms, Inc. Newspaper accounts tell of the boxcars full of beans grown in the area that was taken north to sell. I think most people who worked the farms lived in Pahokee.

Plumoses City – This was an off-shoot from Jupiter where in 1929 residents along Center Street resented the town’s taxes so they formed their own town. It was abolished in 1959 and again is a part of Jupiter. The name came from the ferns that were grown for the floral industry.

Prairie – This was a small community located where the RCA buildings are today on PGA boulevard. It was a saw mill and was listed in the 1919 school census.

Ritta (1912-1931) – An island at the southern end of Lake Okeechobee. The Ritta Hotel was located there and owned by Richard Bolles, the Everglades land speculator who sold swamp land to thousands of unsuspecting people at his March 1911 land auction The island was covered by custard pond apple trees which were cleared for farming. All the buildings were destroyed in the 1928 hurricane.

Ritta Hotel

The Ritta Hotel on Ritta Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riviera (1919-1942) – Original Name of Riviera Beach.

Rood (1915-1934)– The Rood family moved from Wisconsin and bought a 20 acre tract in the Philo Farms district west of Jupiter. Mrs. Rood ran the small post office, and the family took mail all the way out to Indiantown along the old Jupiter Grade road. Edgar Philo had subdivided the land and ran a small hotel on the property.

Sand Cut – This tiny migrant village town was recently vacated to allow expansion of the dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee. It was located on Connors Highway (US 98) north of Canal Point.

Scratchankle – Another Lake Okeechobee settlement founded by John Tyner in 1912, and sometimes called Tynersville.

Shawano Village – A small farming community that was southeast of Belle Glade, sometimes called “Brown’s Farm.” It was a large peanut farm founded by the Brown Paper Company of Portland, Maine in 1924. The company suffered through the Depression and the village was dissolved in 1931.

Torry Island (1917-1921) – One of three islands in southern Lake Okeechobee with Ritta and Kreamer. It was covered with the same Pond Apple trees which were cleared for farming. The Cromartie family were among the first pioneers. Ivey Cromartie went on to marry Frank Stranahan, the modern founder of Fort Lauderdale.

Tustenegee (1877-1879) – The earliest post office in Palm Beach, before there was a Palm Beach. In all likelihood a Seminole Indian word meaning warrior.

Utopia (1910-1917) – Small farming community on the north side of Lake Okeechobee. The community became a part of Okeechobee County in 1917 and vanished in the 1928 hurricane.

Venus – Stop on the Celestial Railroad. J.B. Wells and his three cats were the only residents by the loading platform – primarily a pineapple growing region. Town was platted in 1893, but no lots ever sold. Now part of preserved lands.

Villa Rica (1925) – This was to be the northern neighbor to Boca Raton, a grand community planned by developer George Harvey. It was platted just north of Yamato Road along Old Dixie Highway. The land bust did it in. The name can still be seen on the FEC Tracks on a train service facility.

Planned Villa Rica Train Station

Wyman (1902-1907) – The area north of Boca Raton had a post office. This same land became the Yamato Colony. Nearby Lake Wyman retains the name.

Yamato (1907-1925)– This colony of Japanese immigrants farmed pineapples and vegetables. Most of the settlers returned to Japan. One who stayed was George Morikami, who bought land west of Delray Beach and donated the land to the county. Much of the eastern lands became part of the Army Air Corp Base at Boca Raton.

Zion (1888-1892)– Original Name for Delray Beach – the Orange Grove House of refuge was manned by several keepers over the years. Annie Andrews served as post mistress and the post office had two patrons – Annie and her husband!

Orange Grove House of Refuge

Sources:
www.ghosttowns.com – Great website for ghost town information.
www.postalhistory.com– Website that had a very comprehensive lists with dates of the former post offices in the county – thanks to Janet DeVries at the Boynton Beach Library for the link.
http://news.google.com/archivesearch – Google news archive with many newspapers including the Tropical Sun and Palm Beach Post
http://www.pbchistoryonline.org – Lots of information on Palm Beach County history.

Thanks also to Janette Campbell, a native of the Glades, who helped out with some of the Lake Okeechobee entries.

Delray’s roots go about 4,000 miles – to Germany!

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

Adolf, Anna and their children

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,

Adolf and friends in his pineapple field

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.

Pineapple Beach County? It could have happened…

Palm Beach. No other county name probably brings to mind wealth, the tropics and Florida. When Palm Beach County was a part of Dade County before 1909, Pineapplefarming was the way that most of the early homesteaders and pioneers made their living. Traditional crops such as tomatoes, beans, and potatoes were grown, but the unique sub-tropical climate of South Florida allowed more tropical and exotic fruits to be grown. And the king of all those early crops was the pineapple. Most people probably do not know that Palm Beach County was once the largest pineapple growing area in the continental United States (at that time Hawaii was still a territory). Pineapple growing in Florida goes back to 1860, when Benjamin Baker planted the first pineapples in the Florida Keys at Plantation Key from plants he had brought in from Cuba. By 1876, pineapple farming was spreading and Jensen Beach became the pineapple capital of South Florida. Captain T.E. Richards started his plantation on Eden Island, roughly where Sewell’s Point is today. He had moved his plantation further inland, away from the coastal barrier islands as the bears along the beach enjoyed his pineapples too.

In the 1890s, pineapple fever spread to Palm Beach County, with many pioneers planting “pines” as they were called by the farmers. They purchased pineapplie “slips” or “suckers” for about 10 cents each, which were small pineapple plants from the base of the fruit (slip) or the base of the plant (sucker). Fresh pineapples demanded a high price in northern markets; one article mentioned that fresh pineapples were selling for $1.00, the equivalent of about $20.00 today. All of the land south of the center of West Palm Beach along the high ridge was planted with pineapples, going well south into the Boca Raton area. The only crop in the town of Yamato, which was located north of the present day Boca Raton, was pineapples. The small colony of immigrant

Pineapple newspaper ad

Ad from The Tropical Sun, 1899

Japanese, led by Jo Sakai, planted hundreds of acres of pineapple. John Clarke, who gave his name to Lake Clarke Shores, also had a pineapple plantation and packing house near where Parker Avenue is today. At the peak in 1909, 5,000 acres were planted in pineapples, yielding over 44 million pounds of fruit. Most of the fruit was shipped out fresh; some was canned in Mangonia or Delray Beach. Given that Palm Beach County was named in 1909, I wonder if some did not consider the name “Pineapple Beach County.” Good thing they didn’t, because the end was near for pineapple farming in South Florida. It was the perfect storm – plant disease, freezes and cheap imports.

The mid 1890s saw many devastasting freezes that wiped out central Florida pineapple plantations. In Palm Beach county, many farmers had been noticing that their plants were yellowing and dying; they called it the “pineapple blight.” The Yamato Colony lost their entire 1909 crop to the disease, caused by mealy bugs and nematodes. By 1912, Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad had reached Key West, allowing for the importation of cheap pineapples from Cuba that could be carried north via rail, unlike Florida pineapples which were shipped north via schooner. Prices plummeted as local farmers could not compete with the cheap Cuban imports.

So what to do with the land? Rather than find replacement crops, many owners decided to plat and subdivide the lands, so that neighborhoods such as Flamingo Park were founded in West Palm Beach. Many of the Japanese immigrants in Yamato returned to Japan, but George Morikami and a few others stayed and farmed winter vegetables. Their land was seized by the federal government in May 1942 during World War II and the 6,000 acres became the Army Air Corps Training Base. After the

morikami

George Morikami at Yamato

war, Morikani bought land west of Delray Beach, which today is The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens.

By the 1920s, fewer than 200 acres were in pineapple production in Florida. A few farmers continued on, including Oscar Winchester, who had his plantation on Military Trail in Boynton Beach, just south of where

pineapple

Giant Florida Pineapple

Le Chalet Boulevard is today. His 80 acres of pineapples was the largest plantation in the continental United States in 1941. He had learned the technique of forcing the pineapple to flower so that his crop was ready at Christmas, instead of the normal June-August season. His place was called “Flatwoods Plantation” and grew many varieties of pineapples that are no longer available commercially such as Abakka, Natal Queen, and Pernambuco (which is supposed to be the most delicious of all pineapple varieties). These old varieties have saw-tooth leaves that are truly spiky.

In 1962, it looked as if pineapple farming might make a comeback in South Florida. With the Cuban trade embargo, no fresh pineapple was available; all the Hawaiian pineapple was canned as it was too far and expensive to ship as fresh fruit. A 1962 article in the Palm Beach Post mentioned P.K. Platts. who had a 10 acre farm near Fort Pierce. Morikami also continued to grow pineapples west of Delray, and William Brooker had a pineapple stand into the 1970s in Jupiter. Brooker’s stand was located on Indiantown Road, just west of Sims Creek. I can still remember stopping there with my father to buy pineapples. They were small compared to store bought ones, but much sweeter as they were plant ripened. He farmed his plantation until shortly before his death in 1975 at age 93. I don’t know when the Flatwoods Plantation ceased farming, but surprisingly much of the land is still empty along Old Military Trail in that area.

So does anyone grow pineapple today commercially in Florida? No. I looked at U.S. Department of Agriculture records for Florida – no pineapples are grown. But nothing prevents you from starting your own mini-plantation. I have grown pineapples for years, and there is nothing better than a deep orange, plant-ripened

packing house

Packing pineapples for shipment north

pineapple. Next time you buy a fresh pineapple (probably the Smooth Cayenne variety), carefully twist off the green top. Remove some of the small leaves from the base, and underneath you will see some small roots already forming. You can root it in some water, or just place the top in a pot or in your yard. They have a very shallow root structure, so they do well in a pot. They love sun, but not too much water. After about 18 months, in January or February, your pineapple will bloom. The center of the plant will turn red, and small purple flowers will emerge to become the pineapple fruit. As the fruit is forming, a new plant will emerge from the ground. You can plant this “slip” or let it stay on the mother plant to bear again. The pineapple should be ripe in July or August; the aroma from a ripe pineapple is like nothing else. Then you can experience an old part of Florida’s agriculture history, one sweet slice at a time.

This article was researched through the historical archives of the Palm Beach Post and the Tropical Sun, the Lake Clarke Shores Town website, and the Morikami Museum website. Special thanks to Robin Potvin, archivist for the Town of Jupiter, for information on William Brooker.

They Shoot Turkeys, Don’t They?

Yes, they do. Just ask Lucretia “Mother” Hannong, who shot them from her back porch in West Palm Beach.  I think Mother Hannong is a forgotten figure in the history of Palm Beach County; she didn’t do anything famous, except reach the incredible age of 110. She might very well be the oldest person ever to have lived in Palm Beach County; she certainly held that title when she was alive.

I found Mother Hannong purely by accident; I was gazing through old Palm Beach Post newspapers online looking for old grocery ads when the headline “County’s Oldest Living Mother Finds Time Passes Fast as she Celebrates Birthday” caught my eye.

She was born Mary Lucretia Spires in 1840, and in 1870 she married Henry Hannong in South Carolina. Henry was from Germany, probably from along the French-German border. He first arrived in New York with his parents, then made his way to South Carolina. Lucretia and Henry had six children, and tried farming in many states.  They made their way towards Florida in 1885, with stops at towns in North Florida. Then in 1893, they chartered the boat Sultana and sailed into the old Palm Beach Inlet on Singer Island, about 1/2 mile north of today’s Palm Beach Inlet.

All six children came with their families to settle in West Palm Beach, at the north end of town. They bought land from Captain George Gale, who owned most of the land in the vicinity. Their homesite was located at Poinsettia Avenue and 33rd. Court, where they built a wood-framed house, long since demolished. The first article I found about Mother Hannong was published in 1940, on the eve of her 100th birthday. It is filled with her memories of the true pioneer days of West Palm Beach, days when you had to shoot at wild turkeys to keep them out of your potato patch, and fish were so plentiful they

Mother Lucretia Hannong

Mother Lucretia Hannong at 99

jumped in your boat. When the reporter asked about her most thrilling memory, she recalled the first visit of the Seminole Indians, when she awoke one morning to see 60 Seminoles camped in her front yard; they came about twice a year to trade with the local residents, and often a lone Seminole would ride in and leave a side of venison for the Hannongs. Henry Hannong was the caretaker for the Courthouse, and served in that role until his death in 1926.

After I read the article, a few days later I wondered how long Mother Hannong ended up living. I searched the archive again…other article titles were “Mother Hannong celebrates 104th birthday” ; “Mother Hannong has 107th birthday today”, and then finally, “Grandma Hannong is 110 years old today.” She was still quite sharp, and offered the following “I’ve been a’thinkin lately that I’m not going to get much older than 110; I’m just like a clock – there’s nothing really wrong with me, but I’m just getting run down, going slower and slower…”. She also wondered..”if they’ll hoist the flag at the courthouse for me when I go as they did for my dear old husband when he passed on.” On May 16, 1951, she passed away quietly after a long hospital stay…I don’t know if the flag was flown for her as she wished. Imagine all she saw – the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, electricity, the telephone, the automobile, the airplane, television…all in one lifetime. Her death was covered in all the major newspapers around the world, including the New York Times.

The Hannong decendents still live in Palm Beach County, and it happens to be that I work with one of them. When I originally spotted the article, I noticed the last name and wondered if it was the same family. So I emailed my colleague, Phillip Hannong, and indeed, he is the great-great-great grandson of Lucretia Hannong. He was born well after she had passed away, and wishes the family had more photographs of those pioneer days.

Mother Hannong’s story has made me realize that the Internet and today’s text-based newspaper systems have a very serious flaw – you only find what you are looking for. I wasn’t looking for Mother Hannong – I found her only because she was on the same newspaper page as what I was looking for. I really believe that the best way to know a time, to really study a time, is through old newspapers. That is something we will soon lose as web-based media replaces the traditional printed page.

West Boca’s Secret – It was to have been Farmville…except for that water thing…

It is funny how stories sometimes find their way to me. At Thanksgiving dinner, a friend asked if I would research the land history of her parent’s house. I thought in all likelihood I would find the old aerial photos of Western Boca Raton along State Road 7/441 showing the land underwater and unused, being that far west. I was wrong. The first aerial photo in 1947 showed the area in the vicinity of State Road 7/441 and Judge Winikoff Road to be all subdivided into neat little squares. I then found the present legal description of the properties, and the records indicated that the land was originally platted in 1911 – in plat book number 1 of Palm Beach County. What on earth were people doing out there in 1911?

The original plat provided the first clue. A company called “The Florida Fruit Lands Company” had subdivided the land into three large plats. The land tracts were in varying sizes from 10 acres to 640 Old Platacres, and I could see these were substantial holdings, entire sections and miles of land. A Google search of The Florida Fruit Lands Company told the never-ending story of American ingenuity, greed and dashed hopes.

The Florida Fruit Lands Company was owned by Richard J. Bolles, a New Yorker born in 1843 and a real entrepreneur. At age 23, he was already a member of the New York Stock Exchange. He went West, as many young men of his time did, and bought vast land tracts in Colorado and Idaho, and subdivided the land on a promise that irrigation would be provided…but that never happened.

At the 1908 Democratic National Convention, Bolles met former Florida Governor William Jennings Bryan and the Governor at that time, Napoleon Broward. Broward was very passionate about getting

Picture

Bolles and others at a drainage canal

the Everglades drained  to provide a spark to the post-Civil war blues from which the Florida economy suffered. The men cut a deal so that Bolles would agree to buy 500,000 acres of swamp, 180,000 of which were in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. He paid the state $2 an acre, and the state agreed  it would pay to have the land drained through the digging of canals.

Bolles had a real knack for sales, and sent salesmen all over the country to tout the Florida Paradise armed with pamphlets that showed how wonderful and easy Florida farming would be. The Midwest area in Missouri was especially targeted by Bolles’ men. A New York Times article in 1912 reported that the land was cut into 12,000 tracts – two tracts of 640 acres (1 square mile), eight tracts of 320 acres, 20 of 160 acres, 100 of 80 acres, 250 of 40 acres, 8,620 of 20 acres and 8,000 of 10 acres. Each person had to pay the salesman $240 (equivalent to $5,500 today) to buy a chance at a drawing to see what track you would get and its location. Whatever tract you ended up with, the price was $24 per acre, so Bolles was to make twelve times his original purchase price. In addition, each “winner” would receive a free town lot in a proposed town called Progresso, to be located just north of where Fort Lauderdale is today. The town was platted, complete with schools, shops, factories, churches and lots. This filled in a piece of my own puzzle as my grandfather once owned hundreds of lots in Progresso that he bought for 2 or 3 dollars a piece during the Depression.

In March 1911 thousands flocked to tiny Fort Lauderdale for the big land drawing. All the hotels were filled, and many slept in tents. When the event started, the “drawing” was cancelled and the buyers told that tracts of land had already been selected for them and they were expected to just sign the deeds. Many did, but many cried foul when they realized they couldn’t pick out their land, and worse yet, it was still very much underwater. The most famous quote about the swamp land came from an Iowan – “I have bought land by the acres, and I have bought land by the foot; but by God, I have never before bought land by the gallon.”

Many looked at Bolles as a swindler as he certainly knew the land was underwater. He blamed the state, as his contract did give the state of Florida the drainage responsibility, which proved much more difficult than originally thought. Charges were brought against Bolles and other company officers, but they were all found not guilty in Federal Court. Further charges were filed in Kansas City regarding

Dredge

Dredge used to dig drainage canals

Bolles running an illegal lottery, but he beat those charges as well. Bolles was allowed to keep the $1.4 million he had already collected, so he did profit on the deal. He sold some holdings in Palm Beach and Broward (J.F. Scullen bought 113,000 acres in 1919), and let the rest revert back to the state (large holdings around Lake Okeechobee). He died in 1917, while aboard a train in Palm Beach. Thus, Palm Beach County’s first land boom had come to an end. Eventually, the land was drained (not until the 1930s) and many dairys and large vegetable farms were located on the lands until the 1970s, when housing developments began in earnest.

The people who bought the land had that dream of either making fast money by flipping the land, or actually wanting to start a farming enterprise. Innocent dreams are what tycoons like Bolles feed upon, and they exist in all times. The games may be different today, but the winners and losers are the same.

Notes: This story was researched through the New York Times archives, a web page at http://everglades.fiu.edu/reclaim/bios/bolles.htm and the book “The Swamp – The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise” by Michael Grunwald. The book is a rich history of the Everglades and the attempts to kill and then revive this one-of-a-kind ecosystem.

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.

Hugh Dillman and his dream – Sandy Loam Farm

You may have driven on Summit Boulevard, just west of Military Trail, and seen the Summit Pines development. Another nicely manicured collection of homes and condominiums. But it has a secret. It was once a grand estate which probably had no equal in Palm Beach county – a gentleman’s country home, complete with flower gardens, a dairy and greenhouses with exotic plants.

Hugh Dillman

Hugh Dillman during his acting career

You probably have never heard of Hugh Dillman. He was born in 1885 in Ohio under the name Hugh Dillman McGaughey, and made his way to the Broadway stage. He also had a brief silent movie film career, making a few movies such as “Am Amateur Widow.” He left his acting career to join the Navy in 1917 and served in World War I. In 1919, he married a very popular actress of the time, Marjorie Rambeau. The marriage did not last and the couple were divorced in 1923. Friends had told him of Palm Beach and the opportunities it offered, with the land boom just gearing up. He came to Palm Beach and began to sell real estate and was one of the founding members of the Society of Arts (later renamed the Society of the Four Arts) and served as its first chairman. Mr. Dillman was also interested in music, and had arranged a tour for a group of young African-American singers throughout Europe. It was on that tour that he met Anna Thompson Dodge, the middle-aged widow of Horace Elgin Dodge, the car magnate. Anna Dodge was reportedly the richest woman in the world at that time, having lost her husband fairly early in life.

Dillman and Dodge

Anna Dodge and Hugh Dillman at The Breakers

Dodge was very taken with Mr. Dillman and asked him to find her a house in Palm Beach. He was her sales agent on the largest house in Palm Beach, Addison Mizner’s Palm Beach masterpiece, Playa Riente (“Laughing Beach”). Dodge bought Playa Riente in 1926 from Joshua Cosden, a wealthy Oklahoma oilman who had lost his fortune in horse racing. Dillman and Dodge were married May 8, 1926 in her Michigan mansion, with Dillman being fourteen years her junior. While on one of their many trips around the world, Dillman decided he wanted his own country farm. Dillman was raised on a farm, and believed that small family farms were a way that the common man could support a family. in 1931, he cabled a friend while in Calcutta, India to purchase land for him in Palm Beach County. He returned in the fall to find his land under ankle-deep water! He purchased adjacent land tracts so that the farm was about 400 acres and drained the land.

He named the estate “Sandy Loam Farm” and wanted to create an experimental agricultural farm to see what kinds of produce and plants could be grown in South Florida. He built a very large log cabin-style lodge that was expanded with additional quarters in the 1930s.

A search of the Palm Beach Post historic archives revealed countless mentions of the parties and events that were held at Sandy Loam, many with over 100 guests. The events included concerts, luncheons, dances, and fund raisers. Guests entered the estate down a beautiful tree-lined driveway,

Aerial view Sandy Loam Farms

Aerial View of Sandy Loam Farms from 1953

visible in the adjacent photograph. During the Great Depression, Dillman raised thousands of chickens that were sold for 25 cents, or donated to the Salvation Army. Sandy Loam also had a working dairy with Jersey cows and Black Angus beef cattle.

Dillman was truly at the center of Palm Beach society. He served as president of the exclusive Everglades Club from 1936 to 1951, and saved the club from bankruptcy with his “Victory Dinner” where over $600,000 was raised. It is believed to be the biggest event ever held at the club and featured the Ziegfeld Follies. Mr. Dillman was also very active in fund-raising during World War II, hosting many events to help soldiers and refugees in Europe. He also was instrumental in fund raising for Good Samaritan Hospital, and the Hugh Dillman Pavilion was named in his honor.

In 1943, Dillman sold the Sandy Loam Farm to to three couples. Apparently the commute from Sandy Loam to the Everglades Club was too far during WWII, so he took an apartment at the Everglades Club. This also was an indication that his marriage to Anna Dodge was in trouble. She filed for divorce in March 1947, citing the fact that they had not lived together for seven years.

Sandy Loam Farm

Sandy Loam Farm ad from the 1950s

Sandy Loam was sold again in 1946, this time to S.R. Famel, for $125,000. The Famels turned Sandy Loam into a commercial nursery specializing in flowers and all kinds of tropical plants. Ads from the 1950s give the address as “Dillman Road”. The road was eventually renamed Summit Boulevard to where Summit terminates at Jog Road. There, Dillman Road does carry west to Okeeheelee Park and then west past the turnpike.

Dillman resigned as president of the Everglades Club in 1951, citing declining health. He lived in Canada for many years, but returned to Ohio to live with his sister in Columbus, Ohio where he died in 1956 at the age of 71. Anna Dodge stayed a while in Palm Beach. She wanted to turn Playa Riente into a school or club, but the Palm Beach City Council did not approve the zoning change. She sued and lost in court. She held a large estate sale and then had the mansion demolished in 1958, a tragic loss. Anna returned to her Michigan estate and died at the age of 99 in 1971

The Famels owned Sandy Loam Farm until the 1980s. In March of 1984, an estate sale was held and the fixtures and contents of Sandy Loam Farm and the lodge were sold at auction, and the buildings torn down. Sadly, I was not able to locate a picture of the log home. Could anything from that time have survived? I looked at aerial photos from today and 1968, and knew that the lodge stood exactly where the clubhouse and tennis courts in the Summit Pines development are today. As I rounded the bend, I saw it. A survivor. A beautiful 75 foot-tall kapok tree! A resident was retrieving mail at the clubhouse, and indicated that there were once three kapok trees, but two had been lost during the 2004/2005 hurricanes.

Kapok Tree

Surviving Kapok Tree from Sandy Loam Farm

I spoke with a man who has worked on the property for 18 years, and he had no idea about the history, but had wondered about the large tree. He also pointed out the row of Royal Palms lining the lake. He said every year people come and collect the seeds as they are a smaller, more elegant variety than the common Royal Palm. By looking at pictures of different types of Royal Palms, I think they might be Puerto Rican Royal Palms. My research revealed that Gene Joyner, the retired county horticulturist, worked on the Sandy Loam Farm during college, so I will follow-up with him to see if I can find a photograph of the log cabin lodge.

Dillman was truly a renaissance man. I think he probably would like to best be remembered as a gentleman farmer. A quote from a November 28, 1941 article from the Palm Beach Post says it best: “He loves every one of those trees and shrubs, many of which he planted by hand; every log in the cabin, built from the trees that had to be cleared from the land. If Mr. Dillman has anything to say about it, there will always be a Sandy Loam.”

This story was researched through the Palm Beach Post Historic Archives and the New York Times Archives.

The Myth of Knollwood Groves – BUSTED!

Knollwood Groves, which was located on Lawrence Road in Boynton for over 75 years, was the last of the old-time Florida attractions in Palm Beach County. I went there often as a child, and was lucky enough later to live adjacent to the groves during its last years of existence. If you never visited the place, it was a true classic Florida-style attraction – a gift shop, free orange samples, an alligator wrestling show, fruit shipping, and a wagon train ride through the groves and hammock.

Knollwood Groves Wagon Ride

Which brings us to the myth. When you took the wagon train ride, the story of the founders of Knollwood Groves was told, that the groves were founded in 1930 by the actors who played the “Amos and Andy” characters on radio, Charles Correll and Freeman Gosden. In the few articles still on the web about Knollwood Groves, there is always reference to the Amos and Andy founding tale.

I wanted to find out more about this tale, as it must have been big news at the time, that the most famous comedy team in the nation was going into the citrus business in Palm Beach County. So  I researched the historic archives of the Palm Beach Post. Nothing about this was ever mentioned, which I found very strange. I then did a general search on farms in Boynton, and came across an interesting article (see below) and the myth began to unravel. The article mentioned that there was a farm in Boynton owned by Kenneth G. Smith, president of the Pepsodent Toothpaste Company (his father Douglas had invented the formula for Pepsodent). Pepsodent sponsored the Amos and Andy radio show, and Smith named his farm the “Amos and Andy farm” in their honor – could this be Knollwood Groves? The article only mentioned that the farm was located in northwest Boynton.

1939 Article from the Palm Beach Post

The only way to answer the question was to search the official records of Palm Beach County.  I started online at the Clerk of Court website, but saw that records online are only available back to 1968. I did learn the legal description of the land, which is the holy grail in a land search – the section, township and range.  Off to the courthouse I went and found the original handwritten registry books where all transactions were recorded. I was actually surprised that I was allowed to handle these original records. Each book weighed about 20 pounds. The original deed to the land was awarded to the Florida East Coast Railway company, so as I had written in an earlier post, this is land that Flagler got for free for building the railroad. The company sold the land to many individuals, and eventually Frederic Foster Carey and his wife Madeliene bought the land. Mr. Carey was a wealthy stock broker and the Careys had a mansion in Palm Beach (“Villa Vinca”).

The sheer number of land transactions recorded  in the 1920s land boom was staggering; the land was sometimes changing hands several times a year. But by 1930, the bust was in full swing. The Careys  formed a corporation in 1930 called Papaya Groves, then changed that to Tranquillity Farms and the land was held in corporate name. A warranty deed sold the property to Smith May 4, 1933, the day before Mr. Carey died (probably some sort of inheritance move).   Smith either sold the farm in 1945 to Knollwood Groves, Inc., or moved the property from his name to the corporate name.  In 1937, sponsorship of the Amos ‘n Andy show moved from Pepsodent to Campbell Soup, so he would have to rename the farm. It is possible that he called it “Knollwood” for the famous golf course north of Chicago, his home town.

Registry Books where land transactions were recorded

I can understand how the story got a little twisted and people thought the Amos and Andy characters founded the groves. As time went by and Knollwood Groves changed hands many times, it was down to about 35 acres. The hurricanes in 2004 were the final blow, as the fruit trees and buildings were badly damaged. The land was sold to DR Horten for a housing development. Sadly, the beautiful hammock was not preserved and was bulldozed to make way for the houses. The development is known simply as Knollwood, and I doubt many of the residents know anything of the long and storied history of the land. The track of land adjacent to Knollwood (where the Lawrence Oaks and Fox Hollow developments are located) was also owned by the Florida East Coast Railway. The first purchaser was M.A. Lyman (the Lymans founded Lantana) and the deed was recorded September 1, 1910, almost exactly 100 years ago to the day! The price paid for almost the entire section – $500. The Lyman corporation sold tracts of land until it was dissolved in 1942.

Doing this kind of land search was actually much easier than I imagined. All you need to do this kind of search on your land is the section/township/range of your property (click here for a map) and a few hours at the Palm Beach County Courthouse, 4th. Floor. The staff there were very helpful. Sometimes the information in the registry books can give you enough information, but if you want the detail, you can note the book/page and type of document, and they can retrieve the original document from microfilm for $1.00 per page.