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

 

 

The Mango and the Reverend

Mango season is in full swing in South Florida, and the sweet succulent fruit many call the “peach of the tropics” has a long history in Palm Beach County. The fruit, native to the Indian sub-continent, has traveled across the planet and is grown in all tropical and sub-tropical regions. Henry Perrine was the first to attempt to grow mangoes on his immense plantation in what today is southern Dade County. Perrine had brought mango trees from Mexico, but the trees died after the plantation was abandoned in the 1830s. D.G. Watt made another attempt at growing mangoes, this time in Tampa. The trees arrived from India in poor shape; only two survived and were growing nicely, but a freeze soon did them in.

Elbridge Gale

Reverend Elbridge Gale

Enter Reverend Elbridge Gale. Gale was born on Christmas Day, 1824 in Vermont, and became a Baptist minister. He preached in several churches, before settling in Manhattan, Kansas. He preached until 1870, when he was offered the chairmanship of the horticulture department at Kansas State Agricultural College, where he was also chair of the Kansas Horticultural Society. His health beginning to fail, Reverend Gale arrived in the Lake Worth region in 1884 and homesteaded land in what would become the Northwood section of West Palm Beach. Two of Gale’s children came too; George Gale was a leading citizen and daughter Hattie Gale became the area’s first schoolteacher.

The United States Department of Agriculture sent several mango varieties to the region to be grown by local farmers, including Reverend Gale. All the trees died except one – a tree of the Mulgoba variety that Reverend Gale cared for during the many freezes of the 1890s. In the late 1890s, his mango tree was the only one growing in South Florida. The healthy tree and its delicious fruit drew attention throughout South Florida, and farmers up and down the coast took seeds or cuttings from Reverend Gale’s tree. Gale was so enamored with the fruit that he named the area “Mangonia,” which survives today in Lake Mangonia and in Mangonia Park. Mango fever hit, and new residents wanted their own mango trees.

JOhn Beach

John Beach

John Beach, a fertilizer salesman from Melbourne, established his first nursery and began selling trees. When a freeze hit Melbourne, he moved further south to West Palm Beach and started his nursery in 1894 along Dixie Highway. Beach eventually moved his nursery west of Parker Avenue.

In 1902, Captain John J. Haden planted mango seedlings he had obtained from Reverend Gale on his Coconut Grove farm south of Miami. As the trees grew and matured, one tree in particular produced a delicious fruit. The trees were tended by Haden’s wife Florence as Captain Haden had passed away only a year after planting the trees. The Haden mango was an accidental cross between the Mulgoba mango from Gale and a “turpentine” mango, a variety with poor taste and texture, but excellent root stock. The Haden cultivar is still a popular backyard variety, but disease and fungus stopped commercial production many years ago.

John Beach’s Ad in the Tropical Sun, 1898

Many other Palm Beach County growers went into the business, including the Garnett brothers in Hypoluxo, and James Miner in Boynton. Miner planted mangoes on his property where Miner Road is today along US 1, and planted trees further west along Boynton Beach Boulevard.  Several packing houses shipped mangoes all over the country as South Florida was the only source of the tasty fruits.

All of these larger groves have been lost to development, but mangos are still grown in Palm Beach County on a few small farms. The most notable farm is “Hatcher’s Mango Hill” on Hypoluxo Road. Located on the high ridge, this four-acre farm has survived development and remains a family-run farm. John Hatcher developed the cultivar in the 1940s ,and it is most likely a cross between the Haden and Brooks mango. The Hatcher family ships the fruits by mail order all over the nation.

Hatcher’s Mango Hill

The best place to experience the mango is in the Redlands, the area near Homestead that is home to the Fruit and Spice Park and Fairchild Farm (part of Fairchild Gardens in Coconut Grove). This too has a tie to Reverend Gale, as Dr. David Fairchild’s father was president of Kansas Agricultural College, and Fairchild knew Reverend Gale as a boy growing up in Kansas. He visited Reverend Gale in 1898 at his West Palm Beach home. Reverend Gale passed away in 1907 at his daughter’s home in Mangonia. The Industrialist, Kansas Agricultural College’s journal, wrote “In short, his was an active and useful life, and thousands of pioneer Kansans and  former students at College are indebted to the kindly old man, now buried on the beach of his new home state, Florida.”

To celebrate the fruit, Fairchild Gardens is holding its 20th Annual International Mango Festival, July 14 and 15th, 2012 at its Coral Gables location, 10901 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables, 305-667-1651. Please see the website at www.fairchildgarden.org for a complete event schedule for the two-day festival.

And next time you bite into a juicy, sweet mango, thank Reverend Gale.

Reverend Gale with wife Elizabeth

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.

Got Milk? Alfar Creamery made sure West Palm Beach did

Sometimes, life is just weird. I did my research for this blog last night, I sat down to write at 8:00 PM, flipped on the History Channel for Modern Marvels – and the whole show was about milk. We all pick up gallons or half-gallons of milk at our local supermarkets, not really knowing where the milk was produced, or how old it is. That wasn’t true of West Palm Beach back in the 1920s, when milk had to be delivered fresh each day. There was quite a bit of demand for milk and milk products such as butter, ice cream, sour cream and cream, and a growing city needed a dairy that could meet those needs. Alf R. Nielsen, a native Swede, who had been president of the Palm Beach Creamery Company, founded the Alfar Creamery Company in 1930. A dairy plant was built at 456 Flamingo Drive at the cost of $75,000,

Alfar Creamery Logo

Alfar Creamery Logo

and opened with great fanfare and a party til midnight on November 20, 1930. A.E. Parker, the former city manager of West Palm Beach was vice-president and was also president of Bertana Farms. He was also Major Boynton’s son-in-law and managed the Boynton Hotel for many years. Bertana Farms was a combination of a part of his first name “Bert” and “Ana”, his wife.

They bought their milk from the big dairy producers of the day, the famous Pennock Plantation in Jupiter with its Jersey cows (specializing in unpasteurized milk), the Bertana and Winchester dairies in Boynton, and the Clark Dairy in Kelsey City (today’s Lake Park). The white trucks of the Alfar Creamery delivered milk daily all over West Palm Beach, packed in ice to keep it fresh in the heat.

Alfar Box

Alfar Ice Cream

Service was extended to Belle Glade in 1934 with the opening of the western plant. Alfar also was famous for its ice cream in a variety of flavors, even Palm Beach!

Alfar also sponsored bowling teams and kid’s baseball teams, so they were a real supporter of the local community. The Alfar logo was everywhere to be seen, but probably no more iconically than on “The Hut”, the famous lakeside drive-in that was in West Palm Beach.

The Hut

The Hut Drive-in – West Palm Beach

Alfar provided all the dairy products for the milk shakes and malts, and the refrigeration equipment and neon signs as for this icon of West Palm Beach. Alfar also sold many thousands of the famous “Dixie

Dixie Cup

Collector Dixie Cup lid with Bob Hope

Cups” with ice cream, and the old lids are highly sought by collectors.

As time went on, the local dairy business became more difficult as consumers began buying milk at supermarkets. I can remember as a kid that the milkman still did stop by (McArthur Dairy) and would sell milk, ice cream and other dairy products and I loved it when my mom bought things from the milkman, but she said it was more expensive than the store.

In 1963, Alfar merged with the Boutwell Dairy in Lake Worth. The Boutwell Dairy was founded by William Boutwell, who had invented the process that produced half and half. At its peak, the Boutwell dairy had more than a 1,000 Guernseys at his dairy located at Congress and Forest Hill Boulevard (then called Selby Road). After the merger, products were sold as Alfar-Boutwell. Then in 1968, the T.G. Lee Dairy in Orlando bought the Alfar-Boutwell Creamery, and the Alfar name dissappeared from the West Palm Beach area. In the continuing mergers, Dean Foods bought the T.G. Lee brand. By the end of the 1970s, all of the dairies in eastern Palm Beach County had closed as the land had become too valuable for dairy farming.

So what happened to the Alfar plant? Did the property become housing or a shopping center? Nope. In some miracle, the property is still a dairy distribution plant and serves as the headquarters of McArthur Dairy (also owned by Dean Foods).  It is still located at the same address on Flamingo Road along the Florida East Coast railroad.
Information for this article was researched through the historical archives of the Palm Beach Post.

McArthur Dairy

McArthur Dairy Headquarters

Living on Flagler’s lands? You probably are.

I often wish I could build a time machine and see Palm Beach County as it was in the late 1890s. One thing is for sure though – I better have some good wading boots with me. Almost all of the land would have been under water during the rainy season from June to November. So who would want all that swamp land? Henry Flagler would – and he got most of it for free.

The federal government had a long-standing program of granting land to railroad builders, usually to the tune of several thousand acres for every mile of railroad. Palm Beach County was no exception, and through land grants and purchases from homesteaders, Flagler had amassed more than 100,000 acres in Palm Beach county. Much of the land was useless as it was, so in stepped the Lake Worth Drainage District to make the land arable for agriculture and dairy. The work was begun in 1916 and more than 131,000 acres of land was drained at the cost of 2.8 million dollars. This involved digging hundreds of miles of canals and ditches to drain the land out through the major canals like the Southern Boulevard and Boynton

ad

Model Land Company ad from 1924.

(now the Weaver Canal). This also meant all lands were now part of a “taxing district” and owners had to pay a yearly drainage tax on land that was not producing anything. Check your tax bill – chances are you are still paying a tax to the Lake Worth Drainage District if you own land in their area.

Once work was largley finished by 1921, the land was sold in farming size tracts of many sizes. The Model Land Company was formed in 1898 and was led by J.E. Ingraham, whom Flagler recognized as having good business sense. The Model Land Company sold land up and down the east coast of Florida from the land Flagler amassed through the railroad. Flagler never made any money on his hotels, and the railroad itself was a financial disaster from day one. The land sales, however, kept everything else afloat. As individual settlers bought various land tracts from the Model Land Company, they probably farmed on it or leased it out to bigger agricultural concerns. Gradually, tracts were sold and consolidated until finally landing in the hands of developers. From the 1930s to the 1970s, these developments were more of the City of Atlantis-type where streets and utilities were laid and individual lots sold for a house custom-built for the owner. From the 1980s to today, the developments are the typical “cookie-cutter” variety with three or four models from which to choose.

As I searched through the online archives of the Model Land Company (available at http://merrick.library.miami.edu/specialCollections/asm0075/) I found a letter dated February 3, 1923 that mentioned a land owner who wanted to sell his tracts (all the land between Military Trail and Lawrence Roads from the Boynton Canal south to where Woolbright Road is today) to Norwegian settlers. The owner could not afford the drainage taxes and would eventually lose the land. He wanted the Model Land Company’s help in getting a road built through the land. A community center was to be built in the center of the tract. Hard to imagine we could have had a little Norwegian village with 100 families in Palm Beach County. A June 14, 1923 article from the Palm Beach Post proclaimed “Norse Colony to be formed near Boynton.” I don’t know if the families ever came, or whatever happened to the idea. That is a mystery to be solved.