A Tropical Paradise…A Cold Murder – The Richard Hone Murder Case

Note: I had been working on the Hone case during the past week when The Palm Beach Post published their version August 26, 2018. Coincidently, Eliot Kleinberg and I were working on the same story from 116 years ago! But a good one it is, and my version offers more in-depth details on this most infamous crime. I was going to run this as a serial story due to its length, but the story is presented here in its entirety.

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This blog is the result of the first complete investigation and report of the most infamous crimes in the West Palm Beach pioneer era. Although frequently mentioned, most of the information written about the Richard Hone case in newspapers or on the Internet is incomplete, and in some cases, wrong. Every available issue of pioneer-era newspapers (The Tropical Sun and the Miami Metropolis) were researched, along with probate records, baptismal and marriage records, land transactions, and maps.

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A storm is raging along the shores of Lake Worth, an unusually violent Fall thunderstorm. Richard Hone, a 44-year-old Englishmen and naturalized citizen, sat in his country estate home three miles south of West Palm Beach, composing a letter to one of his sisters in England. Nearby sat Hone’s wife Mary, reading by lamp in the dark, dusky evening. Among the fits of light and cracks of thunder, a figure lurks outside near the window. The muzzle of a rifle bursts through the window screen; a shot is fired, hitting Hone. He grabs his head and yells “MY GOD, I AM SHOT!” It was the last words he would ever speak.

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The Hone daughters with mother Lucinda

Richard Hone was born in 1859 to Harry and Lucinda Clarke Hone in Stoke Orchard, Gloucestershire County, England, the youngest of nine children.  Hone’s father had amassed a 640-acre estate in Stoke Orchard, about two hours northwest of London. Richard Hone last appears with the family on the 1881 census, living with his mother Lucinda and siblings on the estate. With so many older brothers and sisters, little of the estate would be left to Richard. He decided to try his luck in America and arrived in New York November 20, 1894, and made his way to California.

Church book marriage entry for Richard Hone and Mary Jones

Not finding his fortune in California, Hone arrived in the-then Dade County, Florida, which encompassed what is today Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Martin Counties. On February 9, 1895, Hone bought 20 acres of land for $1,000 from Colonel John Huntington Jones and his wife Elizabeth Ross Jones.  They were Rhode Islanders who owned much land in the West Palm Beach area.  They were not related to Mary Jones, as has been said in other accounts. James Wood Davidson, a noted scholar and author from South Carolina, had acquired 108 acres along the shores of Lake Worth in 1885 through the Homestead Act.  Davidson sold off the track in pieces, and Hone was now the owner of 20 of those acres, ready to start his farming enterprise.

Homestead Patent for Lot 3

Hone contracted with well-known pioneer-builder and architect Charles C. Haight for a house. “The building will be two stories high, with wide porches all around it, an ornament along the Lake. About the middle of July, Mr. Hone will leave for England, but will soon return with the lady who will preside over this new home.” (The Tropical Sun, May 23, 1895). Hone sailed back to England to marry a woman from his hometown, Mary Jones, 34, the daughter of Henry Yates Jones and Elizabeth Buckle Jones. The Jones were also farmers, owning a 320-acre estate. Richard and Mary married August 20, 1895, in Gloucestershire and sailed immediately from Southhampton, England, arriving in New York August 31, 1895. From there they would take the train to West Palm Beach to begin their wedded life.

Hone went into the pineapple farming business, which was most lucrative for early West Palm Beach farmers. Local plantation owners included J.W. Comstock, George Matthams, James N. Parker, George Swift, and Nellie Clow, who planted the pineapple “slips” in the sandy soils in which they thrived. Fresh pineapple was a summer delicacy that could be shipped quickly north on the train and commanded high prices in northern city markets. Hone raised the popular varieties of the day including Natal Queen and Red Spanish. He built wood lathe shades over the three acres of fields he had in cultivation to keep the sun from burning the fruit.

In March 1897, a baby girl was born to the Hones, but her life was short. Two more children were to follow; Edmond in 1899, and Robert in 1900, but they too were to meet the same cruel fate as the little girl. The Hones remained a childless family.

Clipping from The Tropical Sun, March 1897

The Hones became American citizens May, 1897 at the Dade County Courthouse in Juno, Florida “Richard Hone passed through town a few days ago on his way to Juno where he went to take out his final naturalization papers. In the future Mr. Hone will fly the American flag over his ‘Lake Shore’ place.” (The Tropical Sun, May 27, 1897).

As the years went on, Hone continued with raising pineapples and vegetables as the land would support. He is listed as visiting England in 1897 as a returning citizen, but it is not known if Mary also accompanied him on the trip. Hone was a popular and respected figure around town, and the Tropical Sun staff were most appreciative of his generous nature: “This office is under many obligations to Richard Hone, whose gentlemanly features, accompanied by a sack of fancy pines, put in an appearance just before we were going to press.” (The Tropical Sun, June 10, 1897).

Monday, October 20, 1902 was a typical evening in South Florida. The Hones had finished supper, and were busy with their reading and correspondence. The storm raging outside had come in off the ocean. As the shot rang out and hit Richard Hone, he arose and quickly stumbled backward, falling in the hallway. His wife put a pillow under his head, but she knew there was little she could do for her dying husband.

The October 21, 1902 Extra Edition of the Tropical Sun

Mary ran to the nearest neighbor, James Willis Comstock, who lived a few hundred yards to the southwest of the Hone property. He heard her screams, and she told of what had happened at the house. Comstock put out the lamp in his house, grabbed his revolver, locked the door and the two hurried back to the Hone house among the claps of thunder.

When reaching the Hone house, Comstock saw that Hone was dead, a pool of blood beside the body. It was an hour walk to town to find the sheriff, and another squall line was about to hit with sheets of pouring rain. Comstock could not leave Mary by herself, so he thought to bring her to the next neighbor to the south, pineapple grower James Hunter and wife Gertrude.

They went down the trail by lantern, passing Comstock’s house. Comstock noticed that his front door was now open, and that a rifle was resting against the door. The screen door had been propped open with a pair of shoes. Someone was inside the house. He urged Mary to stay back while he went inside, but instead she rushed to the porch. Comstock went to grab the rifle from the door, and out of the darkness he was tackled from behind. A fight ensued over the rifle, with both men struggling to gain possession. Mary took part too, but was quickly thrown aside by the assailant. The scuffle knocked over the lantern, making it difficult to see the assailant, but the lightning flashes revealed him to be African-American. Comstock went for his revolver, lost his grip on the rifle, and fell backward. The assailant kicked the revolver away. Comstock expected to be shot in cold blood like Hone, but instead the assailant fled west with the rifle through the sand pines and palmettos.

Comstock found his revolver, and Mary and he walked down the trail to the Hunter home. Another neighbor, Mr. Carlson, joined the group. All walked back to the Hone house, and stayed there the rest of the night as the monsoon rains returned.

Diagram of the properties in the crime scene area

At daybreak, Mr. Comstock went to West Palm Beach and found Deputy Sheriff Noah Jones. A posse of men armed with Winchester rifles went south down the lake by boat and on the bicycle trail. As was the custom of the time, the designated coroner, attorney Hutson B. Saunders, formed a jury to examine the body and crime scene so the cause and manner of death could be investigated.  Coroner Saunders swore in his jury – J.C. Harris, William Heim, C.W. Schmid, Bernard M. Potter, George Zapf and Wilhelm Weybrecht. Dr. Henry C. Hood examined the body and found that the bullet had penetrated the right arm, entered the chest and had probably pierced the heart. Dr. Hood extracted the bullet and found it to be a .32 caliber rifle ball. The jury examined the scene and the evidence and proclaimed the cause of death was gunshot, and the manner was murder by unknown assailant.

Deputies assembled at the Comstock house to examine the crime scene there. The deputies could see the bare footprints of the assailant where he had the scuffle with Mr. Comstock. The small trail through the palmetto scrub led to the county road (where Dixie Highway is today) and on to “Potter’s Station” on the Florida East Coast Railway. Although not described in detail, it was probably a loading dock where farmers could bring produce for shipping north. The officers concluded that the assailant had headed north or south on the train tracks.

On walking back to the house, the deputies found the assailant’s cap. They also examined Mr. Comstock’s door, which showed it had been broken with the muzzle of a rifle, which left a clear .32 caliber sized impression on the door.

The shoes left behind were particularly interesting. They were a brand of shoe called “Walkover” and appeared to be new (the company was founded in 1758 and is still in business). The man who sold shoes at Anthony’s Store stated that only 3 or 4 pair had been sold in the last week. Further inquiry into the shoes showed that an African-American man, William Melton, had reported his new shoes stolen to the police on Monday morning. This would later provide an important clue linking the murderer to the crime scene.

Walkover Shoes advertisement

Richard Hone’s funeral was attended by many West Palm Beach residents. The Reverend S. D. Paine of the Union Congregational Church conducted the funeral services at the Hone house. The body was then transported to Lakeside Cemetery via boat for burial, which did not take place until 5:30 in the evening, when dusk had set in. A few months before his death, Hone donated $5.00 for the improvement of Lakeside Cemetery – little did he know he would be so soon among its residents. “The scene at the grave was weird and impressive, in the extreme. A few flickering lanterns cast a fitful glare on the friends gathered around the open grave, while a solemn stillness reigned, save for the voice of the officiating minster who performed the sad last rites.” (The Tropical Sun– October 24, 1902). Marion E. Gruber, L. Marvin, George Wellington, George C. Currie, and James J. Hunter served as pall bearers. Following the services, Mary Hone stayed with the Wellington family in town, fellow Englishmen who could offer her solace in her time of need.

The small town of West Palm Beach was in shock. The reward money quickly piled up, with W.P. Hatchett pledging $500 for “For the arrest and delivery to me, in the woods, with satisfactory proof of guilt of the murdered of Mr. Richard Hone.”

The investigation as to the identity of the assailant turned quickly to men who had worked on the Hone plantation.  Hone often employed laborers who would help him tend the pineapples, which is a labor-intensive crop, especially during the summer harvest months. In the Fall, new plants would be set so they could begin their two-year growth cycle to bear fruit. One person questioned soon after the crime was Billy Kelly, who had worked for Hone the Friday before the murder and did not show up for work Monday. Kelly was questioned a few days after the murder, arrested, and jailed in Miami. Recall that Mr. Melton’s new Walkover shoes were stolen; Melton’s razor was also taken in that burglary. Another burglary was committed nearby Melton’s at C.S. Archer’s house, where a rifle, bicycle, bicycle pump and bedspread were taken. A search at Kelly’s home turned up the razor and the other stolen items, except the shoes and rifle. This evidence clearly tied Kelly to the shoes found at the crime scene.

1894 Winchester Rifle of the type used in the crime.

A boy walking on the scrub trail to Potter’s Station found the rifle November 22, about a month after the murder. He gave it to an adult who then turned in the rifle to a deputy sheriff. The sheriff took the rifle to Hatchett’s hardware store in town where the rifle was identified as one an African-American man had brought in looking for ammunition to fit the rifle. Mr. Comstock too was able to identify the rifle. It was no ordinary weapon, but an 1894 Winchester rifle. The original owner of the weapon, Joseph Borman, purchased the rifle in Palm Beach in 1894 at the Brelsford Store when it was located where the Flagler Museum is today. There were only three such guns sold on the lake. Mr. Borman had loaned the rifle to Mr. Archer when it was stolen by Mr. Kelly for use in the crime.

William Kelly’s trial for murder was on the Spring circuit court docket in Miami with Judge Minor S. Jones presiding; Kelly’s case would draw the most attention. Two attorneys were appointed by the judge to represent Kelly – Mitchell D. Price and H.F. Atkinson. Judge Beggs was the state attorney, assisted by H.B. Saunders, who had served as coroner in the original inquiry. The trial took place February 18, 1903 and lasted one day. “The evidence in the case was all circumstantial, but the presentation had procured a whole chain, and link by link it was fastened together until it had bound the prisoner in the hopeless fetters.” (The Miami Metropolis, February 20, 1903). By 7:30 PM, the judge had turned the case over to the jury. The jury returned a guilty verdict at 9:00 PM, with sentence being death by hanging. The case was somewhat novel in that it only involved circumstantial evidence – no one could identify Kelly as the assailant as a direct witness.  “The case was perhaps of the clearest and strongest ones, of only circumstantial evidence, ever tried in this state.” (The Miami Metropolis, February 27, 1903).  There was an attempt by Kelly’s attorneys to be granted a new trial based on how the jury delivered the verdict. Judge Jones had them correct the verdict and the request for a new trial was denied.

 

Kelly Confesses

While awaiting execution in the county jail, Kelly confessed his crime to Sheriff Frohock. Kelly believed that Hone kept large amounts of cash in the house. Kelly had practiced firing the rifle, and threw the spent shells between the two buildings where he lived. Kelly had first stalked Hone on Sunday night before the murder. He returned Monday and proceeded to kill Hone. After he fired the shot, Kelly hid behind an oleander bush as Mary ran from the house toward Comstock’s house. Kelly then entered the Hone house, looked for the money, and found none. He gazed upon the lifeless body of Hone as it lay in the hallway. Kelly was asked why he did not shoot Mary as well – he explained that his feeling of revulsion was so strong after killing Hone that he could not shoot Mary; his thoughts only went to finding money and escape.

He sat on the porch, thinking about his escape when he saw Mary and Mr. Comstock walking toward the house. He hid again behind the oleander. As they entered the house, he crept to the window and watched as Mr. Comstock examined Hone’s body. Kelly then proceeded to Comstock’s house where he broke the door with the rifle. Kelly said “I killed a man, and I want to give my life for his – he was a good man too.” (The Miami Metropolis, March 27, 1903).

Friday, April 10, 1903 would be William Kelly’s last day. It was now time to pay society for the crime committed. Kelly was taken to the gallows in an automobile, as the headline in the Tropical Sun proclaimed, a novelty in 1903. Kelly was hung with fellow prisoner John Bright who was also convicted of murder. Gallows had been constructed for the two in the new Miami jail yard. Kelly’s last statement said that the devil had “prompted him to the deed” and that he would be going “to meet Jesus.” Black hoods were placed over their heads, and the trap sprung on the gallows. Both men were declared dead after being cut down from their ropes.

This should logically be the “end of the story,” but many interesting facts remain about the Hone case. Mary mortgaged the house and 20-acre pineapple farm to James Olmstead on December 30, 1904 for $3,000. Olmstead then sold the mortgage to George G. Currie only a year later for $5,000; Mary paid off the mortgage in 1907. In 1923, Currie sold the property to William Ohlhaber, a well-known Chicago architect. Ohlhaber wanted the property to park his yacht, according to family members. Ohlhaber subdivided the property to become Bel-Air, one of the “Roaring Twenties” developments in what was then called South Palm Beach.

Mary continued to live in West Palm Beach, living in a house at the northeast corner of Olive Street and Evernia. In 1919, she applied for a passport to visit her ailing mother in England.

Mary Hone, 1919

She sailed back to England from New York on the Cunard Line, never to return to West Palm Beach. George Currie visited Mary while on a tour of England and found her well, back in her childhood town. Mary never remarried, and passed away in 1946.

The big storms of 1926 and 1928 and the subsequent Great Depression left Ohlhaber’s Bel-Air subdivision with dozens of unsold lots. In 1947, Max Brombacher, a Henry Flagler employee, bought the Hone house and surrounding property. The house remains in the family hands today, and is considered by most historians to be the oldest house in West Palm Beach (portions of a log cabin built by Elbridge Gale are said to be a part of a house in Northwood, but the house is not in its original location). It is in all likelihood the sole remaining structure that Charles C. Haight built in West Palm Beach that is still standing.

Mary Hone house, 1918

Richard Hone’s resting place has also seen its share of news over the years. Hone was buried in Lakeside Cemetery, which was at one-time a private cemetery owned by the Lake Worth Pioneers Association. The Association deeded the cemetery to the city of West Palm Beach in 1920 to become Pioneer Park. Most of the burials were moved free-of-charge by the city across the street to Woodlawn Cemetery. Most – but not all. Art collector Ralph Norton proposed building an art museum and school on Pioneer Park, and the city agreed. As part of the agreement, the Lake Worth Pioneer Association holds their annual picnic on the grounds of the Norton Museum. How many burials remain under the Norton is a question that never will be answered. A plaque that once hung by the Norton entrance listed 40 names, but with no mention as to why these 40 names were inscribed. There among them is Richard Hone and two of his children. In the 1920s, the widening of Olive Street revealed many burials that had been forgotten.

Plaque at the Norton Museum

Bel-Air Lots

In a 1985 discovery, a Norton Museum employee entered a crawlspace under the auditorium in the building and found several forgotten headstones. Most prominent among those was the headstone of Richard Hone, thus inscribed from Job 3:17 “There the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.” This again stirred up the controversy on the fact that the Norton Museum was built on hallowed ground. At the current time, the whereabouts of the headstone are unknown.

The Hone house and its survival,  and the rediscovery of Richard’s headstone, ensured that his story would not be lost to history. The old newspapers accessible through the Internet, and genealogical records, helped to finally crack this case.  May Richard Hone rest in eternal paradise.

Rediscovery of Richard Hone’s headstone

 

 

 

 

The Mystery of the Lonely Delray Beekeeper – UPDATE

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

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

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

Personal Ad from 1902 Baltimore Sun

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

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

Cover of American Bee Journal

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

George Honess and his Bee Apiary, 1904   

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

The unique design for keeping ants from the beehive.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt from the State Department report

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

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

Letter from Elise Hoeness, 1942

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt from Ship Manifest

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

 

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

Block 25 on Linton town plat

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

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

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

Deliverance – West Palm Beach’s Post Office History

John C. Stowers

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

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

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

Post office within the Palms Hotel

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

Post Office, 1910

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

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

Metcalf Building, 1915

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

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

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

Post Office Arcade Building

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

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

Dedication Day

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

Olive Street Post Office

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

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

Post Office Demolition, 1979

 

Original Post Office application from the National Archives

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

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

The Palm Beach Mall – Outta Time…

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

The Wonderfall in the Mall's center

The Wonderfall in the Mall’s center

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

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

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

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

Palm Beach Mall, 1967

Palm Beach Mall, 1967

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

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

Flagler’s First Overseas Railroad was in Palm Beach

January 22, 2012 will mark the 100th anniversary of Henry M. Flagler’s “Overseas Railroad” completion and it’s arrival in Key West. But Flagler had built a tiny overseas railroad much earlier, right here in Palm Beach at the Breakers Hotel. Flagler’s first hotel

Breakers Pier

Breakers Pier from the south

in Palm Beach was the Hotel Royal Poinciana, which opened in 1894 and was expanded many times. His second hotel was originally called the Palm Beach Inn, and was located on the ocean, whereas the Royal Poinciana was located on Lake Worth. Guests would ask if they could book rooms “over by the breakers,” so the name of the inn was changed to The Breakers.

The research for this blog came primarily from a Tequesta historical journal article written by Sue Pope Burkhardt entitled The Port of Palm Beach: The Breakers Pier in 1973. She was married to Henry Burkhardt, one of the original Lake Worth region pioneers. At that time there was no port in Palm Beach; consequently Flagler decided to build not only a freight port, but also a passenger port which allowed guests to board or disembark from steamers. The steamers, part of the Palm Beach-Nassau Steamship Line, offered tourists direct passage to Flagler’s hotel in Nassau, the Royal Victorian.

Breakers Pier

The Breakers Pier with train and steamer

In 1895 Captain J. D. Ross was commissioned to build the pier of concrete,wood and steel, which when finished was 1,005 feet long, almost 1/5 of a mile. The train would travel across Lake

Breakers Pier

Breakers Pier

Worth and Palm Beach, and terminate on the Breakers Pier, where passengers then boarded steamers to the Bahamas. Steamships carrying cargo also docked at the pier, and offloaded much of the material that was used to build the original Breakers hotel, which burned in 1903.

The use of the pier as a railway was shortlived. By the time Flagler had built his magnificent residence Whitehall, the train had ceased its run to the pier. The train was moved to the north end of the Hotel Royal Poinciana, which became the new termination point of the railway. The Nassau steamships then began to run from the Port of Miami over to the Bahamas. The Breakers Pier then started a new life as a fishing and strolling pier, where guests enjoyed views of the coast line. Fishing was great at that time, being so close to the Gulfstream and its warm waters and not subject to today’s pollution and overfishing.

Boats and yachts continued to dock at the pier, including Admiral George Dewey and his

Breakers Pier

Fishing from The Breakers Pier

flagship Mayflower. There was even a fear at one time during the Spanish-American War that the Florida coast might be invaded, so the Coast Guard was stationed on the pier. Mrs. Burkhardt even relates that Springfield rifles were distributed to each household as a civil defense precaution.

The pier was severely damaged in the 1928 hurricane, and was demolished a few years later. I wondered if anything was left from the pier, so I walked there from Clarke’s beach at low tide. I knew where the pier was based on aerial photography, which still shows a long dark streak underwater where the pier was located. I also determined its location from looking at a 1920 Sanborn map of the Breakers Hotel.

There indeed was an old bulkhead, still visible on the shoreline with bolts intact,

Breakers Pier

Bulkhead at the Breakers Pier

probably of stainless steel to still be so shiny. The dark streak is still clearly visible under the water where the pier was located, even visible from shore. As I was there, a group of snorkelers led by a Breakers hotel employee were just emerging from the surf. The Breakers employee described what is left of the pier in this short audio interview – click on the following link – Interview with Breakers Employee.

 

 

 

 

Breakers Pier

Remnants of the pier underwater

I’m sure none of the guests who stay at the Breakers and few of the employees realize the magnificent pier that once stood on the shoreline by the hotel. Its ghost is still there, now an artifact, raptured in the deep.

breakers pier

Piling from the Breakers Pier

Vintage postcards are from the Florida Memory Project archive; underwater photographs are courtesy of Steve Anton.

Ever drive through a Ballroom? You probably have in Palm Beach.

For whatever reason, I like to know exactly where important buildings once stood – where its footprint was, for somehow I think it lingers and makes a permanent impression on the

The Hotel Royal Poinciana

area. For Palm Beach, no other structure could be as important as the Hotel Royal Poinciana (HRP) once was. Envisioned as the grand hotel on Lake Worth, Henry Flagler built the hotel in 1893, and expanded it many times until it became not only the largest wooden structure in the world, but the largest hotel in the world.

I knew that the HRP was near where the Flagler Museum is today, and that it was on the Lake Worth (Intracoastal Waterway) side of the island. A historical marker in the area indicates that today’s Palm Beach Tower condominiums are on the land where the HRP once stood. But I wondered, where exactly did the hotel stand? Maps of the time didn’t really provide a clue, because so much has changed in roadways; houses and cottages once there are gone too.

Then I stumbled across detailed maps of West Palm Beach the Sanborn Company prepared to estimate rates for fire insurance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanborn_Maps). The University of Florida has scanned the pre-1923 Sanborn Maps of Florida cities and towns, and the maps provide a rich history of buildings that once stood in many Florida cities (http://ufdc.ufl.edu/?c=SANBORN).

Hotel

The Hotel Royal Poinciana

Included in the maps for West Palm Beach are the maps of Palm Beach, with incredibly detailed maps of the HRP, even listing how many night watchmen would be on duty and information on all buildings on the site. I took this map and overlaid it on a modern aerial photograph from Google maps. My only points of reference were the then Flagler residence with the small road in front, the shoreline of Lake Worth, and Royal Poinciana Way. These points allowed me to scale and place the hotel exactly on the modern landscape.

And then I saw it. Today’s Cocoanut Row roadway, just north of the Flagler Museum, cuts squarely through the ballroom of the Hotel Royal Poinciana! The ballroom is the small octogon shaped room on the picture above. Countless rich and famous people danced on that floor; the biggest event of every HRP season was the George Washington Ball, and the event would have had its grandest moments on that ballroom floor.

It is truly hard, if not impossible, for us today to imagine the grandeur, the elegance and prominence of the Hotel Royal Poinciana as a focal point for the Gilded Age. The construction of the immense place was an undertaking of its own, but to feed and pamper

Strolling at the HRP

thousands of guests among its 1,500 rooms at a level that wealthy persons would be satisfied with had to have been a monumental task! The local area supplied much of the fruits, vegetables and fish, but other meats and foodstuffs all had to arrive by train or steamer in an era with little or no refrigeration.

As time went by, many factors contributed to the HRP’s demise. It’s design was considered old-fashioned by the 1920s, the buildings were badly damaged in the 1928 hurricane, and the Great Depression all led to the hotel’s closing and demolition, completed by 1936.

Pat Crowley has a very informative blog on the HRP with great photographs and other ephemera – take a look at http://royalpoincianahotel.blogspot.com/

The photographs and postcards are a part of the Florida State Archives, the University of Florida digital collection and the Library of Congress Archives.

Jupiter Lighthouse – 150th Anniversary of its First Light

July 10, 2010 marks the 150th anniversary of the first lighting of the Jupiter Lighthouse. This beautiful and majestic lighthouse is Palm Beach County’s oldest structure, and has withstood wars, hurricanes, and worst of all, development. Its 108 feet of brick has overseen all the changes, good and bad. As I grew up in the Jupiter-Tequesta area, the lighthouse was always my favorite monument and the guiding light home. When we visited my grandparents in Lake Worth and made our way home along U.S. 1, I would wait to see its light and know home was not far away.

jupiter sign

The commemorative plaque at the Jupiter Lighthouse

On our tour today, we spent some extra time with one of the staff members who was helping set up the tables for tonight’s event and ceremonial re-lighting of the lighthouse. He told us that in recently putting in a new wall, excavations produced several old french perfume bottles, and a blue bottle for a health tonic from a Dr. Pierce (more information here). His best find was an old conch shell that he recognized as being a trumpet shell. He quickly rinsed it off with a hose and he gave it a good blow, and it produced its first tone in probably 1,000 years. Anytime a tree is planted or the ground excavated for repairs, an archealogist has to be called in to look for indian artifacts.

Jupiter Lighthouse

The Jupiter Lighthouse in the sun

Jupiter Lighhouse

The Jupiter Lighthouse through the trees

The lighthouse sits on a natural hill that is 46 feet high (a mountain for Florida). Surrounding the hill are several kitchen “middens” where the Native Americans buried their kitchen garbage of bone and shell refuse. The U-shaped hill is called a “parabolic dune” and was probably first settled by the English in post-Colombian times. The name “Jupiter” is a twist of many languages. The Native Americans referred to themselves as the “Hoe-Bay,” which to the Spanish sounded like “Jove”, the Spanish word for the god Jupiter, so the English translation was applied.  Old maps from the 1770s mention that the area was renamed “Grenville” when the territory was ceded to the English. Some very old “tabby” building material and other British items were found in a recent excavation.

If you have an afternoon, the tour and museum is more than worth the time. The trek up the lighthouse is a 150 steps of winding staircase, so if you have vertigo or do not like heights, the climb may not be for you.