The Road less traveled – the first road to Miami

In an earlier post, I reviewed the history of Military Trail, which is a mid-county road (one time trail) to Fort Lauderdale. But as most of the population in the 1890s was along the coastal areas, getting to Miami was no easy manner. It was common, although not inexpensive, to take a steamer or sailboat from Jupiter or Palm Beach to Miami along the ocean. For those who couldn’t afford it, like the US Postal Service, you could walk along the beach and get there, as the famous “Barefoot Mailman” did. Just watch those inlet and river crossings with their hungry crocodiles and alligators.

Its hard to imagine but in the 1890s the area that today comprises Martin, Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties was one huge county called Dade County. Miami was then known as “Fort Dallas” and had held the county seat. That changed in 1889 when the county seat and courthouse was moved to Juno, which had more population and the only railroad line in Dade county (the Celestial Railroad from Jupiter to Juno). The total population in Dade county was about 1,000. As commissioners and other officials from Miami had to trek up to Juno on the water, they realized that some sort of stage coach line would be more reliable. This was also prompted too for a better mail route after a barefoot mailman (Ed Hamilton) was eaten by alligators during a river crossing.

So it was decided that a road would be built from Hypoluxo south to what was called “Lemon

Bridge

Crossing the Hillsboro River

City” (today’s north Miami). The trip from Juno to Hypoluxo was quite manageable by way of Lake Worth via boat,  so a road was not needed for that part of the route. Charles W. Pierce, in his book “Pioneer Life in Southeast Florida” provides a very detailed description of the road and why it was built. He writes in his book that a more reliable way was needed for people and mail to reach Miami. Pierce was appointed to the “road commission”, which met a total of two times. They put a request out for bids to survey and plat out the new road to Miami, designed of course not for cars, since they had not yet been invented, but for a mule wagon, or as he refers to it, a hack. The road was all of eight feet wide, and built along the natural sand ridge adjacent to the barrier islands on the peninsula.

This was no speedy form of travel. Pierce stated that because of the soft white sand, the speed was little more than a slow pace of about 2-3 miles per hour. At that rate, it was a two-day tripto Miami, but still better than walking the beaches. Bridges were built over smaller waterways such as the Hillsboro

Sand Road in Boca Raton

River. It took 14 hours to travel from Hypoluxo to the New River in Fort Lauderdale. Once you reached there, you camped with Frank Stranahan in some tents. According to Pierce, “He was the general manager, cook, dishwasher, chambermaid, and entertainer for the guests.” The next day you would cross the river by boat, then enjoy another seven hour ride to Miami. In all references I can find to the road, it is always just referred to as the “Sand Road.” The Sand Road brought the time of the Barefoot Mailman to an end.

There is not an accurate map of the exact route that the Sand Road took, but it is believed that large parts of it became the Dixie Highway and U.S. 1.  You can actually walk the only remaining portion of the Sand Road that is still sand. The northernmost portion of the Sand Road is located within the Hypoluxo Scrub Natural Area on Hypoluxo Road and U.S. 1. This land was never built on and only has had some light agricultural use over the years.

In this aerial photo from 1953, the sand road is clearly visble down the middle of the tract.

1953 Photo the Sand Road in Hypoluxo

 

Today, the returning vegetation is reclaiming the road, but service vehicles in the park still use the road.

The Sand Road in 2010

Take a walk through the Hypoluxo Scrub area and experience for yourself the road of a bygone era, the road that helped people “get there from here.” The Park is open sunup to sundown seven days a week and admission is free.

Take a ride on my time machine (kinda sorta)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about wanting a time machine to go back and see how Palm Beach County looked decades ago. I have often thought how cool it would be to have “ancient” Google-maps, to be able to have a bird’s eye view of your property. Well, you can. Thanks to a project by the University of Florida, you can find out what your property looked like decades ago. Depending upon where you live in the county, there are maps posted from 1940, 1953 and 1968.

I stumbled across the link on the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s website. I looked first at the property where my house resides. I was lucky in that there is a house along Lawrence Road that was built in 1940, so I could use that as my reference point. I scrolled over to see what was on Congress Avenue at that time. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong, but I could not find it. Then it dawned on me. There was no Congress Avenue in Boynton Beach in 1953. I did a search through the Palm Beach Post Archives and found that Congress Avenue stopped at Lantana Road. It was extended to Hypoluxo Road in 1964, then to Boynton West Road in 1965 (today’s Boynton Beach Boulevard). In later years, it was extended down to Yamato Road, where it terminates.

The search tool at the University of Florida website uses Google Maps so you can enter an address from today. Using GIS technology, it finds which aerial photos matches those coordinates and draws a red circle where your house would be on the old photos. When you examine these photos, you realize how things have changed and see the incredible building boom that has occurred.

Here is an example of what these maps can show:

Palm Beach State College - 1953

Palm Beach State College – 1953

Palm Beach State College – 2010

In the 1953 photo, the dark line along the bottom is not 6th Avenue South, but the drainage canal. 6th Avenue South was not extended to Congress Avenue until the early 1970s. The aerial photos are in black and white, but the resolution is not bad for seeing detail. In my neighbhorhood, I was able to find some oak trees that still exist.

The University of Florida website is located at: http://ufdcweb1.uflib.ufl.edu/ufdc/?a=flap

Use the MAP SEARCH feature to find your location on a modern map. Once you have found your house, please answer the poll question:

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If you want to see other parts of the nation, check out Historic Aerials at http://www.historicaerials.com/Default.aspx and see what they have. The site has a few neat visual tools like the ability to see a split screen using the “compare” tools. You can move the arrow to “swipe”across and see how things changed. Here is Meadows Park in Boynton Beach just south of Hypoluxo Road. The property was a dairy – the dots you see near the bottom of the photo are cows.

Split view of Meadows Park in 1968 and 2007

This picture was so special to me as it confirmed a memory I had from childhood about this dairy. In the front of the dairy was a small bridge on Congress Avenue that allowed the cows from the east field to get over to the dairy on the west side of Congress.

So take a fly around the county through the decades. If you find something neat or solved some old mystery about what was where when, leave me a comment.

Boynton’s Lost Lakes

Last year I was channel surfing and landed on Channel 18, Boynton Beach’s public access cable channel. The station was airing a film on Boynton Beach’s history produced in 1980. In it they mentioned that where the Leisureville community stands today, Lake Boynton once stood.

How could a whole lake disappear? I started my quest to find the lost lake and found that not only was Lake Boynton lost, but a whole chain of lakes that stretched from Lake Osborne south all the way to the present day Woolbright Road were gone.

My first clue was this map scrap from 1925, listing all the Boynton Lakes – Lake Webster, Lake Jackson , Lake Bessie and Lake Boynton.

Boynton’s Lakes from 1925

So where did the lakes go? A September 21, 1980 article from the Palm Beach Post helped fill in most of  the details. In 1916, the canals on the map above were dug by the Lake Worth Drainage District to help make the land more attractive for agriculture and dairy farming. Boynton Beach was to become the main dairy lands of Palm Beach county, and draining the land helped that process. C. Stanley Weaver was interviewed for the Post article. The Weaver family moved to Boynton in 1910 and owned over 1,500 acres of land in the vicinity of Old Boynton Road, Military Trail and Lawrence Road and were in the dairy business. Mr. Weaver told of the time when the lands around Lake Boynton were hunting grounds for quail and dove and that swimming and fishing in Lake Boynton were popular with all the kids. By the time he returned from World War II, additional drainage canals such as the El Rio Canal has drained away all the lakes, including Lake Boynton. The land changed hands many times before finally being developed in 1968 as Leisureville. The muck was removed from the land and fill added to provide stable home sites.

So what stands today on the land where the second largest lake, Lake Webster? I made a very crude overlay map

Overlay Map of 1925 Map and 2010 Map

Everything lined up perfectly including the small drainage canals that still exist. Much of what was Lake Webster is now the High Ridge County Club and the Quantum residential communities south of Miner Road, but this shows how very large the lake was, compared to the small runoff lakes that dot the communities in the picture. I am sure no one who lives in that area realizes they are living on an old lake bed.

In old newspaper ads from the 1920s, the land was being sold from anywhere from $400 to $2,000 an acre. An ad from October 29, 1925 offered the 850 acres around Lake Webster for $2,5000 an acre. That sounds pretty inexpensive today, but was an incredible sum of money at the time. The 1928 Hurricane brought all the land speculation to a halt. I would guess that in the 1930s or 1940s, the land could have been bought for less than $100 an acre. As we all have learned in the last few years, land and housing busts can happen suddenly and last a long time.