They Shoot Turkeys, Don’t They?

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

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

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

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

Mother Lucretia Hannong

Mother Lucretia Hannong at 99

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

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

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

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

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.

The Barnhill Mound at Boca Raton

When most people think of Native Americans in Palm Beach County, they may think of the Seminole Indians or perhaps the Miccosukee. But the original Palm Beach county residents go back much further in time. No one knows the exact date that Native Americans set foot in Palm Beach county. Most lived along the coastline of the Intracoastal Waterway or the barrier islands ocean side. They hunted and gathered food and practised no form of agriculture. Best estimates are that people first inhabited the county 700-1000 years ago.

One of the more prominent archealogical sites is the Barnhill Mound in Boca Raton. The mound was known in the 1920s as a high hill covered with fine sugar sand.

Picture of the mound in the 1920s

The property was eventually aquired by E.G. Barnhill, a famous early Florida photographer. Born in 1894 in South Carolina, Barnhill is famous for his hand-colored photographs and paintings of the old Florida landscape. He was also interested in Native American culture and collected artifacts throughout the nation. Upon having the property explored by University of Florida archeaologist Dr. Ripley Bullen, it was discovered that the large mound was actually a burial mound. Barnhill named the attraction “Ancient America”  and opened it in 1953. The bones of the deceased were bundled together and placed in small niches in the mound. Barnhill tunneled through the mound and set glass panels in the sides so tourists could peer in and see the bundles of bones. The attraction was open until 1958, and never proved to be popular.

Postcard from Ancient America depicting the ancient village

Archealogists mapped the original site and assume it was a ceremonial center and village, probably housing 150 residents. The most likely tribe are the Tequesta, who populated the areas that today are Broward and Dade counties.

So what happened to the Barnhill Mound? In 1981, the site was long abandoned and was on a list of Palm Beach county sites to be purchased for historical preservation. But that didn’t happen. Instead, it was sold to developers who built the Boca Marina Yacht Club.

I went down to see what was actually left of the mound. Most articles I had read on the site indicated that the mound was completely gone, but that proved not to be true. I took the picture below from the sidewalk on the street. I wanted to get a bit closer, but the guard would not let me walk back to the mound. I asked the guard if she knew what the hill was; she did not know, thinking it was just a pretty hill. When I told her that this was actually an indian burial mound, she got a kind of creepy look on her face. What is sad is that were this property available today, it would be a park and educational site. But alas, the mighty dollar spoke.

The Barnhill Mound as it appears today.