What’s in a Name? The Curious Case of Deweese Road

This blog has so many twists and turns it is really difficult to know where to start. While researching how Palm Beach County acquired the land that would become Palm Beach State College, John Prince Park, and Lantana Airport, I found an article that stated the western border of the acquired land was “Deweese Road.” That had me stumped as there is no Deweese Road on a current map. After researching the Palm Beach Post archives, a much more complex story began to unfold. It made me realize once again how much things have changed, the past paved over and forgotten. Deweese Road was a dirt road that went from Second Avenue North to what would become Sixth Avenue South in Lake Worth.

George W. Deweese, his wife May, and daughter Flora came to Lake Worth in 1926 from Poplar Grove, Missouri. Deweese was a jack of all trades, being listed at various times as machinist, builder, farmer, and plasterer. He bought the land and put in the dirt road sometime in the late 1920s and sold lots and tracts. Twelve residences were along the west side of the road, and the area was considered “West Lake Worth.”

As the Depression took hold, Palm Beach County had federal Works Project Administration (WPA) money for road improvements. According to an April 11, 1939 Palm Beach Post article, a new road would be built with WPA funds that would extend the existing Congress Avenue, from Belvedere Road to Lake Worth Road, some four miles.

New Road

New Road to be built

But they needed a bridge for the new road across the West Palm Beach Canal. So they reused a bridge that was being replaced in Boca Raton, rather than demolish it. The Camino Real bridge was being replaced, which spanned the Intracoastal Waterway and was probably made of wood. The same article mentioned the road would be on the west side of “Engle Field” in Lake Worth. Engle Field? Did Lake Worth have an airport? Who was “Engle?”

Engle was Arthur B. “Pop” Engle, born in 1880 in West Virginia. He and wife Emilie had purchased a tract of land in April of 1937 from J.I. Keller to open his own private airport for small planes and flying lessons, mostly using Piper Cub aircraft. Many articles refer to the place as “Engle’s Field” or “Lake Worth Airport.” According to the obituary for Emilie Engle, who died in 1984 at the age of 96, the Engles came to Lake Worth in 1922 and operated an ice plant and managed the LaVerne Apartments.

They were flying enthusiasts, and taught hundreds of new pilots to fly. It became more difficult to operate a private airport during World War II, due to the need for armed security.screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-1-57-42-pm

The 1949 hurricane destroyed what was left of the airport. Finally, the Engles sold the property in 1953 and it is now the Englewood Manor subdivision east of Congress between Second Avenue North and Tenth Avenue north.

Back to Deweese Road. That name stuck until the late 1940s – many references to selling livestock, chickens and other farm goods were found in old classified ads. Even a circus stopped by, held on the present day site of Palm Beach State College in 1951. A 1940 Department of Agriculture photo shows Deweese Road and some of the airfield buildings along Second Avenue. The Deweese family did have many heartaches over the years; their house burned to the ground in 1931, and their 32 year-old daughter Flora died in 1944 of a sudden illness.screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-1-57-09-pm George Deweese also knew sign language as he was asked to be an interpreter in court in a case involving hearing impaired litigants.

In later years, the Deweese Road name was lost to Congress Avenue, as Congress was expanded through the years to stretch all the way to Yamato Road in Boca Raton, through what was then cow pasture and woodlands as it meandered south. Both the Deweeses and the Engles are interred at Lake Worth in Pinecrest Cemetery. Very few, if any, persons living in Lake Worth today would have any memory of these places. But next time you venture down Congress, think of the vast open spaces of what was considered the “country” part of Lake Worth.

1940 Aerial Photograph

1940 Aerial Photograph

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.

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.

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.

Lake Boynton Estates – Neighborhood Tales

“Some day I shall buy myself a little home…the house of my dreams. In Boynton it shall be…not very far beyond the big gates of Lake Boynton Estates…up on the cool, wind swept ridge from where I can view the sunrise over the Ocean, and see it set in a riot of red beyond the Lake to the west.” So starts a 1925 ad from the Palm Beach Post for the Lake Boynton Estates subdivision. As I reported in an earlier blog post (http://www.palmbeachpast.org/?p=32) Boynton Beach had several lakes that stretched from Lake Osborne in Lake Worth to Lake Ida in Delray Beach.

On the largest of those lakes, the developer K.D. Purdy had purchased the land to the east of Lake Boynton and platted out 50 foot lots complete with paved streets and water. The subdivision was directly accessible from the Dixie Highway and downtown Boynton through Ocean Avenue. He took out several large ads in the Palm Beach Post to sell lots in his subdivision. The lots were sold for $1,750, quite a sum of money in its day. Many lots sold in the land boom of the 1920s, which all came to a halt with the subsequent land bust and Great Depression of the 1930s. In the Depression, I am guessing that the lots could have been bought for the owed taxes, probably less than $10. My grandfather bought hundreds of lots like these in the Wilton Manors and Progresso subdivisions in Fort Lauderdale for $2-$3 dollars apiece. Although we think the local land and housing market has crashed, it cannot ever match the depth of the crash that occurred in the 1930s.

Another factor that did not help Lake Boynton Estates was the Seaboard Air Line Railroad (now known as the CSX tracks). Flagler’s Florida East Coast railroad had no competition, so another railroad line was bound to make its way south. In 1926 it was announced that the Seaboard Air line would be extended down to Miami. The route of the tracks was just a few yards from the entrance to Lake Boynton Estates. I don’t know if Purdy knew that the railroad would come that close to his development, but the residents who were there certainly would not have been happy about the train, nor would that help sales of the lots once the railroad had announced.

I did not find any sales ads for the development beyond 1925. I think development pretty much came to a halt until the late 1950s, based on a search of Palm Beach County property records. Additional homes were built through the 1960s. The 1970s construction of I-95 isolated the neighborhood from downtown Boynton, cutting off the Ocean Avenue artery. Then the 1960s saw the filling-in of Lake Boynton for the construction of the Leisureville development. Another building spurt in the 1990s filled in most of the lots, although a few empty ones remain. Sadly, only three original houses in the development remain, two mission-style houses and one Mediterranean Revival style stucco house.

Boynton House

Mission-style house built in 1926

Boynton House

Mission-style house built in 1925

Boynton House

Mediterranean Revival Style House built in 1925

One of the elements featured in the original ads were the gates leading into the development, which were located on the south, east and north entrances to the development.

Boynton gates

The Gates at Lake Boynton Estates

Could these gates have somehow survived? Janet DeVries, the archivist and librarian at the Boynton Beach City Library, clued me in on where the sole remaining gate was located. At the east end of the development by the Seaboard Coastline tracks, one side of the gates remain, in somewhat of a sad state, a bit overgrown and with graffiti on one side.

Boynton Gate - 2010

The Lake Boynton Gate as it appears in 2010

The gate is almost exactly as it appeared in the ad, with part of the top ornament now missing. I doubt many of the residents even know why the gate is there and how old it is, some 85 years. If you have any additional information about Lake Boynton Estates, please leave a comment below.

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.