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

When Curiosity Changes your Life

Curiosity has solved many mysteries and helped spin many tales. But how a simple question could evolve into such a story that changed my life and how I view history and time is the subject of this blog posting. I had become interested in land research and how our current landscape came to be. For my city, Boynton Beach, the question was quite simple – where was the Boynton Beach hotel exactly located on the oceanfront? My history

The Boynton Hotel

The Boynton Hotel

readings told me that Major Boynton had built a large hotel on the beach and he had founded the town located to the west. But when I reviewed Palm Beach County Court records, a different story was told. Records did confirm Major Boynton’s hotel and its location on a plat map, but the town site records told a very different story. A different name emerged that was to send my co-author and I on a journey of discovery, inspiration and meaning.

Birdie S. Dewey was that name.  I was intrigued that a woman was selling all the lots in the Boynton town site. The name didn’t ring any bells for me, but it did for my co-author, Janet DeVries. She knew the name. She knew that Birdie S. Dewey was an author. We then embarked on a research effort that eventually resulted in the publication of our book “Pioneering Palm Beach: The Deweys and the South Florida Frontier.”

Our research reconstructed the lives of Byrd Spilman Dewey and her husband Fred S. Dewey from their early days of marriage in Illinois to their adventuresome move to Florida, from newspaper articles, letters, land records, court documents and most

Byrd Spilman Dewey

Byrd Spilman Dewey

important of all, Mrs. Dewey’s writings. Her books provided the insights and clues that unraveled the mystery of their lives and roles they played in Palm Beach County and the founding of Boynton Beach. Being the “true founders” of Boynton is firmly established and supported by the historical record.

But the Dewey’s personal story is much more compelling and had a profound affect on me. Being forgotten to history and time is certainly sad, that our contributions to the community and its development can become covered over by circumstances as they occur.

What we build in our lives –  houses, farms or buildings – completely disappear with development, especially here in South Florida. What stood for decades can be gone in minutes when the bulldozers wipe the land clean of our existence. So the realization of the temporary nature of all of our creations hit home with me. There are but a handful of

1893 Tea Party

1893Tea Party

buildings in West Palm Beach left from when the Deweys lived here – St. Anne’s Church, a few buildings on Clematis, and scattered homes.  All else has been lost to hurricanes, fires and most of all – development and redevelopment. Which means the South Florida we know and recognize today will also not exist in the next century – we too will be demolished and paved over with something bigger, better and more massive.

Our book resurrects those pioneer times; their wildness, adventure and bravery. That time has been paved over, literally, by our high rises and parking lots. The majestic Dewey home, as it stood on Lake Worth, was expanded and reimagined by its subsequent owners, the Baldwins, as a fine home on South Flagler Drive, which had its direct ties to the shores of Lake Worth cut in 1952 when Flagler drive was completed. The house survived until 1971, when the bulldozers sounded its death knell early one morning. In its place, a 19

The Dewey-Baldwin House in the 1950s

The Dewey-Baldwin House in the 1950s

story Rapallo condominium was built, and a parking lot sealed over the footprint where the house once stood.  No one who lives there now even knows the house existed.  And that is cruelest fate of all – to be forgotten. So in some small part, we did our best to make sure the Deweys would not be forgotten again. A book does that. Words are put to paper and become a part of the permanent history, to be read and remembered, to be archived and preserved. Mrs. Dewey’s books played that role in our research, providing the timeless tale that had to be retold.

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.

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.

The Military Trail you don’t know

Military Trail, which runs from Jupiter to Pompano Beach, is a familiar highway to most South Floridians. A collection of shopping centers, developments and nurseries dot the roadside along this long and historic route.

Here is a picture I took of Military Trail in Boynton Beach, June 25, 2010:

Military Trail in Boynton Beach

So where are the six lanes of divided highway and lovely strip centers? A one lane road? This is the only glimpse left of what Military Trail probably looked like in the 1950s (my guess is that prior to that it was a shell rock road). This small stretch is in Boynton Beach and occurs where the road curves southwest, probably to avoid a once-swampy area as the road/trail was blazed. This small 1/2 mile stretch runs on both sides of the current Military Trail and is designated as “Old Military Trail.”

The Military Trail is undoubtedly the oldest “trail” in Palm Beach County, having been blazed in 1838 as part of the Seminole Indian War. The Seminoles had fled from the Jupiter area south, and left behind a blazed trail along the pine ridge that extended southward all the way to Fort Dallas (the original name for Miami). This “Pine Ridge” was the only somewhat navigable land inland. The land between the ridge and the ocean shoreline was covered with swampland. The only east-west through-way was Okeechobee Boulevard. The trail was widened by 233 soldiers of the Tennessee Volunteers; it took them 4 days to clear the 63 miles from Jupiter to the New River in Fort Lauderdale.  It was first known as “Lauderdale’s Route” and was used by the army for 20 years in their battles with the Seminole Indians. After the Seminole wars had ceased, covered wagons continued to ferry freight and passengers south to Fort Lauderdale. More commonly though passengers would sail along the Intracoastal south and later the train provided passage southward.

A historical marker is located in Jupiter designating the starting point of Military Trail.

Military Trail Historical Marker in Jupiter