Back in 1991 I was visiting family in Germany. At dinner one night, my uncle asked me if I had ever heard of a “Dreher Park” back home in West Palm Beach. I thought the question rather odd because it was a local park and zoo, something that certainly would not be heard over in Germany. I said sure, it was a nice local park…but how do you know about it? He explained to me that Mr. Dreher was his best friend’s uncle, and that his friend wanted to travel to Florida and visit his uncle as Mr. Dreher was advancing in years.
So that following spring, Mr. Dreher’s nephew and my uncle flew over from Germany and stayed with my parents. My mother invited the Drehers to dinner at our house and it was my task to pick them up from their house. They lived on Queen’s Court off of Olive Avenue in West Palm Beach in the shadow of the Rapallo condominium tower…a rambling house on a large lot. I had never met them before, and they were both in their early 90s. I got the feeling they did not get out much as they seemed quite amazed to be on I-95…”Where did this road come from?” they asked.
Mrs. Alice Irene Dreher was an absolute delight. She had lived in Palm Beach County since the 1920s (her parents were Mr. and Mrs. Roland L. Owen and they ran the Lee Manor Inn in Boynton Beach). They were married Easter Sunday, April 5, 1931. She had a real “Palm Beach County accent” that you simply never hear anymore…I can still hear her explaining something, ending with the statement “that seemed right to us, by our way of thinkin’.” Mr. Dreher captivated us at dinner, still able to speak German, on his many
adventures in Palm Beach county. He was originally from a small town near Reutlingen, in the southwestern German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg from the town of Erpfingen. He told us of his boyhood in Germany, finding Roman coins while digging a new fence in the yard.
So what brought Mr. Dreher to South Florida? His Aunt, Anna Maria Dreher, had married Adolf Hofman, one of the pioneer settlers of Delray Beach (then called Linton). They moved to the Delray area in 1895, building a house just east of Federal highway north of Delray. Dreher emigrated in 1924 at the age of 21. He talked of the 1928 hurricane, and the horrible task he was assigned of bringing bodies in by the truckload from Belle Glade for mass burial.
He planted literally thousands of trees in the West Palm Beach area and founded the Palm Beach Zoo, which was originally a petting zoo and was called the Dreher Park Zoo. He aquired the name “Johnny Appleseed” as he always was collecting rare seeds and plants. As I picked them up from their house, he greeted me with some fruit and seeds from a Jaboticaba bush.
As I brought them home that evening, he wanted to give me a mineral from his collection of rocks. Inside the house was literally like entering a museum – the collections of a very long life. I still have that stone, a small piece of picture rock.
Mr. Dreher passed away in 1993 at the age of 90. The seeds he planted over his life bring us shade to this day.
Thanks for sharing. I have lived here in WPB my whole life, 31 years, and never knew of this story. It’s nice to learn a piece of history of where I am from and grew up. I was just at the Palm Beach Zoo 2 days ago with my 1 year old daughter and when she is older I will now be able to share this story with her. 🙂
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For the past 35 yrs living in Florida I have wondered about the Dreher Zoo . . . still wondering if there is a family connection. My Dreher family has been in the US for 5 generations that I know of but always wondered about family in Germany.
According to Mrs. Dreher’s obituary in 2002, she had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for 15 years. So in 1991 or so she would have been in the early stages and that might be why Interstate 95 was a surprise. She was Alice Irene Owen. She died May 15, 2002, in Clayton GA. She had many survivors including her son (Paul E. ) and children.
Published in the Clayton Tribune, May 23, 2002