Christmas at Ben Trovato – 1897

This fictional short story presents the characters of Judith and Julius Sunshine, Byrd Spilman Dewey’s characters that were stand-ins for herself and husband Fred. It is a little glimpse of life along Lake Worth more than a century ago. The story takes place at the Dewey’s lakefront home, Ben Trovato, which is pictured in the masthead above.  The Rapallo Condominium now occupies the homestead. Ben Trovato means “well invented” in Italian, and I hope you find this little story “well invented” as well – enjoy the holidays! – Ginger Pedersen

Christmas 1897 at Ben Trovato

Preparations were well underway for the Christmas holidays on The Blessed Isle. The two stockings, that of Judith and Julius, were carefully hung on the hearth in the parlor of their lovely lakefront home, Ben Trovato. Judith was busy preparing Julius’s favorite sweets, cinnamon sugar cookies. She had to keep a careful watch on the oven to make sure the temperature was just right, and a watchful eye on their cats, Kitty Winks and Catty Meow, as they were eyeing the butter.

“You kits will soon get your little treat,” said Judith. “But you’ll have to wait till I’m finished.” As Judith put the last of the cookies in the oven, the kits eagerly awaited as Judith placed a large dab of butter on a dainty plate. Two very happy kits licked away at their prize.

Christmas was always different in Florida than it was up north. This year it was especially warm, and everything was a shimmering green. Julius had found a perfectly shaped spruce pine in the woods around the Blessed Isle, and cut it to display in the parlor. This much amused the “cattle,” which is how Julius always referred to the cats. Kitty Winks found it silly to bring a tree in the house when so many were all around the house. When the ornaments began to adorn the tree, the kits were certain they were carefully placed toys just for them!

As Christmas Eve approached, Julius had a real dilemma – how to get Judith out of the house for a few hours so her Christmas surprise could be delivered. He spoke with their nearby neighbor, the old German professor. “Maybe you could come over and say that your wife needs some assistance in baking”, said Julius. “Then I could get everything set up and it will be a great surprise.”

But Julius was not the only one planning. Judith also had a Christmas surprise, something she had been working on for weeks. Julius was very proud of his naphtha launch, the Calamity Jane, so Judith thought it fitting that he should have a fine cap and coat – a commodore’s coat! She worked on it on the days he was away on business over in the settlement. Soon it was finished and carefully wrapped under the tree.

On Christmas Eve morn, the old German professor appeared just as planned. “Oh Mrs. Sunshine, do you have a few minutes?” said the professor. “My wife is having some trouble in the kitchen.” “What sort of trouble?” said Judith. “I am not entirely sure, except that she was crying that she is such a hopeless housewife.” Looking very downtrodden, Judith was not happy about being out of the house on Christmas Eve; she had lots to do herself to prepare for Christmas Day.

She put on her bonnet and followed the professor over to his place a few hundred yards to the south. There sat the professor’s wife with a kitchen full of ingredients. Judith sighed at lack of cooking skills of the young wife, but soon things were progressing in the kitchen.

After about an hour, suddenly Kitty Winks appeared, meowing in great distress. Judith heard her cries, and went out on the piazza to see what could be wrong. As Kitty Winks saw Judith, she cried even louder and ran towards Ben Trovato. Judith knew something was wrong at home. She rushed back in to say she must check on things at home. As she dashed through the woods, she could see the house – and strange figures upstairs! Julius was away in the settlement, so she was certain it was not him.

What to do! She thought how smart the cats were to alert her to this most serious situation. She went back to the professor’s house and told of the burglary underway. “If only Julius were here!”

Of course the professor knew who it was, but did not want to spoil the surprise. “We’ll go over there and check things out.”, said the professor.

As they walked through the woods, just then Julius was arriving at the wharf. The professor quickly approached him and apprised him of the situation. Julius chuckled a bit. He walked quickly towards Judith and said “don’t worry, we’ll catch that burglar!”

“Oh please be careful Julius!” cried Judith.

After a few minutes, Julius called to Judith from the upper piazza “I have the culprit up here – come up here and see.” Judith thought this odd, but she proceeded up the stairs. As she rounded the corner, she saw it…a beautiful new writing desk! “Oh Julius!” she cried “you planned this whole thing!” “Well, not the part with the cattle sending out the alarm!” said Julius.

Judith then scurried down stairs and took Julius’s package –“you can’t guess what it is!” Julius opened the package and beamed like a child “Oh its perfect – I’ll put it on right away -let’s go for a ride!”

Julius put on the new coat and cap, and Judith and Julius motored happily along the moonlit waters of Lake Worth that Christmas Eve…Judith dreaming about the new writing desk, and Julius happily attired in his new coat. And at Ben Trovato sat two very relieved cats, comfortable under their spruce pine Christmas tree, contented in their Florida paradise.

Read the Dewey’s biography – Pioneering Palm Beach: The Deweys and the South Florida Frontier –

Palm Beach’s Pioneer Author – Lost for more than a Century

Among all the people, stories and places I have researched over the past few years of this blog, one captivated me more than any other, a story that was hidden beneath a soaring 19 story tower that shadows over an old West Palm Beach neighborhood. Fred S. Dewey and Byrd Spilman Dewey were adventurers in every sense of the word. I discovered them while researching land records for the Town of Boynton, intrigued by the fact that a woman had owned the land that made up the original town core. The land had been bought under the name of “Birdie Dewey” in 1892. As I searched for that name on the Internet, it opened a magical box that had been shut for almost a century, revealing a unique and wonderful story about the beginnings of Palm Beach County.

Byrd Spilman Dewey

Frederick Sidney Dewey and Byrd Spilman Dewey had arrived in Florida in 1881, spent some years in Central Florida attempting an orange grove which failed, and had heard of the “Lake Worth Country,” the frontier to the south that bordered the famed Everglades. The Deweys arrived in 1887 and settled on 76 acres bordering Lake Mangonia where their nearest neighbor was more than a mile away. That neighbor, Reverend Elbridge Gale, was the subject of my last blog for his cultivation of the mango. On their land, the Deweys built a small cottage and started “pioneering.” Mr. Dewey was a bookkeeper and carpenter, while Mrs. Dewey was an author. She sat alone each day, completely isolated, and wrote magazine articles for publications such as Good Housekeeping and the Christian Union. After a time they bought five acres along Lake Worth, and built the famous home “Ben Trovato” which was the cultural and literary center of the west side of Lake Worth before West Palm Beach was even a thought. On the site now stands the 19 story Rapallo Condominium.

After a year and a half of researching and writing, the book Pioneering Palm Beach: The Deweys and the South Florida Frontier  has been published by The History Press. The research took me and co-author Janet DeVries to many locales including Eustis, Jacksonville, Zellwood, Miami and even the National Archives in Washington DC. Along the way we met many wonderful helpful people, which was the most energizing part of the research. Once we started digging for information on the Deweys, it became a treasure hunt where each piece of evidence led to another discovery. The Deweys had no children, so distant relatives were tracked down in Illinois and North Carolina who provided photographs and letters.  Although the Internet is much maligned, it is the greatest information and research tool ever developed. We discovered documents and letters through so many meticulously maintained databases in archives all throughout the United States. As Mrs. Dewey wrote in a fable, “Who seeks finds” and we found many a gem tucked away in old scanned books, magazines and newspapers on the Internet.

I think the thing that has amazed me the most throughout all the research and writing is how this inspiring story remained hidden for so long – how can someone write a best-selling book, as Mrs. Dewey did in Bruno, then be completely forgotten? How could an entire book she wrote about pioneering in Palm Beach County in the 1880s, be lost to historians? It was as if I dug in my own backyard and came across a treasure chest – in this case the chest was filled with Mrs. Dewey’s writings, the Dewey’s history and their role in the cultural emergence of Palm Beach County.

So if you love local history, pick up a copy of the book at, Barnes and Noble, or attend one of the upcoming presentations and book signings. Events are listed on my Author Central Page at – click here.

Reading the book will transport you back in time to a Palm Beach County of more than a century ago, to an unspoiled paradise still walked by bear and panthers. All the pioneer’s hardships and perseverance created the place we all call HOME.

The Mango and the Reverend

Mango season is in full swing in South Florida, and the sweet succulent fruit many call the “peach of the tropics” has a long history in Palm Beach County. The fruit, native to the Indian sub-continent, has traveled across the planet and is grown in all tropical and sub-tropical regions. Henry Perrine was the first to attempt to grow mangoes on his immense plantation in what today is southern Dade County. Perrine had brought mango trees from Mexico, but the trees died after the plantation was abandoned in the 1830s. D.G. Watt made another attempt at growing mangoes, this time in Tampa. The trees arrived from India in poor shape; only two survived and were growing nicely, but a freeze soon did them in.

Elbridge Gale

Reverend Elbridge Gale

Enter Reverend Elbridge Gale. Gale was born on Christmas Day, 1824 in Vermont, and became a Baptist minister. He preached in several churches, before settling in Manhattan, Kansas. He preached until 1870, when he was offered the chairmanship of the horticulture department at Kansas State Agricultural College, where he was also chair of the Kansas Horticultural Society. His health beginning to fail, Reverend Gale arrived in the Lake Worth region in 1884 and homesteaded land in what would become the Northwood section of West Palm Beach. Two of Gale’s children came too; George Gale was a leading citizen and daughter Hattie Gale became the area’s first schoolteacher.

The United States Department of Agriculture sent several mango varieties to the region to be grown by local farmers, including Reverend Gale. All the trees died except one – a tree of the Mulgoba variety that Reverend Gale cared for during the many freezes of the 1890s. In the late 1890s, his mango tree was the only one growing in South Florida. The healthy tree and its delicious fruit drew attention throughout South Florida, and farmers up and down the coast took seeds or cuttings from Reverend Gale’s tree. Gale was so enamored with the fruit that he named the area “Mangonia,” which survives today in Lake Mangonia and in Mangonia Park. Mango fever hit, and new residents wanted their own mango trees.

JOhn Beach

John Beach

John Beach, a fertilizer salesman from Melbourne, established his first nursery and began selling trees. When a freeze hit Melbourne, he moved further south to West Palm Beach and started his nursery in 1894 along Dixie Highway. Beach eventually moved his nursery west of Parker Avenue.

In 1902, Captain John J. Haden planted mango seedlings he had obtained from Reverend Gale on his Coconut Grove farm south of Miami. As the trees grew and matured, one tree in particular produced a delicious fruit. The trees were tended by Haden’s wife Florence as Captain Haden had passed away only a year after planting the trees. The Haden mango was an accidental cross between the Mulgoba mango from Gale and a “turpentine” mango, a variety with poor taste and texture, but excellent root stock. The Haden cultivar is still a popular backyard variety, but disease and fungus stopped commercial production many years ago.

John Beach’s Ad in the Tropical Sun, 1898

Many other Palm Beach County growers went into the business, including the Garnett brothers in Hypoluxo, and James Miner in Boynton. Miner planted mangoes on his property where Miner Road is today along US 1, and planted trees further west along Boynton Beach Boulevard.  Several packing houses shipped mangoes all over the country as South Florida was the only source of the tasty fruits.

All of these larger groves have been lost to development, but mangos are still grown in Palm Beach County on a few small farms. The most notable farm is “Hatcher’s Mango Hill” on Hypoluxo Road. Located on the high ridge, this four-acre farm has survived development and remains a family-run farm. John Hatcher developed the cultivar in the 1940s ,and it is most likely a cross between the Haden and Brooks mango. The Hatcher family ships the fruits by mail order all over the nation.

Hatcher’s Mango Hill

The best place to experience the mango is in the Redlands, the area near Homestead that is home to the Fruit and Spice Park and Fairchild Farm (part of Fairchild Gardens in Coconut Grove). This too has a tie to Reverend Gale, as Dr. David Fairchild’s father was president of Kansas Agricultural College, and Fairchild knew Reverend Gale as a boy growing up in Kansas. He visited Reverend Gale in 1898 at his West Palm Beach home. Reverend Gale passed away in 1907 at his daughter’s home in Mangonia. The Industrialist, Kansas Agricultural College’s journal, wrote “In short, his was an active and useful life, and thousands of pioneer Kansans and  former students at College are indebted to the kindly old man, now buried on the beach of his new home state, Florida.”

To celebrate the fruit, Fairchild Gardens is holding its 20th Annual International Mango Festival, July 14 and 15th, 2012 at its Coral Gables location, 10901 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables, 305-667-1651. Please see the website at for a complete event schedule for the two-day festival.

And next time you bite into a juicy, sweet mango, thank Reverend Gale.

Reverend Gale with wife Elizabeth

Señor Major Boynton? Hotel owner had Spanish Roots

With the release of the 1940 census, another chapter of American history can be explored and our ancestors found. All census records from 1850 forward are available through various websites such as, and Some the censuses are more complete than others; for example much of the 1890 census data was

Major Nathan S. Boynton

lost in a fire. Recently I was helping a friend with some research on her family history, and I thought it might be interesting to see if I could find some more information on Major Nathan S. Boynton, who founded and owned the Boynton Hotel on the beach and for whom the associated town is named.

I first found Major Boynton on the 1860 census, living near Cincinnati, Ohio. He was 23 and listed his profession as “Physician.” I had heard he intended to study medicine after working in the grocery business (“mercantile”) for a few years. As the Civil War broke out, he returned to Michigan and enlisted in the cavalry. He rose in rank to Major, and mustered out in 1865 and relocated to Marine City, Michigan. In the meantime, he  married and several children were born. On the 1870 census, he is listed as being an “editor”, with wife Annie in the household along with children Charles, Annie, George and Frances. He did indeed purchase the local paper and served as editor. I did not find an 1880 census record for the family, and as mentioned, the 1890 census is pretty much gone.

It was the 1900 census that presented some interesting information. Census forms changed over the years; one of the changes was the requirement to list the place of birth of the parents of each of the persons in the census. And in Major Boynton’s line on the census, place of birth for his mother was listed as Spain. I knew that Major Boynton’s wife was from Germany, but I had never heard his mother was born in Spain. A bit of looking found a biography of Major Boynton and it listed his mother as being named Frances Rendt Boynton, daughter of “Old Captain Lewis Rendt.” In looking at Captain Rendt, his actual name was Johann Ludwig Rendt, and he was born in 1773 in Germany. He was a Hessian soldier who was in service of the British army. The British would “lease” entire battalions of Hessian soldiers to join their side in various conflicts; Captain Rendt had fought for the British in the war of 1812 against the United States. As part of his payment, he was granted land in the province of Ontario, very near the Michigan border. He married Joaquina Josephina Sophia Arliano from Cadiz, Spain and together they had eight children, born in Spain, Malta, and Canada. Among them was Frances Margaret Rendt, Major Boynton’s mother. She married Granville F. Boynton in Port Huron, Michigan. Granville died in 1845, and Frances remarried, to a Jonathan Graves. They had two sons together, who were half brothers to Major Boynton.

In today’s terms, that would make Major Boynton “Hispanic,” although such a categorization was unknown at the time. Major Boynton’s father was of English heritage, so Major Boynton certainly illustrates the melting pot of America as people of all lands sought its shores. You just never know what the census may reveal.

How the Town of Boynton’s founding was discovered

Today the Palm Beach Post ran a story on a proposal I had written to rename a park in downtown Boynton Beach for Fred S. Dewey and Byrd Spilman Dewey. This week’s blog will relate how this discovery was made.

It happened this way: Readers from earlier blogs will know that I did quite a bit of land research on who were the original owners of land in the Boynton area. As part of that search, I wanted to see the history of the downtown Boynton Beach area and the ocean coastline. I opened the old registry books to the section, township and range for Boynton Beach. A rather puzzling mystery presented itself – it was not the name Nathan S. Boynton that was appearing, but the name Birdie Dewey, over and over again on that very first page of entries. I found that strange because I had never heard the name – who was Birdie Dewey?

Birdie Dewey

Byrd Spilman Dewey, from a picture in her book The Blessed Isle

I searched for Birdie Dewey and found the Lake Worth Pioneer’s website that had a page for Fred S. Dewey and his wife Birdie Dewey, whose full name was Byrd Spilman Dewey. The page indicated that Birdie Dewey was an author.

Further research at the courthouse gave the history of the downtown lands. The records revealed the land that constitutes the original downtown area was given to the state of Florida from the Federal government in 1879. The idea was to sell lands to raise money through the Improvement Fund. In 1890, the land was awarded to the Florida Coast Line Canal and Transportation Company that was to dig the canal that came to be known as the Intracoastal Waterway. The Canal Company in turn sold the land to George H.K. Charter, who intended to farm the land. Charter changed his plans and sold all of his holdings in the


Excerpt from the town plat in 1897

area to relocate to Jamaica. Birdie S. Dewey purchased the land January 29, 1892, all 120 acres, for $700.00. This was the 40 acres that made up the original townsite and 80 acres along the Intracoastal Waterway. It turns out that Birdie Dewey had quite the eye for real estate, and bought and sold land throughout Palm Beach and Broward counties.

I looked in the original plat books at the courthouse and found that indeed the Deweys had filed the original plat for the Town of Boynton on September 26, 1897. They also platted “Dewey’s Subdivision” on the other 80 acres. The lots in Dewey’s subdivision were subdivided into five-acre plots for sale as farmland. The rich muck soil along the canal was perfect for raising tomatoes. Mr. Dewey even had the first orange grove in Boynton, which was located south of where Ocean Avenue is today.

They sold lots in the town to settlers along the streets they had named for native plants, such as Palm Street and Poinciana Street. The only street to retain its original name is Ocean Avenue; the rest of the streets were renamed in the 1950s to numbered streets and avenues to aid in postal delivery. One street disappeared completely – Dewey Place, which would be slightly east of the Oscar Magnuson house on Ocean Avenue.

Ocean Avenue in 1910

Ocean Avenue in 1910

The Deweys had sold their holdings in West Palm Beach and had built a fine two-story home at the corner of Federal Highway and Boynton Beach Boulevard. They had planned to retire to Boynton; those plans were short-lived as Mr. Dewey’s health took a turn for the worse, the direct result of his service in the Civil War. The Deweys left in June 1910; Mrs. Dewey donated her extensive collection of literature and a small lending library was started at the Post Office. Mr. Dewey entered a military hospital in Tennessee and was in and out of military hospitals until his death in 1919 at the Sawtelle Old Soldiers Home in California. He is buried in the Los Angeles National Cemetery. Mrs. Dewey sold her last holdings in Boynton in 1925. She passed away in Jacksonville in 1942, and is buried in the Greenlawn Cemetery.

It is my great hope that these two pioneers will be recognized by the city they founded. January 29 will mark the 120th anniversary of their land purchase, so the timing of this could not be better. Our pioneer days before Flagler’s arrival are times of unimaginable beauty – and sacrifice. The Deweys truly embody that spirit.

UPDATE:The City Council of Boynton Beach did not approve the renaming of the park for the Deweys.

Mrs. Dewey’s image is from the book The Blessed Isle, published in 1907; the other images are from the Florida State archives through the Florida Memory Project.

Flagler’s First Overseas Railroad was in Palm Beach

January 22, 2012 will mark the 100th anniversary of Henry M. Flagler’s “Overseas Railroad” completion and it’s arrival in Key West. But Flagler had built a tiny overseas railroad much earlier, right here in Palm Beach at the Breakers Hotel. Flagler’s first hotel

Breakers Pier

Breakers Pier from the south

in Palm Beach was the Hotel Royal Poinciana, which opened in 1894 and was expanded many times. His second hotel was originally called the Palm Beach Inn, and was located on the ocean, whereas the Royal Poinciana was located on Lake Worth. Guests would ask if they could book rooms “over by the breakers,” so the name of the inn was changed to The Breakers.

The research for this blog came primarily from a Tequesta historical journal article written by Sue Pope Burkhardt entitled The Port of Palm Beach: The Breakers Pier in 1973. She was married to Henry Burkhardt, one of the original Lake Worth region pioneers. At that time there was no port in Palm Beach; consequently Flagler decided to build not only a freight port, but also a passenger port which allowed guests to board or disembark from steamers. The steamers, part of the Palm Beach-Nassau Steamship Line, offered tourists direct passage to Flagler’s hotel in Nassau, the Royal Victorian.

Breakers Pier

The Breakers Pier with train and steamer

In 1895 Captain J. D. Ross was commissioned to build the pier of concrete,wood and steel, which when finished was 1,005 feet long, almost 1/5 of a mile. The train would travel across Lake

Breakers Pier

Breakers Pier

Worth and Palm Beach, and terminate on the Breakers Pier, where passengers then boarded steamers to the Bahamas. Steamships carrying cargo also docked at the pier, and offloaded much of the material that was used to build the original Breakers hotel, which burned in 1903.

The use of the pier as a railway was shortlived. By the time Flagler had built his magnificent residence Whitehall, the train had ceased its run to the pier. The train was moved to the north end of the Hotel Royal Poinciana, which became the new termination point of the railway. The Nassau steamships then began to run from the Port of Miami over to the Bahamas. The Breakers Pier then started a new life as a fishing and strolling pier, where guests enjoyed views of the coast line. Fishing was great at that time, being so close to the Gulfstream and its warm waters and not subject to today’s pollution and overfishing.

Boats and yachts continued to dock at the pier, including Admiral George Dewey and his

Breakers Pier

Fishing from The Breakers Pier

flagship Mayflower. There was even a fear at one time during the Spanish-American War that the Florida coast might be invaded, so the Coast Guard was stationed on the pier. Mrs. Burkhardt even relates that Springfield rifles were distributed to each household as a civil defense precaution.

The pier was severely damaged in the 1928 hurricane, and was demolished a few years later. I wondered if anything was left from the pier, so I walked there from Clarke’s beach at low tide. I knew where the pier was based on aerial photography, which still shows a long dark streak underwater where the pier was located. I also determined its location from looking at a 1920 Sanborn map of the Breakers Hotel.

There indeed was an old bulkhead, still visible on the shoreline with bolts intact,

Breakers Pier

Bulkhead at the Breakers Pier

probably of stainless steel to still be so shiny. The dark streak is still clearly visible under the water where the pier was located, even visible from shore. As I was there, a group of snorkelers led by a Breakers hotel employee were just emerging from the surf. The Breakers employee described what is left of the pier in this short audio interview – click on the following link – Interview with Breakers Employee.





Breakers Pier

Remnants of the pier underwater

I’m sure none of the guests who stay at the Breakers and few of the employees realize the magnificent pier that once stood on the shoreline by the hotel. Its ghost is still there, now an artifact, raptured in the deep.

breakers pier

Piling from the Breakers Pier

Vintage postcards are from the Florida Memory Project archive; underwater photographs are courtesy of Steve Anton.

Hands of Creation: Augusta Christine Savage

During this whole weekend, when I looked for something, I found something else, and each and every time it was much better than what I was actually looking for. So it was as I found Augusta Christine Savage, a famous African-American sculptor of the 20th

Augusta Christine Savage at work

century. Born on Leap Day 1892, in Green Cove Springs, Florida, she came from a poor family of 13 children. So many children and little money left the children with no toys. But the creative spirit in her found a way; in her case it was the clay pit near their backyard. She created sculptures of animals and often skipped school to create her animals. Her father, a minister, did not approve of her creating “idolatry” of God’s creatures and often punished her for the creations.

The South Florida connection emerges with the family’s move to West Palm Beach in 1907. That move, however, cut her off from her beloved clay. While on a school trip, she rode past a local business called “Chase Pottery” and she knew clay was there. She yelled for the wagon to stop and ran to the shop. The potter was so impressed with her excitement that he gave her three buckets of clay to take home. Her father still disapproved of her sculpting, but after seeing her sculpture of the Virgin Mary, he realized her talent and accepted her art. Several teachers at the school for Blacks also noticed her talent, and after graduation, she was asked to stay on as a teacher of art at the school for the salary of one dollar a day. She went on to study one year at Florida A&M University at the teacher’s college.

Mayor George Currie

George Currie

Among those who noticed her talent was George Currie, a local leader who was an attorney, developer and had also served as mayor of West Palm Beach. Artistic talent was his too; he wrote several books of poetry. At that time, Currie was serving as the secretary of the Palm Beach County Fair, which was held near the train depot. Over considerable objection from other fair officials, Savage was allowed to have her own display booth of her sculptures. Not only did she sell $175 in sculptures, she won a $25 prize at the fair.

1921 County Fair

County Fair Article

Currie knew her talent was there, so he helped her study in New York. With a letter of introduction from Currie to a sculptor he knew in New York, she studied at the Cooper Union, a tuition-free art school. She supported herself with a cleaning job, but the job was soon lost. The advisory board at the Cooper Union agreed to pay her board as they felt her Mention of Savage, 1921, Tropical Suntalent so great. She applied for a summer art program in Paris, but was solely denied because she was Black. The story of her denial was carried in several papers, and artists came forward willing to have her study with them. Among them was Hermon Atkins MacNeil. She continued her studies and supported her family through working in a laundry. Her family back in West Palm Beach soon had to join her as their home was destroyed in a hurricane.

She received her first commission, a sculpture of W.E.B. DuBois to be done for the Harlem library in 1924. In 1925, she won a scholarship to an art school in Rome, but was unable to attend because it only covered tuition. Her dream of studying abroad was finally realized in 1929 when the Julius Rosenwald foundation funded her study at a leading Paris art school. She toured Europe as part of the experience, displaying her works along the way.

She returned to the United States in 1931, ready to sculpt and create, but the nation was in the throes of the Great Depression. In 1934, she opened her own art school in Harlem, Savage’s Studio of Arts and Crafts. Many famous African-American artists emerged from

Lift Every Voice and Sing Sculpture

her studio. In 1939, she received a commission from the New York World’s Fair, and she created a sculpture entitled Lift Every Voice and Sing. The large sculpture was cast in plaster as she could not afford bronze. Small copies in metal were cast and sold as souveniers at the Fair. It proved to be one of the most popular attractions at the Fair.

Unfortunately the plaster cast of the sculpture was destroyed after the fair as there was no money to preserve it. It was at this time that Savage abandoned her art career. She moved to upstate New York and only occasionally created new art. She rarely spoke of her career and worked at a mushroom farm. Occasionally she would teach an art class.  As her health faltered, she moved in with her daughter in New Jersey. She died March 26, 1962.

Her works are real and captured the spirit of her time. Had not George Currie seen her talent and had the courage to stand up to the prejudice of the fair officials, her career and

Gamin Scupture

talent may have never been realized. Today the few surviving pieces of her work sell for thousands of dollars. In this way, she has suffered the same fate of many artists who never realize the monetary value of their talent. But by remembering her and appreciating her work, her spirit and message survives in the beauty of her art.

This article was researched through the Tropical Sun archives, Wikipedia, and Alan Schroeder’s book on Augusta Christine Savage, In Her Hands.

They paved Banyan Street and put up a Parking Lot

If you have visited downtown West Palm Beach, Florida to enjoy the Green Market, have dinner or shop, you probably have parked in the Banyan Street garage, which is on

Banyan Street

Banyan Street as it appears in 2011

the south side of Banyan Street from Olive Avenue to Narcissus Street. It’s a rather nondescript three-story building built in the 1970s, but in the early 20th century, it was the hot spot of West Palm Beach.

Most famous of all the businesses that were located on this block was George Zapf’s Seminole Hotel, first built in 1894 at the corner of Banyan and Narcissus. The Zapf family had bottling businesses in many Florida cities including Miami, Jacksonville and West Palm Beach. He was an alderman in the city, and certainly was one of the real characters in early West Palm Beach.

George Zapf

George Zapf at his home – he is second from the left

The original wood structure burned in the Great Fires of 1896. First, on January 2, 1896 a fire started from an overheated stove in Nicoli and Puckett’s “Midway Plaisance Saloon and Restaurant” and the entire Banyan block was burned. Then on February 20, 1896, the rest of Narcissus Street burned to the south when an oil lamp overturned in a tailor’s shop. Zapf immediately had the hotel rebuilt, and the new Seminole Hotel was then constructed of brick as a “fireproof” hotel.

The Seminole Hotel

The Seminole Hotel in about 1900

The Seminole Hotel’s street level shops offered many services and businesses such as a lunch room, a tailor and barber shop, billiards, several saloons, cigars and candy, clothing and a drug store. The rest of the Banyan block had restaurants, offices, a grocery store, a bottling works and a Chinese laundry. At the corner of Narcissus and Clematis was the Palms Hotel, where the original Anthony Brothers store was located.

Seminole Hotel

Ad from The Tropical Sun for the Seminole Hotel

Of course, it was the saloons on Banyan Street that were the big draw, being the only place in West Palm Beach that served liquor. Many Palm Beachers also came across the bridge to enjoy late night drinking on Banyan. Some even called the street “Whiskey Street” and it drew the ire of Carrie Nation, the crusading leader of the Woman’s Temperance Movement, who showed up with her hatchet to clean up the place. The map of the entire block exactly as it appeared in 1903 is part of the Sanborn Fire Map series for West Palm Beach. These maps were produced to estimate fire insurance rates. Buildings in yellow were wood frame construction, and buildings in red were brick or brick veneer. The types of businesses are noted on the map. Several different years are available online at the University of Florida library ( and the maps provide a glimpse of how the city grew from 1903 through 1920.

Banyan Street

Banyan Street as it appeared in 1903

Zapf eventually sold the hotel, and it was renamed the Lake Park Hotel. It was razed sometime before 1950, but the exact date of the razing was not indicated in Palm Beach Post articles on the hotel.

So next time you park in the Banyan Street garage, think of the people who shopped in the stores, imbibed in some spirits or stayed in the hotel and enjoyed the good times of days past. Perhaps their spirits still walk Banyan Street.

This article was researched through the Palm Beach Post Historic archives and the Photographic Collection of the Florida Archives.

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 ( 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 (


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

The photographs and postcards are a part of the Florida State Archives, the University of Florida digital collection and the Library of Congress Archives.

Let there be light…and there was light!

Today as I watched the Riviera Beach FPL power plant implosion, I wondered when electricity first came to Palm Beach County. Electricity was a marvel in the late 1800s, and really centered around one thing – lights! The ability to light streets and provide light in homes and businesses was not only convenient, but much safer than lanterns, candles and gas light, all sources of combustion and fire in the mostly wooden structures of the time.

My search began in old issues of The Tropical Sun, the area’s first newspaper. The earliest articles first mentioned electricity as part of the Royal Poinciana Hotel in Palm Beach. The hotel was opened in 1893, and it was planned from the beginning to have electricity. They had their own power plant on the island to provide for the hotel’s needs.

Article on Gas Lights in Boynton, 1899

Obviously, others in the county wanted power too. Many streets and homes around the nation had been lit for years with “gas light”, an intensely bright light that is produced with acetylene gas. Such “light” even was found in the fledgling Boynton at the Boynton Hotel as early as 1899, and The Tropical Sun proclaimed gas light as the “greatest of all modern inventions.”

Notice in the Tropical Sun for power plant bids

The first idea for electricity in the city was to simply run electric wires across Lake Worth from the power plant at the Royal Poinciana over to West Palm Beach. That did not happen, so in 1902 the City of West Palm Beach took out an ad in The Tropical Sun for a new electric power plant. The West Palm Beach Light and Power Company was formed, with A.R. Beaujohn in charge. I was not able to find a paper online with the exact date that the power plant was activated, but I do know that the franchise for the plant was won by none other than Joe Jefferson, one of the most famous actors of the 19th century. He was best known for portraying “Rip Van Winkle” on the stage. Mr. Jefferson was a fixture in Palm Beach, and did much to develop downtown West Palm Beach. He owned six houses in West Palm Beach, along with the Jefferson Hotel, and several stores. Reportedly he uttered the words “Let there be light” when the switch was flipped on the plant and electric began to flow in West Palm Beach.

Through the years, other towns and cities began to generate electricity, first through the small independent types of plants such as West Palm Beach had. For example, electricity came to downtown Boynton in the early 1920s, being wired by G. C. Meredith. As the land boom

Early FPL Plant

approached, American Power & Light began to purchase many of these independent plants and consolidate them under the Florida Power & Light name, which began in 1925. The first large scale plants were at Fort Lauderdale and Sanford. Consolidation continued, but a few cities remained as independent power producers; in Palm Beach County only Lake Worth has its own municipal power plant.

In some ways, I was sad to see those old smokestacks go down today. They were such a part of the landscape and a real landmark. I remember driving from Lake Worth back to Jupiter along Flagler Drive and US 1 as a child, and the power plant was always the point where Flagler ended and you had to get on US 1. I know many considered the smokestacks an “eyesore,” but it is another element of our landscape forever lost to history.

FPL Plant Implosion, Riviera Beach, June 19, 2011

This article was researched through The Tropical Sun and Palm Beach Post historic archives, and Pioneers in Paradise by Jan Tuckwood and Eliot Kleinberg.