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 (http://ufdc.ufl.edu/?c=SANBORN) 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.

The Real Boynton in Boynton Beach – 100 years later

I was browsing through old Miami Metropolis newspapers online when I came across the obituary of Major Nathan S. Boynton, founder of Boynton Beach. I had heard and read some about Major Boynton, but more research into his past revealed him to be a very interesting person. The date too on the obituary was intriguing – exactly 100 years ago this month!

Major Nathan S. Boynton

Major Nathan S. Boynton was born June 23, 1837 in Port Huron, Michigan. Boynton was a descendent of Sir Matthew Boynton, credited with introducing sheep and goats to America. Boynton attended high school in Waukegan, Illinois and married Miss Anna Fidelei in 1859; together they had six children. Boynton began his military career in 1862, rising to the rank of major during his service in the Civil War. After the war, Boynton returned to Michigan and resided in Marine City. There he became Postmaster, Tax Assessor and eventually Supervisor of the town. He also served in the Michigan state legislature and owned a local newspaper. A true Renaissance man, Major Boynton also invented several pieces of firefighter equipment including the Boynton fire escape, the Boynton hook and ladder truck and a system for ladder rope trussing. He also founded the Knights of the Maccabees, a fraternal society that had over 200,000 members nationwide at its peak. In addition to the social aspect of the fraternity, sick payments and a death benefit were paid to members. It eventually became a full-fledged insurance company.

One of Boynton's Patents

One of Boynton’s Patents

As he approached his 60s, a desire for new frontiers and warmer weather brought him south to Florida with his fellow Michiganite, William S. Linton. They traveled to the area in

The Boynton Hotel on the beach

1894, guided by Captain Frederick Voss, sailing down the Florida East Coast Canal (today’s Intracoastal Waterway). Boynton purchased 500 acres in the area along the ocean and on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway. In 1896, construction began on Boynton’s oceanfront hotel, primarily by Michigan families who had moved to the area. “The Boynton” opened in 1897, with a main building and small cottages. The hotel expanded several times, and remained popular with guests each winter season. A.E. Parker, who had married Boynton’s daughter Annie, served as hotel manager for several years.

Major Boynton spent each winter in his town until the year before his death in 1911 at the age of 74 in Port Huron. The Boynton Hotel continued on to 1925, when it was torn down so that a larger, more modern structure could be built. The 1926 hurricane and subsequent land bust put an end to those plans.

Boynon House

Major Boynton’s house in Port Huron

The families who had come to build the hotel stayed and began to farm the areas along the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway. The Town of Boynton continued its growth westward with citrus groves and dairies, which eventually became the manicured suburbs seen today. Today’s Boynton Beach has over 68,000 residents and is the third largest city in Palm Beach County.

So what would Major Boynton think of what has become of his tiny hamlet? Being a forward thinker, I don’t think he would be terribly surprised. He knew a good thing when he saw it.


Boynton Beach’s Most Wanted Man – Do you know him?

This week we have a guest blogger, Janet DeVries, archivist at the Boynton Beach City Library and author of four books on the history of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach. She tells the story of a mysterious picture found at the library.

The distinguished gentleman stares out of the old photograph. The handsome fellow sports short, carefully combed hair, a clean shaven face, and extremely long sideburns. Who is

The Mystery Man of Boynton

he? His identity remains a mystery. A news reporter for WPTV News Channel 5 in West Palm Beach was so intrigued with the image the station ran a story about the mystery man. Since then, people all over the country have been trying to identify him.

Why all the fuss over a guy in a picture? What archive doesn’t have unidentified photographs? The provenance of the 14” by 18” crayon portrait (a charcoal enhanced photograph) is also a mystery. Even the way the portrait was discovered is something out of a Nancy Drew book.

A furniture refinisher discovered a hidden drawer underneath an old display cabinet in the Boynton Beach City Library. Perhaps it wasn’t really a “secret” drawer, but it was stuck closed and no one knew of its existence until the refinisher revealed to us the contents of the drawer. Most of the items were Boynton Beach Historical Society papers and old newspapers, along with two old Boynton post office ledgers from 1913 and 1921.

I put the portrait on display in a vintage camera and photographic exhibition in the library. A news reporter for WPTV saw the “suspect,” I mean the unusual man in the image, and inquired as to his identity. When I simply said “I don’t know,” that question was followed by “where did it come from?” After hearing the story, WPTV broadcast the mystery man’s face on television along with the caption “Most Wanted.” Due to the far-reaching power of the Internet and social media, the image has made its way around the world.

Since then people have been sending in clues. One of the most noteworthy tips came from Maureen Taylor, the internationally recognized photo identification and history expert. Taylor has written several books on the intersection of history, genealogy, and photography including the title Fashionable Folks Hairstyles 1840-1900. The Bostonian called with evidence to the photos age based on hairstyle, clothing and type of photographic image.

Taylor said the photograph dates from around 1880. She concurred that his notable hair were “Burnside” style sideburns, but noted that by 1880 they had become quite exaggerated. The photo detective said “The short hair combined with the facial hair confirms the date. His jacket and tie are also the style from the circa 1880 period. He really liked to show off!”

WPTV once again showed the story on television with some of the new clues. The furniture with the hidden drawer was traced to Mr. G.A. Stevenson, owner of Stevenson Feed & Seed. The old store was located next door to the Seaboard Railway, just west of present day I-95. The place closed years ago and Mr. Stevenson himself is gone.

A number of people are on the case, following leads and tracking down clues. The local Daughters of American Revolution chapter, historical societies and libraries locally and nationally, even postal history experts are conducting their own investigations. Meanwhile, the kindly looking gent in the photograph continues to patiently peer out of his frame as if looking for a relative.

Lights! Camera! Action! Palm Beach’s First “Moving Pictures”

A few weeks ago the Academy Awards were held, and I wondered, what was the first movie ever filmed in Palm Beach County? The Palm Beach County Film Commission maintains a list of films shot in Palm Beach County, but it only goes back to the 1960s. Then I got a clue from the book “Loxahatchee Lament”, a collection of pioneer tales from

Dorothy Dalton

the Jupiter area. One of the articles in the book was based on excerpts from a scrapbook kept by Mrs. Frank Shuflin. In the scrapbook she clipped an article about a “moving picture”being filmed in the Jupiter area in 1923 starring Dorothy Dalton, a major star of the silent film era. In the movie being filmed, they needed a tropical swamp for a scene. The article describes how they could not find a suitable location in West Palm Beach, so they headed up to Jupiter for filming. They filmed at the Pennock Plantation and the Lainhart orange grove west of Jupiter.

The article did not mention the title of the film, but did mention the director, Irvin Willat.

Fog Bound Movie Poster

A bit of Internet searching revealed that the film was entitled “Fog Bound.” The AMG movie guide provides the following synposis: “Pretty Dorothy Dalton co-stars with the handsome but not as stellar David Powell in this action-packed Paramountdrama. The wealthy but idle Roger Wainright (Powell) finds himself falling in love with Gale Brenon (Dalton), a modern, independent young lady who manages several Florida orange groves. While Wainright is enjoying himself at a local gambling resort, the place is raided by revenuers and Sheriff Holmes (Jack Richardson) is killed in the ensuing gun fight. Wainright escapes and Gale hides him, later helping him to escape into the swamp. But the dead man is her father, and when she discovers that Wainright is suspected of being the one who discharged the fatal shot, she leads the posse to him. At the last moment, her love for him causes her to weaken, but he turns himself in anyway. A friend, Mabel Van Buren, reveals that she witnessed the killing, and that it was another officer, Deputy Brown (former matinee idol),who did the dirty deed. Evidence backs her up, and Wainright and Gale are reunited.”

The Heart Raider Still

The Heart Raider Movie Still

Further searching in the Palm Beach Post provided two more movies made in 1923. A comedy called “The Heart Raider” starring Agnes Ayres, was shot in Palm Beach.  Time Magazine provides a short summary of the film: “Agnes Ayres proceeds through this picture as a society siren against whose heart of gold other hearts, of lesser, masculine metal, shatter themselves by scores. Then one day in walks a misogynist. On board his yacht heart-of-gold meets heart-of-iron.The cast is pleasantly supplied with Mahlon Hamilton as the misogynist and Charles Ruggles as supplementary clown. All in all the results justify two hours expended in their inspection.”

The third film to shoot that spring was “The Exciters” starring Bebe Daniels. This comedy’s plot is as follows, from Moviefone “The Exciters is the old one about a footloose heiress who must marry by the age of 21 or forfeit her fortune. The girl (Bebe Daniels), an

The Exciters Lobby Card

inveterate thrill-seeker, chooses as her mate a handsome gangster (Antonio Moreno). Lots of thrills and laughs occur as a result of this shaky union. The gangster eventually reveals that he’s an undercover cop, and the girl finally agrees to curb her craving for excitement. Veteran scenarists Sonya Levienand John Colton adapted The Exciters from a novel by Martin Brown.” Bebe Daniels returned in 1926 to film “The Palm Beach Girl”, where many locals served as extras at a train station scene in the movie. Another scene with a train was shot in Jupiter, where a train rammed a prop car.

I wish I could provide clips from these films, but only The Heart Raider exists in a private

The Palm Beach Girl Movie Poster

collection.  It is estimated that 60-80% of the silent movies filmed are no longer in existence (http://www.silentera.com/lost/index.html). Films of this era were made with a type of material called cellulose nitrate, which was extremely flammable. Old black and white movie film also contained quite a bit of silver, so thousands of movies were destroyed for their silver content. This kind of film is no longer used; it was replaced by “safety film” which was still stamped on film and negatives well into the late twentieth century. The George Eastman House has a Czech copy of The Heart Raider in its collection, and it would be interesting to see the Palm Beach and West Palm Beach of 1923.  I don’t know if indeed these are the oldest movies ever made here, but they certainly are among the earliest.

Delray’s roots go about 4,000 miles – to Germany!

Every time I think that coincidence is just that, I discover something that somehow tells me I was meant to find it. I had noticed Germantown Road in Delray Beach off of Congress Avenue and wondered how it was named. I searched through Google and found a posting on HistoricPalmBeach.com where the best guess was that the German immigrants in the town of Delray had their farms and small cottages away from their houses in town. That made sense to me as I know that is a common practice in Germany to build a tiny cottage, maybe 12 x 12 feet, near your plot of land. It is used as a summer cottage for weekends and to store tools.

Germans in Delray? I thought this would be a neat research project. My friend Janet DeVries, archivist at the Boynton Beach City Library, mentioned a book called “Letters from Linton” written by Charles

Adolf, Anna and their children

Hofman. The book tells the story of Adolf Hofman, his wife Anna and their children through letters that Adolf and Anna sent home to relatives in Germany. I bought the book and figured it would help me find out more about the German immigrants in Delray Beach. What I would find was truly amazing. When I learned there were German farmers in Delray Beach, I had thought they probably would be from southwestern Germany; there the people are called the “Schwaben,” or Swabian in English. They have a reputation as a hard-working, frugal people who love their land and dream of building a house.

As I started reading the book, sure enough, Adolf Hofman was from Mönchhof, about 30 miles northeast of Stuttgart, which is the capital of the southwestern German states called Baden-Württemburg, which is where the Swabian people live. The book then tells of his wife’s family history, and gave her maiden name and village – Anna Maria Dreher from the village of Erpfingen. Dreher? Could it be that she was related to Paul Dreher, the one-time West Palm Beach parks director and founder of Dreher Park Zoo? Indeed, it was true; Paul Dreher was Anna’s nephew. As I blogged last June, my uncle in Germany is friends with a descendant of the Dreher family and he lives in Erpfingen, the village where Anna was born. He was here about 17 years ago to visit his Uncle Paul Dreher. So with all of the millions of German immigrants that came to America, I manage to have a direct connection to the ones here locally!

The book is an excellent read and conveys how hard life was in early South Florida. Hofman arrived in New York in 1895 and first went to a family member’s farm in Illinois, but he had heard of the bounty of South Florida. He had been trained in agriculture in Germany, and had apprenticed at several large estates there. He took the train as far south as West Palm Beach, where he met with William Linton and several others pioneers. They took a boat down Lake Worth, then a barge down the narrow Florida East Coast Canal. Hofman bought his first five acres from Linton. He lived in a tent while he built a small cabin. He then sent for his wife and baby daughter Annie. After sailing across the Atlantic, they took the train to Delray (then called the Town of Linton). Hofman subsequently built a fine two-story house for his growing family. He bought more land so that soon he had 60 acres that stretched from the canal to Swinton Avenue. On the western part of the property he grew pineapples and on the eastern part fruits and vegetables such as mangos, oranges, bananas, tomatoes, beans and potatoes. He continued to buy land east of the canal on the barrier island to grow more vegetables. As the land boom of the 1920s hit, he began to subdivide the land.

In the mean time, two more children had joined the family, a daughter Clara and son William. The letters included in the book describe the difficulties in living in South Florida in the 1910s – mosquitos so thick you had to brush them off before entering someone’s home, rattlesnakes in the scrub palmetto,

Adolf and friends in his pineapple field

and disease such as malaria, yellow fever and typhoid. Through their farming they always had plenty to eat, but profits were at the whim of the weather and the high freight charges of the Florida East Coast Railroad. Hofman also made other contributions to the community such as being a founding officer of Delray’s first bank. As years went on, Hofman sold his land on both sides of the canal. Many of the Royal palm trees he planted are still to be found on Seabreeze Avenue on the east side of the Intracoastal Waterway.

The book does not touch on this subject, but I am sure Adolf and Anna did not have it easy during the two World Wars, being naturalized citizens from Germany. I am so pleased that their grandson took the time to put the book together from all the letters sent back to Germany. The oldest daughter Annie stayed with her parents until each passed away; Anna in 1945 and Adolf in 1953. Annie stayed in the family homestead until 1965, when it was sold; unfortunately it burned the same year. What a treasure that house would be today. Today all of Adolf’s and Anna’s lands have houses or businesses on them. I went by there and did notice some large mango trees lining the back of the lot where their house once stood; I can only hope they are from the seeds of some of his trees. The pioneering spirit of America’s immigrants is what shaped so many communities, even right here in our backyard.

The book “Letters from Linton” is published by the Delray Beach Historical Society and can be purchased at several local bookstores and the Historical Society of Delray Beach, or online at Amazon.com.

Pineapple Beach County? It could have happened…

Palm Beach. No other county name probably brings to mind wealth, the tropics and Florida. When Palm Beach County was a part of Dade County before 1909, Pineapplefarming was the way that most of the early homesteaders and pioneers made their living. Traditional crops such as tomatoes, beans, and potatoes were grown, but the unique sub-tropical climate of South Florida allowed more tropical and exotic fruits to be grown. And the king of all those early crops was the pineapple. Most people probably do not know that Palm Beach County was once the largest pineapple growing area in the continental United States (at that time Hawaii was still a territory). Pineapple growing in Florida goes back to 1860, when Benjamin Baker planted the first pineapples in the Florida Keys at Plantation Key from plants he had brought in from Cuba. By 1876, pineapple farming was spreading and Jensen Beach became the pineapple capital of South Florida. Captain T.E. Richards started his plantation on Eden Island, roughly where Sewell’s Point is today. He had moved his plantation further inland, away from the coastal barrier islands as the bears along the beach enjoyed his pineapples too.

In the 1890s, pineapple fever spread to Palm Beach County, with many pioneers planting “pines” as they were called by the farmers. They purchased pineapplie “slips” or “suckers” for about 10 cents each, which were small pineapple plants from the base of the fruit (slip) or the base of the plant (sucker). Fresh pineapples demanded a high price in northern markets; one article mentioned that fresh pineapples were selling for $1.00, the equivalent of about $20.00 today. All of the land south of the center of West Palm Beach along the high ridge was planted with pineapples, going well south into the Boca Raton area. The only crop in the town of Yamato, which was located north of the present day Boca Raton, was pineapples. The small colony of immigrant

Pineapple newspaper ad

Ad from The Tropical Sun, 1899

Japanese, led by Jo Sakai, planted hundreds of acres of pineapple. John Clarke, who gave his name to Lake Clarke Shores, also had a pineapple plantation and packing house near where Parker Avenue is today. At the peak in 1909, 5,000 acres were planted in pineapples, yielding over 44 million pounds of fruit. Most of the fruit was shipped out fresh; some was canned in Mangonia or Delray Beach. Given that Palm Beach County was named in 1909, I wonder if some did not consider the name “Pineapple Beach County.” Good thing they didn’t, because the end was near for pineapple farming in South Florida. It was the perfect storm – plant disease, freezes and cheap imports.

The mid 1890s saw many devastasting freezes that wiped out central Florida pineapple plantations. In Palm Beach county, many farmers had been noticing that their plants were yellowing and dying; they called it the “pineapple blight.” The Yamato Colony lost their entire 1909 crop to the disease, caused by mealy bugs and nematodes. By 1912, Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad had reached Key West, allowing for the importation of cheap pineapples from Cuba that could be carried north via rail, unlike Florida pineapples which were shipped north via schooner. Prices plummeted as local farmers could not compete with the cheap Cuban imports.

So what to do with the land? Rather than find replacement crops, many owners decided to plat and subdivide the lands, so that neighborhoods such as Flamingo Park were founded in West Palm Beach. Many of the Japanese immigrants in Yamato returned to Japan, but George Morikami and a few others stayed and farmed winter vegetables. Their land was seized by the federal government in May 1942 during World War II and the 6,000 acres became the Army Air Corps Training Base. After the


George Morikami at Yamato

war, Morikani bought land west of Delray Beach, which today is The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens.

By the 1920s, fewer than 200 acres were in pineapple production in Florida. A few farmers continued on, including Oscar Winchester, who had his plantation on Military Trail in Boynton Beach, just south of where


Giant Florida Pineapple

Le Chalet Boulevard is today. His 80 acres of pineapples was the largest plantation in the continental United States in 1941. He had learned the technique of forcing the pineapple to flower so that his crop was ready at Christmas, instead of the normal June-August season. His place was called “Flatwoods Plantation” and grew many varieties of pineapples that are no longer available commercially such as Abakka, Natal Queen, and Pernambuco (which is supposed to be the most delicious of all pineapple varieties). These old varieties have saw-tooth leaves that are truly spiky.

In 1962, it looked as if pineapple farming might make a comeback in South Florida. With the Cuban trade embargo, no fresh pineapple was available; all the Hawaiian pineapple was canned as it was too far and expensive to ship as fresh fruit. A 1962 article in the Palm Beach Post mentioned P.K. Platts. who had a 10 acre farm near Fort Pierce. Morikami also continued to grow pineapples west of Delray, and William Brooker had a pineapple stand into the 1970s in Jupiter. Brooker’s stand was located on Indiantown Road, just west of Sims Creek. I can still remember stopping there with my father to buy pineapples. They were small compared to store bought ones, but much sweeter as they were plant ripened. He farmed his plantation until shortly before his death in 1975 at age 93. I don’t know when the Flatwoods Plantation ceased farming, but surprisingly much of the land is still empty along Old Military Trail in that area.

So does anyone grow pineapple today commercially in Florida? No. I looked at U.S. Department of Agriculture records for Florida – no pineapples are grown. But nothing prevents you from starting your own mini-plantation. I have grown pineapples for years, and there is nothing better than a deep orange, plant-ripened

packing house

Packing pineapples for shipment north

pineapple. Next time you buy a fresh pineapple (probably the Smooth Cayenne variety), carefully twist off the green top. Remove some of the small leaves from the base, and underneath you will see some small roots already forming. You can root it in some water, or just place the top in a pot or in your yard. They have a very shallow root structure, so they do well in a pot. They love sun, but not too much water. After about 18 months, in January or February, your pineapple will bloom. The center of the plant will turn red, and small purple flowers will emerge to become the pineapple fruit. As the fruit is forming, a new plant will emerge from the ground. You can plant this “slip” or let it stay on the mother plant to bear again. The pineapple should be ripe in July or August; the aroma from a ripe pineapple is like nothing else. Then you can experience an old part of Florida’s agriculture history, one sweet slice at a time.

This article was researched through the historical archives of the Palm Beach Post and the Tropical Sun, the Lake Clarke Shores Town website, and the Morikami Museum website. Special thanks to Robin Potvin, archivist for the Town of Jupiter, for information on William Brooker.

They Shoot Turkeys, Don’t They?

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

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

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

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

Mother Lucretia Hannong

Mother Lucretia Hannong at 99

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

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

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

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

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


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 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.

Need a job? Look to the Madisons for inspiration.

I recently had the great pleasure to present some of my research at the Boynton Beach Historical Society’s monthly meeting. At that meeting, I mentioned an article I had found in the Palm Beach Post archives while looking for articles on the orange groves that once surrounded Lawrence Road in Boynton Beach. The article I found told the story of Warner Alexander Madison and his wife Juanita. It’s the type of story that reminds us how much things have changed, and yet that hard work transcends time and can get you through anything.

W.A. Madison and Juanita

The Madisons in 1939

The Madisons came to Florida in 1937 from Des Moines, Iowa, hoping to help Mr. Madison’s health. Mr. Madison was born in 1882 in New York. In 1916, he had contracted polio (or what at that time was called “infantile paralysis”) and was confined to a wheelchair. Land records indicate that the Madisons bought 18.6 acres from the Lake Worth Drainage District, right where Military Trail curves in Boynton Beach, in the vicinity of where Le Chalet Boulevard is today. In the first article published April 23, 1939, their story of purchasing the land and living for three months in their car was told.  They cleared the land and built a house with the help of the local Salvation Army. A contractor from Lake Worth even mined some rock from the property, creating a swimming pool for Mr. Madison to help his paralysis. Mr. Madison was a Mason, so the local chapter helped him build his house. The article does not give Mr. Madison’s exact age, except that he was past fifty. His wife Juanita had been a dancer and actress on the Keith vaudeville circuit.

Mr. Madison was a trained chemist, so he used his skills to create perfumes from the flowers that grew nearby at the Sun-up Grove, owned by Mabel Maull. Mrs. Maull sold the perfumes in her gift shop, and the Madisons finally had some steady income. They planted many acres of roses, planted vegetables which they canned, prepared datil peppers in vinegar for hot sauce, and raised chickens. One of the audience members at the historical society meeting remembered the couple and mentioned that the land became a little tourist attraction called “Madison Jungle Garden.” This gave me another clue to search on the Palm Beach Post archives. I found two more articles on the Madisons, and how they had indeed expanded and become one of those wonderful old Florida roadside attractions which have vanished from our landscape.

Jungle Garden

Madison’s Jungle Garden in 1953

In the February 11, 1940 article, it is mentioned that Mr. Madison wheeled himself out to their flagpole to fly the flag everyday. It had been a hard year, with a freeze claiming much of their flowers, vegetable crops and datil pepper plants. In the article published November 28, 1941, the Madisons tell of their attraction, how they had blazed a trail to the dense jungle that was in the middle of the property and how they set up picnic tables and a souvenir stand.  They even featured an old still that had been destroyed during Prohibition, still displaying ax marks . Mr. Madison made his perfumes, and Mrs. Madison handcrafted novelties from shells, pine cones,  palmetto fiber and fronds. She made dolls, hats, wall hangings and brushes from materials on the property. She made hundreds of visors from palmetto fronds and from the proceeds they were able to buy a small refrigerator.

To add to the feeling of their jungle, they added some animals such as a bobcat, monkeys, snakes and pheasants. To give the illusion of parrots perched in the trees, Mr. Madison carved the birds from wood and painted them in bright colors.

At some point between 1941 and 1953, Military Trail was rerouted to eliminate the awkward westward curve. This meant that Military would cut through the north end of the property.

The aerial photo above from 1953 shows that, but it looks like the attraction was still active at that time. I did not find any other articles about the Madisons, so in my next visit to the courthouse I’ll have to see when they sold the land. Today the land  is the Grande Palms development and parts of Gateway Palms.

Gateway Gardens Development

I am sure that everyday was hard for the Madisons. Being disabled, coming out of the Great Depression and moving to a strange and wild land were all obstacles that the Madisons overcame with hard work and creativity. I will see if I can find out what eventually happened to the Madisons and their little slice of Florida heaven.

UPDATE: Through FamilySearch, I found a 1945 Florida Census record for Lantana, Florida that listed a Juanita Madison, age 53, born in 1892. Mr. Madison had passed away in 1944. I also found an obituary in the Palm Beach Post archives for a Juanita Madison Ring, who died in 1961 at age 69 in Lantana. That would agree with the 1945 Census for her age. I think it is her because the listing said that a Christian Science reader would be presiding at the funeral. In the 1939 article about the Madisons, it is mentioned that Mr. Madison had regained the use of his arms from a Christian Science healer.