Amid the Rubble, The Hermitage is Found

In the ten years since Byrd Spilman Dewey ( was rediscovered as an important author and journalist in early South Florida, I have made it a quest to find the exact locations of all of her homes in Palm Beach County. There was the grand estate Ben Trovato, where the Rapallo now stands;  the Boynton Beach Ben Trovato, at the southwest corner of Boynton Beach Boulevard and Federal Highway;a bungalow in West Palm Beach on Hibiscus Street; and the Palm Beach Ben Trovato, on Seabreeze Avenue in Poinciana Park in Palm Beach.

Byrd Spilman Dewey and Fred S. Dewey, 1885

One, however, had not revealed its location. The Dewey’s first homestead in Palm Beach County was a 76 acre tract (lots 3 and 4) which stretched from what is today 25th Street to 36th Street in West Palm Beach, about one mile inland from the Intracoastal Waterway. 

What I did not know is where they built their home on the 76 acres. I did have a clue, from Mrs. Dewey’s book From Pine Woods to Palm Groves. She described the spot where they built their home:

There was a wooded hill overlooking a Lake which bordered our Western shores; on the further side of this Lake, we had a fine view of the cypress trees which guard the entrance to the famous Everglades. By climbing a tree on the wooded hill we also had a fine view of the Atlantic Ocean, with its passing sails and smoke-stacks. After exploring the seventy six acres of our homestead, this hill was chosen as the best building site. Here the sleeping and cooking tents were pitched; and a chicken park was staked off and fenced with woven-wire netting before our own dwelling was begun.

The question was where was this hill? I knew there were hilly areas on that tract; in fact some of the highest points in Palm Beach County are located on the sand ridge that acts like a spine along the entire east coast of the county. I could only guess as to which of the many hills they could have built on. Mrs. Dewey called the house The Hermitage, because it was so isolated; her and husband Fred were essentially hermits!

Location of the Dewey Homestead Lots, 1887

Mrs. Dewey wrote: “It would hardly be stretching the truth to say, of this woodland home that it was ‘two miles from nowhere.’ To reach the sparse settlement we had to walk a mile, or more, through the winding woods path to the shore of the Sound. “

The homestead file listed The Hermitage as being 25 feet by 20 feet (500 square feet) a modest home by any means. She described it this way:

Homestead Patent. Fred S. Dewey


Our little home consisted of four rooms below; a living-room and a bed-room in front connected by a large archway, and back of these were the dining-room and the kitchen. There was an attic above the two front rooms where we stored various odds and ends; -—the piles of papers and magazines that are always with us; also, spare sails; and other boat-tackle, dry herbs some of which we had already discovered growing wild in the woods, and the low places near the water; seeds and so forth. The little attic served another most important purpose—we found that, as the summer waxed warm and yet warmer, our attic, with its open window, drew up the heated air and kept the lower rooms always pleasantly cool, even when there was a fire in the kitchen stove.

The Deweys lived at The Hermitage from 1887 until 1890. They cultivated about two acres of land in pineapples, guava, avocados, and had a hen house for eggs. They later bought five acres of land along the shores of Lake Worth, about one mile south of Okeechobee Road (where the Rapallo condominium stands today on Flagler Drive). Here is where they built the grand house named Ben Trovato.

They had bought The Hermitage land for $95; the rate for government land was $1.25 per acre if you didn’t want to wait five years to get it for free. In 1892, the Deweys sold The Hermitage and the land to James B. Clow, a wealthy Chicagoan who was in the plumbing fixture and fire hydrant business.

James B. Clow

Another well off Chicagoan, George B. Swift, bought a large tract of land adjacent to the Dewey land (Swift had served as mayor of Chicago). Swift had a large winter home in Palm Beach. These tracts of land became the basis of the Chicago Pineapple Company, run by the sons of Clow and Swift.

George B. Swift

Eventually, due to pests, drought, and competition from Cuban pineapples, the Florida pineapple industry went bust. The West Palm Beach land tracts of the Clows and Swifts changed hands over the years until it became a part of the vast 1925 Northwood Development, being a part of plat 7. It was subdivided as an industrial area with a train spur from the Seaboard Coast Line Railway. 

Recently I found a video on Youtube ( that was an overlay of an 1883 map and modern aerial photography that gave the viewer a unique perspective on how much our shoreline and inlets have changed over the last 140 years. The 1883 map was a United State Coast and Geodetic map of the area between Jupiter Inlet and the foot of Lake Worth (the body of water) in Boynton Beach. I wanted my own digital copy of this map, so I started searching the Internet. And it was here that my answer was found as to where The Hermitage stood. 

I found the 1911 annual report of the Coast and Geodetic Survey. The book has an appendix that gives great detail on the Florida east coast. In the days before GPS, satellites and aerial photography, geographers and cartographers could still draw very accurate maps and measure distances using the science of triangulation and mathematics of trigonometry. 

Along the entire east coast of Florida, principal and supplementary “points” were designated. These points were typically physical landmarks such as hills, Indian mounds, lighthouses, hotels or even private homes (given that there were so few along the east coast). When a point was designated, it was marked with a large stone, a coquina pillar, or an oak piling. Below that the surveyor would bury a glass bottle with a stopper and copper nail, and two 30 inch terra cotta pipes filled with concrete. Marks were also carved into nearby pine trees or cabbage palms. 

I found this fascinating and began to wonder how many of these markers still exist, buried, or had been discovered and discarded as junk. Each of the points was also designated with its coordinates as measured by latitude and longitude in the survey book, which means these exact points can be found today. Some of them along the Indian River had unusual names like “Two Dollar Bluff.” “Hole in the Wall” and “Eggs.”

Then I came to a point called “Worth”:

My eyes lit up – CLOW, and SWIFT! I knew this was the hill I had been looking for as the site of The Hermitage. I am guessing that The Hermitage itself became the house of Hager Kelley. So from the table listed in the survey book, I had the exact latitude and longitude of the location of the survey point called Worth – it was between 26th and 27th street in West Palm Beach, now an empty lot in an industrial park. When the land was developed, this high hill must have been bulldozed flat. It had existed as a survey landmark since 1883, as it could be seen from the Intracoastal.

Aerial view of the location of The Hermitage

Of course, an industrial park is not much to look at. Many old quonset hut buildings among a collection of businesses. Nobody knew this history as it was buried in an old 1911 survey book and Mrs. Dewey’s book From Pine Woods to Palm Groves. But it had been a beautiful, unspoiled forest of sand pines, slash pines, and Florida wilderness at its best.

Mrs. Dewey wrote:

The Hermitage had been so completely our home—so really our own creation, evolved from wildest nature, that it was harder to give up than was any other we had ever left. We had found it an unbroken forest, tied together with wild vines and undergrowth and we had made it a home blest with a charm of real comfort and beauty.

I took down the white draperies from the windows; and rolled up the crimson rugs with feelings of regret tempered by the hope that events might so shape themselves as to let us return some day. We had already packed the books, Julius and I together, in boxes of convenient size for handling. I took down the pictures, and packed the bits of statuary—souvenirs, brought from our city home. Thinking today, of this dismantling, brings the inviting living-room of The Hermitage vividly to mind. Its fluffy white window-draperies; the artistic bits; touches of crimson; shelves of books and the tall jars of branches and wild grasses.

The site of The Hermitage as it appears today.

And so as the piece of land now stands strewn with concrete rubble, its history now known. Its natural beauty is perhaps lost to a man-made landscape, but imagination allows us to make it all real again.


You can buy Byrd Spilman Dewey’s book From Pine Woods to Palm Groves  – from Amazon

All of Mrs. Dewey’s works are available in the volume – The Collected Works of Byrd Spilman Dewey – from Amazon –

Boca Raton’s Forgotten Pioneer John Henry Moore

My last blog (click here) chronicled the newly discovered photographs of the Lofthus wreck and how Thomas Moore Rickards removed and transported much of the wood from the shipwreck. But who was the photographer of the revealing photographs?

John Henry Moore was born in 1860 in Macoupin County, Illinois, near Springfield. What brought him to Florida in the late 1800s is probably what brought many settlers – a sense of adventure and the possibility of earning decent money by selling pineapples in the summer and tomatoes in the winter in northern markets. 

When I found the photographs in the Broward County Library with the mention of Rickards, I made an assumption that Moore’s homestead must have been in the Boca Raton area. What specifically brought him to Boca Raton is unknown. I found a reference to him in the Spanish River Papers, a newsletter of the Boca Raton Historical Society; it mentioned Mr. Moore was raising two acres of pineapples. A map reproduced in the newsletter had a plot of land marked as “Rickards, Lewis & Moore.”

I went to the Palm Beach County Courthouse to find the exact plot of land that Mr. Moore owned. According to the county land records, in 1899 Mr. Moore purchased a lot in Rickard’s subdivision that went from what is today NE 5th Avenue to the Intracoastal Waterway that totaled 13 acres, He paid 200 dollars, equivalent to $6,000 in 2021 dollars. 

Boca Raton as a settlement was on the latter end of the pioneer area. Henry Flagler’s Model Land Company owned much of the land in the Boca Raton area, granted from the state of Florida for the building of the Florida East Coast (FEC) railway.  Thousands of acres were ready for settlement along the railroad and coastal canal, which came to be known as the Intracoastal Waterway. 

To help get the land in the hands of farmers, Flagler’s Model Land Company executive James E. Ingraham hired Thomas Moore Rickards, a surveyor and civil engineer who had much Florida experience, having arrived in the 1870s. Rickards surveyed the land and divided it into farming plots of various acreages, and planted a large orange grove for the FEC. Rickards also helped promote the fledging community of Yamato, an experimental colony of Japanese farmers north of the Boca Raton settlement. 

Boca Raton’s main crop area in the pioneer era was pineapples. The sugar sand soil along the coastal ridge wouldn’t support much more than citrus and pineapples.  African American settlers grew pineapples in the Pearl settlement near today’s Glades Road; other pineapple farmers were to the south between the FEC railroad tracks and the Intracoastal Waterway. 


John Henry Moore stands next to Thomas M. Rickards, who is on the right end with pith helmet. The other men are unidentified.

As pioneers settled their land, they typically built a temporary house of materials from the Florida landscape – a pine frame covered with palmetto fronds. Moore was no different. He is seen standing in the photograph, fourth from the left, with Rickards on the end with pith helmet.  Notice the sandy soil and a burlap bag nearby, which may have held sweet potatoes for planting. The tall slash pines had a ground cover of brush and saw palmetto, which had to be grubbed out to plant pineapples or other crops. Saw palmetto are anchored to the ground with tough thick roots that break tools and backs, resisting removal.

In a later photograph, Moore sits on the steps of his home, a typical wood frame house of the day. Nearby we see some wire fencing, and a fish trap sits propped up against the house foundation. The east end of Moore’s land fronted the Intracoastal Waterway, so a fish trap was handy. The other man is unidentified, but could be Moore’s brother. The unusual square openings on the side of the house are worth noting. It looks like there was a mechanism so that the small shutter could be closed from inside the house. 

John Henry Moore’s house in Boca Raton. He is sitting on the steps with pipe with scrub jays in hand. A wooden tramway may be where today’s NE 5th avenue runs in Boca Raton.

A few of the photos feature Moore feeding birds from his hand. They are most certainly scrub jays, which inhabit the Florida scrub and are easily tamed. These birds have lost much of their habitat in South Florida, and are now a vulnerable species, limited to large state parks and preserves. 

John Henry Moore with tame scrub jays.

Moore also photographed the lovely view across the waterway to Rickard’s home Poc la Mar. The photographic collection is missing two photos from the original donation, one being Rickard’s home. There is a good look at Rickard’s boathouse, and what appear to be beehive boxes.

It is doubtful that Moore was successful with his pineapple plantation. Although initial crops were profitable, farmers realized that pineapple growing was hard work. A combination of factors doomed the golden dream of pineapples – high freight prices from the FEC, combined with plant disease and drought cut into profits. Once the railroad went through to Key West in 1912, cheap Cuban pineapples flooded the market. Pineapple growers were finished. After a 1903 hurricane ruined his groves, Rickards bailed out of Boca Raton and moved to North Carolina. Moore sold his land in 1915 to George J. Cranston for $400. Maybe he thought he got a good price – he doubled his money, but it took 16 years. 

Thomas Moore Rickard’s boathouse.

I began my search to see exactly where Moore’s land was, and what was there today. Using Rickard’s subdivision plat map and a modern section township range map, I pinpointed the spot. To my surprise and joy, it wasn’t all paved over with houses or condos. Much of Mr. Moore’s land is the south end of Lake Wyman Park along NE 5th avenue in Boca Raton. This roadway appears on Rickard’s map as a trail, and could be the wooden rail tramway seen in the photograph of Moore’s house. The southern half of his land had a canal dug as part of the Golden Harbour subdivision platted in the early 1960s. 

Thomas Moore Rickard’s Map of Boca Raton, 1900. Moore’s lot was A-5, which stretched to the coast line canal.

I went to Lake Wyman Park on a Sunday morning to imagine what it must have been like – towering Dade County pines still exist on the property, the slow-growing pine that produces wood harder than maple. Some of these trees may even have existed when Moore was there. People passed me in the park, walking their dogs or conversing. I felt as if I had a secret that no one knew as I walked there expecting to see Moore at any moment. 

Pine Tree and Palmettos in Lake Wyman Park.

A conservative estimate of what those 13 acres would be worth today is 15 to 20 million dollars. Mr. Moore didn’t find the gold that was there – the gold wasn’t in pineapples, the gold was in the land. But his lifespan would have never seen that fortune. He left Florida for good; I found him on the 1920 census living in Missouri, running a grocery store with his brother. By 1930, he was in Oregon living near family. He passed away in 1937. 

That the photos exist at all is due to the care of Moore’s great niece Cecilie Wilton. In 1988 she wrote to the Broward County Library, wanting to donate the photographs – “I just couldn’t make myself destroy them…” she wrote in a letter accompanying the photographs.  

Little did Cecilie Wilton know that the photographs would be rediscovered 33 years later and piece together the story of the Lofthus shipwreck and of a Boca Raton pioneer who had been long forgotten. Her act of kindness gave the opportunity to find these treasures more than a century later, and allow their stories to be told.  




Special Thanks to:

Rochelle T. Pienn, Curator – Bienes Museum of the Modern Book, Broward County Library
Alexis Montero, Digital Initiatives Librarian, Broward County Library
Julian McNeill, Broward County Library
Susan Gillis, Curator, Boca Raton Historical Society
Janet Naughton, Librarian, Palm Beach State College

John Henry Moore photographs are courtesy of the Broward County Library

Hidden Shipwreck Photos discovered in Local Library Archives

February 4, 1898 was a stormy evening on the Florida east coast. A large ship, a three-masted barque, is sailing from Pensacola to Buenos Aires with a load of Southern pine. The captain had ventured too close to shore in the feisty storm and the ship hit the reef, just a few hundred yards offshore. The Lofthus, and her cargo of 930,000 feet of wood, was aground off Manalapan, Florida. 

These facts are not new. The Lofthus is a well-documented wreck on the National Register of Historic Places and the Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve. However, something was missing from its historical record – clear photographs of the wreck. Only one hazy photo seemed to appear in several online accounts. 

While researching what South Florida libraries had posted online, I came across the Broward County Library system’s digital archives. As I scanned the collection names, one looked intriguing – the John Henry Moore Collection. The thumbnail representative photo showed a group of workmen, and the photo seemed to be from the pioneer era.

I clicked on the link and entered the collection, described as 14 photos of Palm Beach County from pioneer John Henry Moore. I looked at the photos and one immediately grabbed my attention – it was labeled “Sail Boat with People.” I knew it had to be one of the wrecked ships near Boynton, but I didn’t know which one – could it be the Coquimbo…or the Lofthus? The high resolution scan left no doubt – there on the hull written in white letters – LOFTHUS.  


Ship Photo

The Lofthus name is seen on the hull of the ship.

I began to look at the other photos, and realized the photos had been misidentified. Far from being a “sail boat,” the Lofthus was a three-masted iron barque that was 222 feet in length, 37 feet in beam, and had a 23 foot depth hold. The ship was rated at 1,277 gross tons with two decks and a cemented bulkhead.  

As I looked at each photo, I realized the historic significance – finally, clear photographs of the Lofthus, which is one of the best remaining examples of an iron barque wreck. More than one story needed to be told – that of the Lofthus, and the new information that could be gleaned from photos and newspaper articles, and a more personal story of a forgotten pioneer, John Henry Moore. 

Part one of this blog will cover the Lofthus wreck and its newly discovered photos. Part two will tell the story of John Henry Moore and his role as an early pioneer in the settlement known as “Bocaratones” – today’s Boca Raton. 

Part One – The Wreck of the Lofthus

The Lofthus began her duties at sea under a different name. She was built in 1869 in London and christened as the Cashmere. She spent many decades plying the South Asian seas, even having false gun ports painted on her sides to warn Javanese pirates. She was sold to Norwegian interests, and the ship began hauling cargo throughout the Caribbean and South America as the Lofthus.

Her last voyage began January 21, 1898 in Pensacola, with Captain O. Andersen at the helm. She was loaded with Southern pine, destined for Buenos Aires. Sea captains would often ride the Gulf Stream north, then shoot out to sea and travel southwest towards South America. On the evening of February 4, the ship ran into a terrible storm. There were no lights along the largely uninhabited South Florida coastline; it was difficult for the captain to get his bearings. With 16 men aboard, several small boats from shore attempted to rescue the men, but it was too rough. The men made it ashore with their life preservers. 

Once word spread that a ship had wrecked offshore of modern-day Manalapan (then called Hypoluxo Beach), locals sent a telegram from Jupiter to Key West to inform shipping interests of the wreck.  Wrecks were common and a way to make good money from the cargo.  Some experts thought the ship could be refloated once unburdened from her heavy cargo. 

Shipwreck Photo

The Lofthus with her crew aboard wrecked at Manalapan

By February 9, her riggings (sails) were removed once experts doubted that the ship could be re-floated as she was stuck hard on the coquina rock reef. The ship’s dog and cat were rescued as well, and adopted by local families. The underwriters determined the ship and its contents would be auctioned on the beach. It was insured for $35,000.

Manalapan Cottage, built by Elnathan Field in 1894, was the only nearby building. In 1892 Field purchased the Hypoluxo beachfront and used the cottage as a boarding house and for selling beach lots.  One of the hotel guests served as auctioneer – Major Nathan S. Boynton, for whom Boynton Beach is named. Boynton purchased beachfront land further south to build his own hotel. Boynton auctioned off the ship’s provisions including canned goods, hard tack, barrel goods, cooking utensils and guns, and the ship’s remains and cargo.  W.M. Brown of Titusville, and L. C. Oliver of Miami paid $500 for the wreck and $550 for its 930,000 feet of wood. The wood’s estimated value was $30,000, so Brown and Oliver stood to make a nice profit. 

Removing the wood from the ship fell to L. T. Coody, who worked for Oliver. The right man for the job emerged with civil engineer and Boca Raton founder Thomas Moore Rickards. Rickards had been in Florida for decades and was settling Boca Raton for Henry Flagler. By the end of March, Rickards and his crew were unloading the ship. 

The April 7, 1898 Tropical Sun newspaper described how Rickards built a tramway and windlass to lift the wood over the steep beach ridge. Descriptions are no longer necessary. There among Mr. Moore’s photos was a photograph of the tramway and windlass, a winch-like device where a cart is drawn up the ridge. Rickards is seen in the photo by the tram loaded with wood, with a hat, white shirt and tie.  

Windlass Wood tram

Rickard’s wood tram and windlass on the beach to recover the wood cargo

As the tram cart was on top of the ridge, it used braking action to glide down to the lake side. The barrier island was narrow at that point. This too was captured in a photograph. Here we see the wood floating on the lake, what had been described as “Pontoon bridge and sail boat.” In fact the wood acted much like a barge, and could float itself. In the photo the schooner Dash served as the tow boat which took the wood north and south as needed; some was floated down to Delray while much of it was floated to West Palm Beach to load on trains bound for Miami. 

shipping wood on the lake

Wood being ready to float down Lake Worth to West Palm Beach and Delray

Many men worked on this large endeavor to remove the wood from the ship. In one of Moore’s photos, the workmen lined up for a photo in front of a young grove of coconut trees; both Moore and Rickards are in the photo. Many of the people are recognizable across multiple photos, such as the tall bearded man in overalls, who appears in the middle; he also appears in the photo with the wood floating on the lake. He fits the physical description of Charles A. Charter, who farmed hogs on nearby Hypoluxo Island. 

Workman on Manalapan

Men who worked to remove the wood cargo from the Lofthus. Rickards and Moore are seen in the photograph

According to the March 31 Tropical Sun, Rickards camped on Hypoluxo Beach. In this Moore photo, several men are seen at what looks like a hut and palmetto shack on the beach. This could be the hut in which Rickards stayed during the wood removal operation.  

Huts on beach

Moore is seen on the left sitting by a palmetto hut and wooden hut on the beach

Locals were startled on August 4 to see a United States Navy tugboat firing upon the hull of the Lofthus, probably for target practice as it headed south towards Cuba for the Spanish-American war. Several of the shells missed the target and flew into nearby coconut groves, splitting several trees. 

By September, the wood that was accessible had been removed from the ship but an estimated 300,000 feet remained in its hold. The Florida Star reported that ship inspectors decided to blow up the ship’s hull with dynamite to release the remaining wood. It worked, and the remaining wood floated out of the ship. The explosion scattered the wreck across the sea floor.

The Lofthus was not the only wreck to be seen at that spot. In 1897 another ship had wrecked in almost the exact same spot. On February 1, 1897, the wooden barque Oh Kim Soon wrecked on the beach. The captain thought he was 30 miles offshore, but the ship snagged the reef and was pounded for hours till it freed itself and beached, broken in two. Captain Lloyd Morton of Nova Scotia and  his wife were onboard; she was taken in by the Pierce family in Hypoluxo. Mr. Moore captured the scene of two wrecked ships – the Lofthus stuck on the reef, and the remnants of the Oh Kim Soon on the beach. 

Shipwrecks on beach

The Lofthus in the background and the Oh Kim Soon wreck in the foreground on the beach

Time dissolved the Oh Kim Soon’s wooden hull, but the Lofthus proved to be much more durable. It remains a popular dive spot with snorkelers and scuba divers, and some of the wreck is typically visible in the winter after storms. Local preservationists worked to have the wreck site placed on the National Register, which was achieved in 2004.  Access is gained by boat, or by walking about a mile north of the South Lake Worth Inlet (Boynton Inlet). 

Part II –  Boca Raton Pioneer John Henry Moore – Stay tuned for the post!

Special Thanks to:

Rochelle T. Pienn, Curator – Bienes Museum of the Modern Book, Broward County Library
Alexis Montero, Digital Initiatives Librarian, Broward County Library
Julian McNeill, Broward County Library
Susan Gillis, Curator, Boca Raton Historical Society
Janet Naughton, Librarian, Palm Beach State College

All photographs are courtesy of the Broward County Library

The Mystery of the Lonely Delray Beekeeper – UPDATE

UPDATE # 1 – March 23, 2018 – See below for new information on the Beekeeper saga.

UPDATE # 2 – April 4, 2018 – We have found Elsie!

UPDATE # 3 – June 1, 2019 – A new picture of George has been found. 

As I was searching in the database for references to “Boynton, Dade County,” I stumbled across a personal advertisement in the 1902 Baltimore Sun newspaper that intrigued me. The Town of Boynton was then a part of Dade County, until Palm Beach County emerged in 1909.  A humorous ad I thought, from a lonely German bachelor, keeping bees on his farm: “Wanted to get married – Bachelor, 33 years old (German) with farm and bee range. 1 ½ miles from Town; please state means and send letters, with photograph. Address G. Honess, Boynton, Dade County, Florida.”

Personal Ad from 1902 Baltimore Sun

I posted it on the Historic Boynton Beach Facebook page to get a few laughs, and people made comments such as “old-time online dating” and such; but some were curious – did our Mr. Honess find his “honey?” I was curious too, and started searching through Internet sources – and the story that emerged was far more interesting than I could have ever conjured up, relying on every obscure research source I had, and some knowledge that was particular to me. It made me think that Mr. Honess was somehow reaching out to have his story told.

First, did Mr. Honess find his bride? didn’t have any marriage records for him, but a database maintained from old Dade County marriages found the blessed event. In 1905, George Honess married Mrs. Anna Price of Hampstead, New York, in the Town of Delray. I began to wonder if George was one of the Linton/Delray Germans, a small colony that included people who were among Delray’s most important early pioneers – the Hofmans, Wueppers, and Zills. I searched for any stories on George Honess. There was but one, from the 1905 Miami Metropolis, under the “New Suits” column – “George Honess vs. Annie Price Honess, bill for divorce. George G. Currie, plaintiff’s attorney.” (The Daily Miami Metropolis, April 25, 1907, Page 1). Mr. Honess was back to being a lonely bee-keeping bachelor. All references seemed to place Honess in Delray rather than Boynton as his ad stated – I surmised that he didn’t want the Delray postmaster to see all the letters coming in from the ladies! That gossip would probably have spread through town rather fast.

Cover of American Bee Journal

With the newspaper archive disappointing, I turned to a general Internet search. This revealed that The American Bee Journal had featured Mr. Honess for his uniquely-built beehive, or bee apiary. There he was, on the front cover of The American Bee Journal, February, 11, 1904. He is pictured by the stately structure, sitting proudly with his long German pipe. He had two such structures three miles apart, each holding 75 bee colonies.  “Bee-keeping is not the only work I have to do. I am a truck-farmer, shipping pineapples and tomatoes, and have to cook for myself besides. That is what makes me think so often about the sisters who are interested in bee-keeping, and who make the future still sweeter.” This would indicate that Anna Price had already left George by this time.

George Honess and his Bee Apiary, 1904   

The unique bee apiary was also featured in a 1915 bee-keeping journal. The author had heard of Mr. Honess, and found the bee apiary in Delray, but Mr. Honess had been gone a few years: “No one seemed to know very much about the owner, except that his name was George Hoeness [Honess]. He owned a couple of town lots, and the bees there, and had been gone for two years.” The author, E.R. Root, was very interested on how he kept out ants by having each corner supported by a concrete piling with a tiny “moat.” (Gleanings in Bee Culture, Volume 43, page 286, April 1, 1915).

The unique design for keeping ants from the beehive.


Now that I had Honess’ first name, I started searching at I found his 1910 census entry, stating that he was living and working at the Boynton Hotel, Major Nathan S. Boynton’s beachfront estate. He listed his marital status as “widowed,” which was not accurate, and listed his Florida arrival date as 1896.  There were several Delray city directory entries for George, from 1916 through 1924.

The most revealing document found was a 1924 US passport application. The application listed his full name as John George Honess, and that he was born October 30, 1868 in Erpfingen, Germany – the connection to Delray now made sense to me. I knew of this tiny 1,200-year-old village in Germany, as it

House designed and built by George Honess. Courtesy of Charles Hofman.

was near where my grandmother lived in Germany.  Adolf Hofman, who was one of the pioneer Germans of Linton/Delray, had arrived in 1895 and sent for his wife Anna Dreher, who was also from Erpfingen; she arrived in 1896. In the book “Letters from Linton” by Charles Hofman, Anna’s diary stated that a “Mr. Hoenes” built the Hofman house in 1896. That would agree with him listing 1896 as his arrival date in Florida. The beautiful, stately two-story home that George built stood until 1965, when it was consumed by fire.

Another Erpfingen, Germany immigrant, Paul Dreher (Anna’s nephew) came in 1924 and became the City of West Palm Beach Parks Director, starting the Dreher Park Zoo. George’s passport application said he sailed for America December 15, 1893 from Le Havre, France. He had resided in Tennessee, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Florida. He became a naturalized citizen July 12, 1900 in Memphis, Tennessee.

I then searched his name using the German version, Johan Georg Höneß, and found his birth and baptism records on– born on October 30, baptized on All Saints Day, 1868, son of Michael Höneß and Regine Enzle. The name Höneß seems to be almost unique to the village of Erpfingen, according to present-day telephone directories.

After 1924, George does not appear in city directories or census entries on I suspected he had returned to Germany with his newly received passport, and decided to stay.

Excerpt from the State Department report

I started trying different spellings of George’s last name, and combinations of searching using John George Honess and John George Hoeness, and finally, found the document that revealed George’s true story. The Reports of Deaths of American Citizens Abroad, 1835-1974, are a series of declassified documents from the US State Department. On May 17, 1942, George had passed away in Gammertingen, Germany, while living with his brother, probably of cancer, according to the death certificate.  On the report, they listed a startling new detail – George had a daughter, and had been married before he emigrated to America. The extensive sets of files, numbering over 30 documents, were from 1942 and 1948.

The 1942 file had documents from the Swiss Foreign Office reporting his death to US officials in Bern, Switzerland– this was wartime Germany, and no official communication existed between Germany and the United States. They informed Elise Hoeness, George’s daughter, on October 9, 1942 that her father had passed away. Elise (or Elsie) Hoeness responded back, and asked the following in her letter “Now could you tell me, how I could go about finding out if he willed me

Letter from Elise Hoeness, 1942

anything. He once told me he would, then he told me he wouldn’t. He got mad at me at that time. I’m 50 years old, live with my mother she is 76 my father now 74 I believe. I have not seen him since I was 9 as he divorced my mother in Memphis, Tennessee. I’m the only child.” Elise was living in Houston, Texas, working as a waitress. She married Henry Dry in 1927, but the 1935 Houston city directory listed her with maiden name.

The State Department had to ask special permission from the Office of Censorship if they were permitted to give Elise details about her father’s estate. The permission was granted. They notified her on November 6, 1942 of the following:  “This dispatch stated, in pertinent part, that your father died leaving you a considerable fortune; also, no will has been found. Under German law, you appear to be his sole heir.” They cautioned her, however, that she could not pursue the estate during wartime: “…nothing can be done at the present to obtain the estate or to communicate with Germany concerning it. This is in conformity with the Government’s policy in enforcing the Trading with the Enemy Act.” Did George sell his Delray lands at a huge profit in the Florida Boom? A Palm Beach County courthouse trip will answer that question.

Using various other spellings, I found George and his family on the 1900 census living in Tennessee, with the mother listed as “Katie” and Elise listed as “Lizzie” – does this indicate her name might be Elisabeth?  George and his family were living on the estate of druggist Peter P. Van Vleet, where George worked as a coachman, and Katie as a servant. This is the only reference to George’s first wife – perhaps she was named Katherine. Other Internet searches didn’t provide any clues on her identity. The family emigrated from Germany in 1893, so Elise was a baby when they arrived in America. The census listed the couple as being married 10 years.

So what was the fortune that Elise inherited? To investigate this further, the probate courts in Houston and Germany will have to be consulted – online records can’t answer this question. Elise Hoeness falls from the and records after 1948. She just isn’t there. How much she actually inherited probably depends on what her father had – cash, or tangible properties, such as land or a house. If he held cash, in the old Reichsmarks, she probably didn’t inherit much. In 1948, Germany issued new money (Deutschmark) and the old Reichsmark could be exchanged for the new money, but at a fraction rate – 65 pfennig (pennies) for every 10 Reichsmark.

UPDATE # 1 –  Charles Hofman sent me the manifest from the S.S. LaBourgogne, the ship Anna Dreher and her daughter had sailed on to New York from Le Havre, France. And right above Anna was George Honess, wife Katherine, and daughter Elsie (Elise). Charles also told me that Anna Dreher’s cousin had sailed too – Phillip Bez and his wife Ursula, along with their two children. So this adventurous party of nine immigrants from tiny Erpfingen, Germany  listed their destination as Linton, Florida (what would become Delray). The Bez family became the Betz family. They bought land on the “muck lots” in Boynton, the fertile land along the Intracoastal Waterway, where son Frederick was born July 31, 1896. That makes Fred Betz the first child born in the village of Boynton! Previously it had been thought that Charles Pierce Jr. was the first Boynton child, but he was not born until October, 1896.

Excerpt from Ship Manifest

With the help of Janet Devries Naughton, we also found out more about George’s first wife. We learned her name from the ship’s manifest, Katherine. Janet found a marriage record for Katherine. After the divorce from George in 1900, Katherine married Louis Buchner, also from Germany. Somehow, that name sounded familiar to me.  I looked again at the 1900 census – and Louis Buchner worked as a gardener at the same Van Vleet estate as George and Katherine! So did Katherine and Louis start an affair, and did she leave George – or was she in an unhappy marriage? That question we cannot answer. Katherine’s maiden name was listed as “Sellers,” but I suspect it was Zellers, which would be a more common German name. Louis and Katherine had two sons, Louis Jr. and Otto. They eventually moved to Houston, where Katherine passed away at the age of 80 in 1946. Looking at obituaries, I have found the Buchner descendants, so I will be contacting them to find out what happened to Elise and the fortune.


UPDATE # 2 – I received a letter from one of the Buchner descendants, and now we know Elsie’s story. Sometime in the 1950s, she married a man named Sturdivant. Elsie lived to the advanced age of 97, passing away in 1989. According to the family member, Elsie was a clairvoyant! She was very sought after in the Houston area as a

Block 25 on Linton town plat

palm-reader and psychic. The relative did not know the extent of her holdings when she passed away, but that information should be in the Houston court records.

We also looked up land records from Delray. George Honess bought block 25 (5 acres)in the original Town of Linton plat on June 16, 1900. This block was in the “Orange and Lemon” section of the town plat. Today the block has houses and borders Lake Ida Road. He bought it for $100.00, sold it to Adolf Hofman, then bought back a few lots in the same block. This agrees with what the man in the beekeeping magazine had heard about George. So the money or holdings that George had in Germany when he died did not come from land sales in Delray – perhaps he himself had inherited money or property.

This wild, twisted tale all emerged from a simple personal ad in a 1902 newspaper. Stories can and do emerge from the smallest events, as if those from the past are reaching out not to be forgotten.

UPDATE # 3 – The Boynton Beach City Library is in the process of putting their photos online in cooperation with Florida International University. One of the photos, taken by well-known photographer Richard E. Resler,  features several of the townsfolk by the train station, including Charles Pierce, his wife Yallahs and son Chuck Pierce. The notes with the photo identified several people, including “Schrader, with the cane and his partner Honus.” And sure enough, it was George Hoeness with his boater hat!

George Hoeness in Boynton, 1904


Deliverance – West Palm Beach’s Post Office History

John C. Stowers

The postal service’s role in our everyday lives has changed so much that it is hard to imagine how important the postal service was to people years ago.

With email, digital publications, and online bill pay, we simply do not “get the mail” as we used to. But imagine a small community emerging from sugar sand and pine woods – fledging Westpalmbeach, as it was spelled then, a little sister to the grand resort of Palm Beach. The post office that emerged has seen its share of unusual characters serve as postmaster, sometimes with tragic results.

When John C. Stowers arrived on the scene, fresh from adventure mining for gold in the Black Hills of the Dakotas, he wanted to open a grocery store. The Maine-born man could see that the community needed a post office, so he applied for one on March 8, 1894 with the Post Office Department in Washington D.C. On April 17, 1894, Stowers was appointed postmaster of Westpalmbeach and opened the first post office in a tent at the corner of Clematis and Narcissus.  On his lots, Stowers planned to construct a wooden building with space for his post office and a grocery store on the first floor, and office space on the second; but the need for hotel space led him to instead build the Palms Hotel, with a space for the post office and other shops on the ground floor.

Post office within the Palms Hotel

On April 11, 1895, West Palm Beach had its first real post office building. West Palm Beach saw two tragic fires in 1896, and many blamed the town’s name as it had 13 letters; it was about this time that the name was officially changed to West Palmbeach, and finally, West Palm Beach on postal records. Stowers served 16 years as postmaster, and was succeeded by J. Paul Clarke on March 2, 1910.

Post Office, 1910

Clarke would achieve his fame not from postal work, but from his work with poisonous snakes, which he kept at the post office and in a museum adjacent to his house on Rosemary Street. More about that later.

The third postmaster was appointed November 29, 1913 and was a man all in the community knew – Guy Metcalf, who published the area’s first newspaper The Tropical Sun, put in the first road to Miami, and sold real estate through his Tropical Exchange Company. With Metcalf, the post office gained a new home. Metcalf’s father, Judge W.I. Metcalf, built an office building at 107-109 North Olive Street, and rented out space for the post office on the first floor.

Metcalf Building, 1915

The Metcalf Building still stands; it was remodeled twice as part of Hatch’s department store, then the first J.C. Penney in West Palm Beach in 1940,  and later  in 1950 it was remodeled again into a Burdine’s store. Metcalf’s tenure as postmaster was short; he was succeeded by J.D. Argyle. Guy Metcalf, who was elected the Palm Beach County Superintendent of Public Instruction, died tragically in 1918 when he committed suicide in his courthouse office over a disputed bill.

In 1920, West Palm Beach had its first woman postmaster in Miss Lena M. T. Clarke, Paul Clarke’s younger sister. She had served many years as assistant postmaster, and served a couple of stints as acting postmaster, and was finally appointed to the top spot. But after Paul Clarke died from a coral snake bite on Christmas Day, 1920 in his makeshift museum, Lena’s life began a downward spiral. A rumored affair with a married man left her scorned and looking for revenge – she found it when she shot her alleged former lover and fellow postal employee Fred Miltimore dead on August 1, 1921 in Orlando. Postal authorities immediately removed Lena from the postmaster position and she was replaced with C.W. Campbell. Lena Clarke was eventually found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity (see this blog for a more detailed account of the Clarke murder case).

As West Palm Beach prospered, the post office outgrew the Olive Street location. Larger quarters were built at Datura and Railroad Avenue (today’s Quadrille). The Post Office Arcade housed the post office and other businesses such as real estate offices. Being housed near the post office was a selling point in many real estate ads. With the new building came new postmaster George W. Smith. This post office served West Palm Beach through its “Land Boom” years in the 1920s.

Post Office Arcade Building

The 1928 Okeechobee hurricane and the 1929 Wall Street crash swept away all the big plans and big money from West Palm Beach. In 1934 O.B. Carr was named postmaster at the height of the Depression. It was about this time that West Palm Beach started lobbying the federal government to build a dedicated post office. Work began on the selected site at Olive Street and Fern in July 1936. The land chosen had a storied history, being a part of the original homestead declared by Irving R. Henry, who was the first to claim land in what would become West Palm Beach. John B. Beach eventually acquired the land. Beach, a nurseryman, raised tropical fruit trees for sale at his large nursery on the site. His widow, Annie Beach, presented the deed back to the federal government, 47 years after it had been deeded to Henry. The Beach house was demolished and rare plants and trees were moved to other locations in the city.

Officials laid the cornerstone made of Stone Mountain, Georgia granite on October 31, 1936 at a ceremony with dignitaries present. A sealed lead box with documents of the time was placed in the cornerstone. The Palm Beach Post wrote “Local historians of the future may open the post office cornerstone in years to come… .” Construction continued on the modern concrete and granite building, taken from a California design made to withstand earthquakes – and hurricanes. On May 1, 1937, the new building was ready for business. That building served West Palm Beach for many decades as both a service office and sorting facility.

Dedication Day

As the 1960s came to a close, once again the need for a new post office developed. Representative Paul G. Rogers was instrumental in seeking funding for a comprehensive federal building and post office for West Palm Beach. A new post office was constructed at 801 Clematis Street, just west of the new Federal Building, named the Paul G. Rogers Federal Building; that site now houses the Social Security Administration building. Finally, the current post office at 640 Clematis Street serves downtown West Palm Beach.

Olive Street Post Office

The 400 South Olive Street building stood abandoned for years until 1979, when it was demolished to make way for affordable housing for older citizens as the St. James Residence to adjoin the St. Andrew’s Residence. What became of the cornerstone and the lead box with the documents remains a mystery as no mention of the artifacts appeared in the newspaper. Either it went unnoticed by the demolition crew or was taken by a worker as a souvenir.

Through all these locations, the same services as over a century ago are provided – mailing packages, purchasing stamps, picking up the mail; but something has been lost from those early days of the post office. The anticipation of a letter from far away, a catalog with the newest fashions, or an eagerly awaited magazine with the latest gossip is now instantly available to us. The ghosts of those old post office buildings still haunt their original locations with excitement, or dread, and the hope of good news.

Post Office Demolition, 1979


Original Post Office application from the National Archives

The Palm Beach Post
The National Archives
The University of Florida
Historical Society of Palm Beach County
The Mandel Public Library, West Palm Beach
The United States Postal Service

For a complete list of West Palm Beach Postmasters please see this web page: Postmasters of West Palm Beach

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

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

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

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

New Road

New Road to be built

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

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

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

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

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

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

1940 Aerial Photograph

1940 Aerial Photograph

A Mystery from the Past is Revealed

In the great adventure that has been the story of Byrd Spilman Dewey and husband Fred S. Dewey, who filed the plat for the Town of Boynton in 1898, a few mysteries remained, nagging for an answer. We had found wonderful photographs of the grand house the Deweys built in West Palm Beach called Ben Trovato (meaning “well invented” in Italian), but we knew there was another Ben Trovato, and that home stood somewhere in the original Town of Boynton.

Ben Trovato, West Palm Beach, 1896

We didn’t know where the house was, nor how it looked. Not one person living in Boynton Beach today had any recollection of the house. We had few clues. When Judge Earl Hoover, a national historian, researched Mrs. Dewey in 1966, he had a letter from prominent Boyntonite Bertha Williams Chadwell, who had moved to Boynton in 1907 and was friends with the Deweys. Mrs. Chadwell wrote: “The Dewey home stood at the corner of Second Avenue [Boynton Beach Boulevard] and the Dixie Highway [Federal Highway]. It was a big two-story house facing east. It is no longer is in existence. It stood where the Cities Service Station now stands. The house was destroyed by fire later when owned by a succeeding owner, about 1920.”

That was our only clue as to the house’s location and its appearance. We combed through old pictures of Boynton from books, pamphlets, historical society newsletters, and other archival collections, but none seemed to match the location and the description.
In July 2014, a postcard with a lovely frame vernacular Boynton house owned by A.P. Lynch appeared on the eBay auction website.

A. P. Lynch House, 1915

We checked land records and noted that the Deweys had sold their seven-acre citrus grove to Mr. Lynch in 1912. The Lynch house was two-story, but located on the east side of Federal highway at the southeast corner of Ocean Avenue and Federal. We saw the Lynch house noted on the well-known 1910 “Boomer” map of Boynton, and a portion of the house is visible on an old snapshot from Cindy Lyman Jamison, showing the shell-rock Ocean Avenue with some motorcycles.

Ocean Avenue in Boynton looking East

In August 2014, we pulled all the lot sales records from the original Town of Boynton at the Palm Beach County Courthouse for information on the lot buyer’s names and lot locations. We found that in 1912, the Deweys sold lots 1 through 5 in Block 1 of the original Town of Boynton to Charles T. Harper, which according to Mrs. Chadwell, is where the Dewey house stood. This information would also coincide with the year Mr. Dewey reentered the Soldier’s hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee and the Deweys moved from Boynton. Harper and wife Cora Stickney Harper would have lived in the house until they moved to Fort Pierce in 1913 when Charles was transferred to the Florida East Coast Railway station as head agent. In 1923, Charles sold the five lots to the Austin family.

The 1924 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps shows no structures on lots 1 and 2, where the house had stood. It could be that the house had burned down by the time the map was drawn. This supports Mrs. Chadwell’s report of the house burning down in about 1920. Without further evidence we were left with only the probable location, and no idea what the house was like, other than it was two-story.

Then something very strange happened. Last week I was searching through the old Florida East Coast Homeseeker magazine, which was a sales tool for selling off Henry Flagler’s vast land holdings he had gained from the state of Florida for building the railroad. Several copies of this publication are scanned online in the HathiTrust archive; I like to scroll through the pages and clip old photographs of areas long since developed.

As I was looking through the Homeseeker late one evening, Janet DeVries texted me about the Dewey house – would we ever really know what it looked like – could it be the Lynch house after all? I answered back that I doubted we could ever know what it looked like. I continued to scroll through the Homeseeker issue, which featured the Everglades drainage project. Some interesting pictures of dredges and such, then a picture of a Delray house with a wooden cistern that looked like a scene from the 1960s television show Petticoat Junction.

Then I scrolled to the next page—and saw a rather imposing two-story house in the woods—and the words “Ben Travato” [sic] sprang out from the page…and Dewey…and Boynton. It was as if I was guided to that page, that one page among the millions of books scanned online and their billions of pages, the one page that had a picture of the Dewey house in Boynton, at the exact moment we wanted to solve that mystery.

The Dewey House Ben Trovato in Boynton, Florida

There it stood—in the wilderness of pine trees that was Boynton—the big two-story house, with a wonderful deck and unusual windows that is reminiscent of a Frank Lloyd Wright design. A shingled frame vernacular design with high ceilings and screened porches. There stood Fred and Byrd, she in her signature white dress with parasol, and Fred looking down from the deck with his familiar grey hat. The design was probably Byrd’s; from a 1936 letter: “I’ve built nearly a dozen cottages, and several big houses. My biggest ‘job’ is doing that sort of thing, as I’m my own architect, as well as landscaper, and it PAYS when we’ve needed nice sums in a hurry, and my husband was unable to work.”

The photograph is not sharp, having been scanned from the original lithographed magazine page. The photographer was listed as the “Florida Photographic Concern” and “Fort Pierce.” The company was based in Fort Pierce and run by Harry Hill, who was a beekeeper and avid photographer. Many of his glass negatives have been preserved by the St. Lucie County Regional History Center; we contacted them to see if an original photograph exists in their archives. Hill did much photography for Flagler’s businesses, so he was probably hired to photograph the Dewey house.

I will leave the reader to draw conclusions as to how this happened as it did. A parable written by Mrs. Dewey, “Who Seeks Finds,” certainly fits what occurred in the rediscovery of the Dewey house in Boynton. The joy and triumph of finally seeing that wonderful home in Boynton still lingers. If spirits do return…


The Palm Beach Post archive at revealed that the Dewey house burned May 16, 1916 in the early morning hours. No cause was given.

1916 Palm Beach Post article

When Curiosity Changes your Life

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

The Boynton Hotel

The Boynton Hotel

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

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

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

Byrd Spilman Dewey

Byrd Spilman Dewey

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

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

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

1893 Tea Party

1893Tea Party

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

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

The Dewey-Baldwin House in the 1950s

The Dewey-Baldwin House in the 1950s

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

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