About Janet DeVries Naughton

Janet DeVries Naughton is the past president of the Boynton Beach Historical Society and an academic librarian and history professor at Palm Beach State College. The intrepid historic researcher has contributed to and published over a dozen local history books. She has over two decades of experience in Florida libraries, museums and archives, and is available as a consultant for family history projects, books and personal archival collections.

Boynton’s Post Office History

Transportation advances opened South Florida to settlers in the 1890s. Before then, only the few pioneer families who took advantage of the 1862 Florida Homestead Act, indigenous tribe members, and African Americans were living in today’s Palm Beach County.

 

Those demographics changed with the advent of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway. Whistlestops and railroad stations popped up along the route. Before the tracks extended through to Boynton in 1896, mail was brought down the Florida East Coast Canal from the Hypoluxo post office located in Hannibal Pierce’s store at the end of the Porter’s Dock by early settlers F.S. Dewey, U.D. Hendrickson, M.B. Lyman, C.W. Pierce, and F.C. Voss.

 

Boynton’s first official United States post office opened in April 1896 in Lyman’s store on Ocean Avenue with William H. Cox as the first postmaster. Cox filed the Boynton Post Office paperwork on January 31, 1896. In his application he stated that the nearest post offices were Hypoluxo and Lantana (three and four miles north) and Linton (five miles due south). He noted the

1896 Boynton Post Office application by William H. Cox postmaster

Florida East Coast Canal ¼ mile east, and that the Boynton post office would be located 100 yards east of the new FEC railway station. The train stop was called Boynton after civil war major Nathan Boynton who had plans to build a resort hotel. At this time, mail chiefly consisted of letters, penny postcards, newspapers, magazines, catalogs, seeds, packages, home furnishings and even livestock delivered to the station. Post offices sold money orders, stamps, postcards, and envelopes. Since the Boynton settlers were cut off from most of the world and were hungry for news from their families and hometowns, mail delivery was important to rural life.

Several Boyntonites held the postmaster title over the next decade including H.B. Murray, J.P. Harper, and C.W. Pierce. Pierce, a former Star Mail Route (aka barefoot) carrier served in this capacity the longest. He was postmaster from 1901 to 1903 and notably from 1908 until his death in 1939 when his wife, assistant postmaster Ethel Sims Pierce assumed the position.

Boynton Post Office (left) built 1911, Ocean Avenue

In 1911, Charlie Pierce managed the first stand-alone post office on Ocean Avenue. The wooden structure, reportedly constructed with lumber from the 1909 Coquimbo shipwreck, served as a community focal point. Pierce curated the settlement’s first lending library with select titles sent down from the state library supplemented with titles from his own collection and books donated by Byrd Spilman Dewey as well as those left behind by Boynton Hotel guests.

The 1920s Florida land boom transformed the remote Boynton farming community into a bustling town. Developers purchased land and platted luxurious subdivisions like Boynton Hills and Lake Boynton Estates. A cut was made through the barrier islands connecting the inland canal with the Atlantic Ocean. The George Harvey company started work on the fashionable 12-story Hotel Cassandra on Ocean Avenue. By 1926 the tiny post office was overrun with customers purchasing money orders and sending and receiving items. Postmaster Pierce reported that receipts for the first quarter surpassed the second half of the previous year. The gigantic land bubble began to deflate in 1927 after two powerful hurricanes hit South Florida causing infrastructure damage and delaying shipments. Food and basic supply shipments took priority over construction materials.

Boynton Post Office, 1943.


In May 1928 a new post office opened next to the old wooden post office. Pierce’s official government report indicated that the new building was located 365 feet east of the Florida East Coast Railway. A deadly September 1928 hurricane slammed Palm Beach County damaging and destroying many Boynton buildings and claiming several thousand lives in western Palm Beach County. The grandiose building plans for Boynton halted. Skeletons of buildings and ghost developments haunted the once vibrant town. The Bank of Boynton closed its doors in 1929, and many people left town to avoid paying taxes and to pursue other opportunities.

The Town of Boynton incorporated as the City of Boynton Beach in 1941 with postmaster Ethel Pierce filing the post office name change. In 1946 receipts exceeded $10,000 making Boynton eligible for a new post office building.

The post office moved to the Puritin Building (also on Ocean) in 1949. Mail delivery began in 1956 after Mrs. Pierce convinced town officials to number all residences and businesses. Mail carriers rode bicycles or drove cars on their routes. Mrs. Pierce retired after this big change, with Richard Monahan succeeding her long tenure.

Boynton Post Office 1963

 

A modern, air-conditioned fire-proof post office at the corner of Seacrest and Boynton Beach Blvd. opened in 1963. The large new facility had automatic lights, improved mail processing capacity and 17 off-street parking spots for customers, with a separate parking lot for employees. It had vending machines for dispensing stamps and self-service post office box rentals. This post office has served as the downtown post office for six decades, and the familiar building still looks much the same as it did when it was new.

 

Postal employees moving packages, 1964

Girl mailing a letter at the Boynton Post Office 1963

 

Boynton Post Office Employee 1963

Boynton Post Office clerk 1963

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographs courtesy of the Boynton Beach City Library Local History Archives

Ward Miller’s Briny Breezes at Shore Acres: The Early Years

Wintering in Boynton

In November 1920, Mr. and Mrs. Ward B. Miller arrived to spend the winter in Boynton. Accompanying Miller and his wife Agnes was their daughter Ruth, son Howard and his new bride, Thomasine. The elder Millers looked forward to the mild climate, and time relaxing and socializing with other winter visitors. The younger set, who were in their early twenties, were excited about ocean bathing, bonfires on the beach, and motoring to Palm Beach and Miami to see the sights.

This season was Ward Miller’s second winter in Florida, and he rented a cottage at Ocean Avenue on the Dixie Highway for his family. He was certain he could convince Agnes that Boynton was an ideal place for their winter home. Born in Indiana, Miller had worked in the lumber business in Port Huron, Michigan, the city where Maj. Nathan S. Boynton served as mayor and newspaperman.

Plans are drawn for Mr. and Mrs. Ward B. Miller’s handsome new home on the ocean beach (30 Apr 1921).

Plans Drawn for “Briny Breezes”

Agnes must have found the moderate temperature and gulf stream breezes to her liking for a few months later The Palm Beach Post announced that the Ward Millers “have the plans drawn for a handsome new house to be erected on the ocean beach, on one of the lots he recently bought there. Work will be begun on the house almost at once. It will be built of cement with a stucco finish. The location is fine and although they will be somewhat removed from any neighboring residences at the present time, prospects are that a number of other homes will be erected within the near future.”

 

In mid-summer The Miami News reported that work had begun “on the fine home of Mr. and Mrs. Ward B. Miller on the ocean front…work is progressing nicely. Miller is building a magnificent home on his property there and will also install a large, modern dairy farm.” The fashionable two-story Miller home “Briny Breezes” was built in Spanish-style on the ocean ridge overlooking the Atlantic.

Briny Breezes Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean

The Miller’s home “Briny Breezes.”

Incorporating the Town of Boynton

Miller kept busy about town. He used his keen business sense to help charter the Town of Boynton, serving as its first vice-mayor. He also performed many civic functions, such as starting a  chamber of commerce.

 

Cattle shipped to Shore Acres (20 Jul 1922, The Miami News).

Shore Acres Dairy Farm

The Miller’s property stretched from the Florida East Coast Canal (today’s Intracoastal Waterway) to the ocean. He called the dairy Shore Acres and traveled to Georgia to bring cattle back in railcars.

The dairy expanded with Miller purchasing an adjoining 25 acreage of “muck and marl” land on the east side of the canal from Boyntonite James McKay. The coastal breeze at the oceanfront dairy helped to keep the flies and ticks away from the cattle.

Miller’s dairy associate in the $23,000 enterprise, M.A. Weaver, understood the dairy business and later founded Weaver Dairies.

Dairy Cow Manure for Sale (27 Mar 1921, The Palm Beach Post).

 

Not Much to See Here (Yet)!

Whereas Palm Beach was bustling during the season and Boynton and Delray were also attracting winter visitors, the area between Boynton and Delray was located on a lonely stretch of today’s A1A.

Visitors knew they were approaching Briny both by the strong odor and the telltale three-story mansion along the ridge.

 

 

 

The Boynton Caves

The biggest attraction in the area at the time was the Boynton caves – a series of natural subterranean caves on the beach that attracted picnickers and served as a roadside curiosity. Motorcycle clubs from Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach and local young people frequented the region and used the site as a rendezvous  point.

Caves located between Highway A1A and the Atlantic Ocean (State Archives of Florida)

 

Young women from the Town of Boynton posing on the lawn of the Gulf Stream Golf Club (Image courtesy of Boynton Beach City Library Local History Archives)

 

Gulf Stream Golf Club

It didn’t take very long for other families to realize the tropical Florida dream and to join the Millers in what was then considered a “remote outpost.”

In late 1923 workmen completed the palatial Addison Mizner-designed Gulf Stream Golf Club south of Miller’s dairy. The impressive private club caused quite a stir with the locals, who would ride their bikes down the desolate stretch, or walk the beach southward for a glimpse of the grand building.

The Phipps brothers built mansions along the beach and started winter polo matches. Florida surged in popularity when developers began subdividing land and creating new communities appealing to northern investors and affluent people fancying buying a winter home.

 

 

 

Wagg Organization (13 Sep 1925, The Palm Beach Post).

The Great Florida Land Boom

The great Florida land boom dramatically changed Florida, especially Palm Beach County, Boynton Beach, and even Miller’s Briny Breezes.

In 1925, at the height of the boom, after seeing the development frenzy and being approached by several persistent real estate developers, Miller couldn’t resist “selling the farm.”

Exclusive Listing Palm Beach Shore Acres (21 Oct. 1925, The Palm Beach Post).

 

 

 

 

As he approached his 64th birthday, Miller agreed to the Alfred Wagg Corporation subdividing his dairy lands into a new development called “Shore Acres.”

Wagg’s company quickly listed Palm Beach Shore Acres for a half million dollars.

 

Prospective buyers line up to purchase lot’s in Alfred Wagg’s new boom time subdivision Briny Breezes at Shore Acres

The Miller’s then joined the other dreamers and schemers and their sometimes-unscrupulous salesmen who peddled property unseen and weren’t inclined to record every transaction.

 

Announcing Briny Breezes (14 Oct 1925, the Palm Beach Post).

Cashing In

Meanwhile, Ward Miller invested in real estate in Boynton and northward into West Palm Beach. He purchased interests in lots in Northwood, Grandview Heights, and the Flamingo Park area. Across Florida, land swapped hands freely, routinely without proper title searches conducted or deeds issued.

The “Big Bubble”

Bubble in the Sun by Christopher Knowlton

 

Mid-year into 1926, the land boom bubble deflated.

Modern historians like Christopher Knowlton, author of “Bubble in the Sun: The Florida Boom of the 1920s and how it brought on the Great Depression” quoted a contemporary who described the land grab frenzy stagnation, stating “We just ran out of suckers.”

Hurricanes

Severe weather patterns extinguished any romantic dreams for investors.

In a now familiar tale, the wrath caused by the twin hurricanes of 1926 was finalized with the killer 1928 hurricane. Its devastation extinguished the land development schemes.  Supply chain issues in the Port of Miami thwarted materials delivery and potential investors realized that their pipe dreams were a grand illusion.

 

Run on the Banks

The First Bank of Boynton, established only a few years earlier, closed in 1929 and did not re-open again until the 1940s as it took that long for financial recovery in Boynton.

“Bank building, 1927,” Boynton Beach City Library Local History Archives,

 

The Great Depression

Boynton Needlecraft Club at Briny Breezes, 1932, Boynton Beach City Library Local History Archives

 

The depression hit hard. The people who stayed in the area had to work hard and trade with neighbors just to survive. Agnes and other local women shared afternoons sewing clothing, gifts and home accessories.

Boynton Needlecraft Club at Briny Breezes, 1932, Clara Topleman, Jennie B. Jones, Rena Powell, Alice Knuth, Clara White, Agnes Miller, Minnie Paulle, Emily Atwater, Harriet Seegitz andClara Shepperd (Courtesy of the Boynton Beach City Library Local History Archives)

Rooms for Rent (The Palm Beach Post)

Ward and Agnes Miller were involved in several land-related court cases and were on the delinquent tax list. They devised ways to supplement their income and retain hold of their coveted oceanfront land. They rented out rooms in their beautiful home. They purchased strawberry plants to raise and to sell to visitors traveling down the ocean boulevard.

Miller’s buying strawberry plants in Plant City (5 Nov 1931, The Palm Beach Post).

(12 Oct. 1934, The Miami Herald

 

 

 

 

Briny Breezes Trailer Camp

During this financial depression the Miller family decided to lease lots to annual visitors and established the Briny Breezes Trailer Camp. There’s more to the story, but that’s a more familiar one and will make a good future blog.

Briny Breezes for Trailers & Campers

 

 

1930s Brochure for Briny Breezes

Boynton Beach’s Poinciana School History

POINCIANA STEM ELEMENTARY SCHOOL HISTORY

 THE MAJESTIC ROYAL POINCIANA TREE

May and June are the months when royal poinciana trees bloom the brightest. Their red, flame-colored flowers add brilliant color to the South Florida landscape. A commenter on the Historic Boynton Beach Facebook page declared that the late spring signature flowers are Florida’s version of leaves changing color in the fall.

Royal Poinciana Tree in bloom

WHAT’S IN A NAME? 

Boynton’s Poinciana STEM Elementary School is named after the massive umbrella-shaped royal poinciana tree. The name alone evokes Florida’s lush, tropical beauty. David Fairchild brought the first of these Madagascar natives to South Florida when his wife planted one in their Miami front yard in 1917.  The trees thrive from Key West north to West Palm Beach and it’s likely that Boynton Garden Club members beautified Boynton by planting royal poinciana seeds here in the 1930s or 1940s. According to the University of Florida, the trees bear flowers between four and 12 years after planting. 

LET’S BUILD A SCHOOLHOUSE

Typical 1900s Black School (courtesy NYPL)

Many people don’t realize that Boynton Beach’s Poinciana Elementary School had its humble beginnings as an informal school operated by African Methodist Episcopal church members. St. Paul’s AME Church, constituted in 1900, is Boynton’s oldest church.

The school received government funding after 1907 when the black community petitioned the school board to furnish a teacher, but the residents were to provide a building. The petition was accompanied by a letter of support from farmer and fruit shipper Cullen Pence, a community builder who donated land to the city for a ball field and helped with many town improvements.

1907 Board of Public Instruction of Dade County minutes

Pence & King’s Addition 1908

 

The one-room wooden schoolhouse was situated on Pence & King’s Addition (Federal Hwy. north of Boynton Beach Blvd.), a tract laid out by Pence and black pioneer resident  L. A. King  in 1908. This suggests that Mr. Pence furnished the land and wooden school building and the school board paid for a teacher.  Newspaper accounts and school board records show that by 1909, when Palm Beach County separated from Dade County, the school’s official name became Boynton Negro School.

 

Let’s look back at how the fledgling school, like the brilliant tree it’s named for, took root, and blossomed.

 

 

 

SEPARATE AND UNEQUAL

Under the “separate but equal” doctrine of the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, segregated schools were expected to provide a comparable education and experience for black and white students. On the contrary, black students received second-rate treatment; the buildings were substandard; teachers were paid substantially less than white teachers; supplies were meager, and schools often received desks, books and slates discarded from white schools. The school year too, was shortened for Florida’s black students so the children could work in the fields during winter harvest.

THE TOWN GROWS

Picking Beans (Broward County Library Digital Archives)

 

By 1910, the unincorporated town of Boynton had grown to over 600 residents. The Board of Public Instruction paid to erect an opulent new two-story concrete block school in the 100 block of Ocean Avenue for Boynton’s white students. The modern school had indoor plumbing, gleaming blackboards, and spacious classrooms with large windows and door transoms for ventilation and natural light. In juxtaposition to the overcrowded one-room Negro School, the new Boynton School for white students had a fancy bell-tower and six classrooms. When the school opened on September 8, 1913  it enrolled 81 pupils between grades one and twelve.

 

Boynton School (for white students) 1913

BOOKER T. WASHINGTON AND JULIUS ROSENWALD

In the 1910s, an unlikely pair helped improve education for black children in the rural south. Boynton, a farming community, was indeed rural.  In 1912, Tuskegee Institute founder Booker T. Washington invited Jewish-American philanthropist Julius Rosenwald (then president of Sears, Roebuck & Co.) to serve on the Tuskegee board of directors to help black education, where segregated southern schools suffered from inadequate facilities, books and other resources. Rosenwald’s 1917 school building fund encouraged local collaboration between blacks and whites by providing seed money and requiring communities to raise matching funds. Between 1917 and 1932, Rosenwald funded 5,357 community schools and industrial shops in 15 southern states.

Julius Rosenwald & Booker T. Washington in 1915 (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library)

ORDINANCES 37 and 136

The Town of Boynton imposed segregation in 1924 with Ordinance 37. This forced black residents, businesses, churches, and the school to move west. Ordinance 136 passed in 1933  stipulated that black residents stay in the designated “colored town” from sundown to sunup.

JULIUS ROSENWALD SCHOOL BUILDING FUND

The Rosenwald funded Boynton School after the 1928 Hurricane (State Archives of Florida)

 

The Boynton Negro School located on the west side of Green Street (now Seacrest Blvd.) and today’s NE 12th Ave. was the first Rosenwald funded school in Palm Beach County. In 1925, at the height of Florida’s great 1920s land boom, the Rosenwald Fund contributed $900 in seed money toward a new four-room, three teacher Boynton Colored School. The fund also provided architectural plans and specifications for the schoolhouse.

 

THREE TEACHER COMMUNITY SCHOOL

Building Plans, Three Teacher Community School, 1924

Three Teacher Community School Interior Plans 1924

Building Plans, Three Teacher Community School, 1924

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tuskegee architect approved community school design included a porch, three classrooms and an industrial room, running water, and indoor toilets. Black community members raised $100 and the white community donated $4,000 with the Palm Beach County Board of Public Instruction paying the last $12,000. Its four rooms served grades one through eight until 1952 when the building was no longer big enough to handle the number of students. Six further classrooms were built to the west.

Ten other Rosenwald-funded schools followed in Palm Beach County. After the devastating September 1928 hurricane left the Boynton school intact, the damaged or leveled most other Palm Beach County schools. School Superintendent Joe Youngblood petitioned the Rosenwald Fund for emergency monies. By 1931 Rosenwald schools and industrial trade shops were operating in Jupiter, Boca Raton, Delray Beach (shop), West Palm Beach (school, shop), Pahokee, Belle Glade, South Bay, Kelsey City, and Canal Point (school, library). 

Boynton Negro Elementary School, 1950. Teacher Blanche Hearst Girtman (Boynton Beach City Library Local History Archives)

 

OVERCROWDING

Boynton Negro School Basketball Team members, 1942 (Boynton Beach City Library Local History Archives)

 

 

In the mid-1940s, rural black schools consolidated. The Lake Worth Osborne Colored School that had operated out of a church combined with the Boynton School.

In the area west of Boynton/Hypoluxo/Lantana, the Rangeline School on Rte. 441 taught children of farmers and migrant workers in a World War II Quonset Hut.  

 

 

 

Students entering Poinciana School, teacher Blanche Hearst Girtman

In reaction to the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, school leaders decided to rename “colored” schools after local points of interest. In June 1954, the Boynton Colored School became Poinciana School. The 1950s were a time of rapid growth in Palm Beach County. The district added a Poinciana Annex building with six additional classrooms located at 121 NE 12th Ave. next door to the original school in 1952.

By the 1960s overcrowding (over 700 students in 18 classrooms) forced double sessions with some classes held outdoors and in hot, cramped portable classrooms that Fire Chief Jack Tuite called “death traps.”

Fumes Evacuate Poinciana Portables (The Palm Beach Post, 16 Dec. 1960)

DESEGREGATION

In March 1962, the school board approved a land purchase of more than a half-acre for a Poinciana School addition to accommodate a junior high school. That same year Rev. Randolph Lee of St. John Missionary Baptist Church led efforts to establish a high school for black students. The closest high school for black students was Carver Industrial High School in Delray Beach. Students who wanted an education had to bus there from all over the region.

A $362,000 new school was planned for 1963, about the same time that Palm Beach County Schools began integration. The district had difficulty getting the site owner to sell as originally agreed. Furthermore, the school district had a large list of new school projects and improvements. In October 1963 the district was trying to prioritize the multiple projects, including a proposed $572,000 new Poinciana elementary and middle school that would include 13 classrooms, science rooms, industrial and home economics shops, a library, cafetorium [cafeteria/auditorium], locker rooms, and an administrative suite.

School System Needs $29 Million (10 Oct 1963, Fort Lauderdale News)

Meanwhile, school integration did not go smoothly. It turned out that most black families and white families wanted their children to stay in the neighborhood and not be bussed across town. A May 1965 Miami Herald article about school desegregation reported that the boundary lines for Poinciana School in Boynton Beach had been precisely drawn to encompass the negro residential section.

Poinciana Elementary School 1962 (Boynton Beach City Library Local History Archives)

Head Start (Boynton Beach Star 17 Jun 1965)

 

Poinciana became a site for the federally funded Head Start program for children not enrolled in private kindergarten in 1967.Sarah Costin and Lena Rahming incorporated the Boynton Beach Childcare Center about that time and worked with community leaders to build a separate building for preschool and kindergarten aged children.

By 1969, school officials agreed to remove grades 7-8 from Poinciana School, a decision that  forced 42 students to integrate into Boynton Junior High (now Galaxy Elementary School). Integration was so much stress for students and families of both black and white students that some students enrolled in private school and other  students simply dropped out of school.

NEW MAGNET SCHOOL 

The dilapidated school building saw its last days in late 1995, when it was razed for a larger, modern school. The Palm Beach County School Board built a brand new, closed campus Poinciana Elementary School that opened as a Math/Science/Technology magnet school in August 1996. With over 97,000 square feet and a Planetarium, the school occupies 8.7 acres, backing up to the Carolyn Sims Recreational Center. 

Poinciana STEM Elementary School

Today Poinciana STEM Elementary School attracts K-5 students across Palm Beach County for its robust science, technology, engineering, and mathematics curriculum. The 572 Poinciana Panthers are a diverse student body, approximately half of its students are black, 22% white, 13% Hispanic, 8% Asian or Pacific Islander, and at 6 % or more identifying as 2 or more races.

Sources

  • The Boynton Beach City Library Local History Archives
  • The Boynton Beach News
  • The Boynton Beach Star
  • The Broward County Library Digital Archives
  • Fisk University Special Collections & Archives
  • The Florida Department of Public Instruction
  • The Ft. Lauderdale News
  • The Historical Society of Palm Beach County
  • The Lake Worth Herald
  • The New York Public Library Photographic Collection
  • The Palm Beach County Property Appraiser
  • The Palm Beach Post
  • The School District of Palm Beach County
  • Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library
  • The State Archives of Florida
  • The Sun-Sentinel
  • The University of Florida

Special thanks to Georgen Charnes and Ginger Pedersen for their contributions to this research.

If you have any photos, comments, additions, or clarifications regarding Poinciana School and its history, please email boyntonhistory@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you.

The Notorious Ashley Gang and Its Surprising Boynton Connections

INTRODUCTION

This research chronicles Florida’s notorious Ashley Gang and their connections to Boynton Beach. Readers will learn about John Ashley and his infamous bank-robbing posse that kept a secret hideout in western Boynton, held-up trains and  interacted with unsuspecting Boynton residents.  

In addition, we share the surprising revelation of a prominent  Boynton pioneer family whose 16-year-old daughter married into the outlaw Mobley-Ashley family and some speculation of how Boynton locals supplied the gang with groceries and sundries—and one famous son who even lent Ashley his pistol!

1888

John Ashley is born near Fort Myers, Florida.

1896 – December

Horace Bentley Murray and his wife Mary Elizabeth Smith moved to Boynton from Michigan. Murray was a tomato farmer and crew leader/carpenter for Major Nathan S. Boynton’s oceanfront hotel.

Horace Murray & wife Mary Smith Murray (far right), with William Henry “Uncle Billy” Smith to the left, along with Murray children and an unnamed Boynton schoolteacher (Boynton Beach Historical Society)

1898

Mary Smith Murray’s younger brother William Henry “Billy” Smith and his wife moved to Boynton and lived near the Murray family. Local historical accounts don’t mention much of Smith, but he is identified in a Murray family photo as “Uncle Billy.”

It was that photo that instigated the research which led to the Ashley Gang connection. In the photo, Billy appears rugged and self-confident, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and long-sleeved shirt while standing in front of the Murray’s palmetto frond packing shed. While you don’t see any visible guns in the photo, it’s likely that Smith was packing a pistol, as in the wilds of tropical Florida wildlife outnumbered humans, and gun ownership (revolvers and rifles) was very important. Billy Smith farmed and became Palm Beach County Supervisor of Roads. Mary Smith’s sister, Lillie, lived in Boynton her entire life, and married carpenter Charles Davies.

Billy Smith and wife Florence had four daughters; it was teenaged Dorothy Louise (born in 1913) who married into the Mobley-Ashley family at age 15— Louise’s daughter, Mary Lou Mobley, child of the notorious Lubby Mobley was born two months later. John Robert “Lubby” Mobley was born to gang members George Westley “West” Mobley and Mary Alice Ashley (John Ashley’s sister). Lubby lived a crime-riddled gangster life both before and after his 1928 marriage to Dorothy Smith. 

1911 – December

JOHN ASHLEY ACCUSED OF MURDERING FELLOW TRAPPER DESOTO TIGER

DeSoto Tiger’s Gravesite (9 Oct 1913, Lake Worth Herald)

The Boynton story begins shortly after 19-year-old trapper John Ashley was wanted  for the December 1911 murder of DeSoto Tiger, son of Cow Creek chief Tommy Tiger. Ashley was the last person seen in a canoe with DeSoto and was spotted selling a load of valuable otter skins. Later, in 1915, Ashley would testify on his own behalf and claim self-defense in Tiger’s killing.

A charming John Ashley testifies on his own defense saying that the DeSoto Tiger shooting was self-defense (4 April 1915, The Miami Herald)

1910-1912

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JOHN ASHLEY CAMP DISCOVERED  IN WESTERN BOYNTON

According to Marvin Pope “Ham” Anthony in a Historical Society of Palm Beach County oral history interview with Harvey E. Oyer III, Joe Ashley (John Ashley’s father) and one of John’s brothers both worked at the Anthony’s Store in the men’s wear department around this time. Anthony’s father was friends with both the Ashley and Mobley families and claimed that they were good, outstanding people. John Ashley was really the only bad one. The Mobleys lived on Tanglewood Court in West Palm Beach.

Anthony related a surprising story about Boynton’s Chuck Pierce [Charles W. Pierce, Jr.] who worked in the sporting goods department at Anthony’s, who was given a pistol for Christmas. Pierce and a friend were “out back of Boynton where their home was.” Pierce told Anthony that while out in the woods the two boys met a nice-looking man who inquired what they were doing. When they said they were just turkey hunting, the man offered to do it for them and asked for the gun. After a long time, they finally heard a shot, and the fellow gave them a turkey and the gun back. The Ashley Gang robbed the Bank of Boynton a few weeks later. As the story goes, one of the boys went up to see what the handcuffed thugs looked like “…and this nice-looking man looked over and winked at him and said ‘Son, how was that turkey?’” Apparently Chuck Pierce had loaned his new pistol to the bandit John Ashley.

Boynton hunting party attacked by Ashley Gang 19 Feb 1915, Orlando Evening Star)

1915 February

John Ashley and his band of thugs terrorized and machine-gunned a hunting party camped out west of Boynton near the Rangeline (State Road 441).

 

 

 

(19 Feb 1915, Orlando Evening Star)

1914 November

JAIL BREAK

John Ashley breaks out of jail.

1915 – February

BLUNDERING BANDITS

The Ashley Gang robs the Stuart Bank. John Ashley loses his right eye when his accomplice accidentally shoots him. Since Ashley’s wound demanded medical attention, the fugitive was apprehended.

John Ashley, leader of gang

1915 – February

30 local men form a posse to hunt down the “organized crime family” that had no respect for the law. Sheriff Baker wanted them “dead or alive.”

1915 March

Ashley is captured and imprisoned in the Miami jail.

1915 June

Bob Ashley (John’s brother) ambushes and kills Miami Police Department Deputy Sheriff Wilber W. Hendrickson in an attempt to release John Ashley.  In the process, Bob Ashley and another police officer,  John Rhinehart “Bob” Riblet are killed. (Sheriff Hendrickson was a great uncle of Boynton resident Jean Ann Thurber and brother to her grandfather.)

Miami Deputy Sheriff – Wilber Hendrickson

Photo shown below: (L-R) Alvin Hendrickson and Captain U.D. Hendrickson (uncles of Wilbur Sr.), Dorothy Hendrickson, Etta Hendrickson, and Frances Lane Hendrickson Bridgeman (Etta was U.D.’s wife and the mother of Dorothy and Frances), Marion Platt Hendrickson, Wilbur W. Hendrickson Sr. and Wilbur W. Hendrickson Jr. (Jean Ann Thurber Photo)

Hendrickson Family, courtesy Jean Ann Thurber

1916

John Ashley sentenced to 17 ½ years for the Stuart Bank heist. Ashley is finally sent to prison. Two years later he escaped from a road gang. John Ashley is once again a fugitive from the law. 

1920

The early Boynton Bank was a repeat victim. “Ashley’s here!” Tellers would fill up their bags; no alarms or dye packs at that time. The notorious outlaws rob banks across Florida including Fort Meade, Avon Park, Pompano Beach, and Stuart.

1921

Horace Bentley Murray, Billy Smith’s brother-in-law, is elected Boynton mayor.

Horace Bentley Murray

Hanford Mobley, Ashley Gang Leader  (Florida Photographic Collection)

 

 

1922 May

The Ashley gang (ordered by John while he was still in jail) made their second robbery of the Stuart Bank. Hanford Mobley, (John Ashley’s nephew and brother of Dorothy Smith Mobley’s husband Lubby) assumed leadership of the gang.  The handsome teenager held up the bank dressed as a woman and fled with $8,000.

A posse of men from the sheriff’s office chased them for 265 miles and deputy Sheriff Morris R. Johns dropped dead from indigestion two days after the unsuccessful hunt.

Members of the notorious Ashley Gang

1924 February

 Hanford Mobley robbed the Florida East Coast Railway train.

1924 September

The Mobley-Ashley gang robbed the Pompano Bank of $9,000.

1924 November

DAY OF RECKONING

Deputy Frederick A. Baker led a posse of over 50 men to the Ashley/Mobley camp. Some were equipped with guns borrowed from the old National Guard armory. As the posse entered the camp, the fugitives opened fire. Deputy Baker and Joe Ashley were killed in the shootout. Laura Upthegrove was wounded, but escaped. The remaining fugitives hid in the Everglades as their hideout was burned to the ground. 

Deputy Fred Baker and Joe Ashley Killed (8 Jan 1924 The Lake Worth Herald)

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a carefully orchestrated trap on the Sebastian bridge, four additional members of the Mobley-Ashley gang were shot and killed along with Deputy Sheriff Fred Baker. The four outlaws were John Ashley, nephew Hanford Mobley, Ray Lynn and Clarence Middleton. The Palm Beach Post reported that the slaying of Ashley gang brings end to career of crime.

Deputy Fred Baker killed by Ashley-Mobley Gang (9 Jan 1924, The Miami News).

1927

Laura Upthegrove dies after drinking a bottle of disinfectant. The “Queen of the Everglades” is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in West Palm Beach, in an unmarked grave.

1929 – January

Prison escapee Haywood Register, Ashley Gang leader killed in shootout with Sheriff Baker in Boynton (30 Jan 1929, The Miami Herald)

Haywood Register, the assumed Mobley/Ashley Gang leader who was sentenced to life in the Florida State Prison, escaped and was gunned down along the canal in Boynton by Sheriff Bob Baker. Years later, several Boyntonites described witnessing this event.

1930

Lubby Mosley arrested and jailed on an illegal liquor distribution charge at a moonshine camp.

1933 – February

Sheriff Robert Baker (son of George Baker) died, and the newspaper reported that he died “with his boots on.” William Hiram “Hy” Lawrence, appointed after Baker’s death is another Boynton connection. Lawrence and his brother Red owned Boynton property in the vicinity of today’s Lawrence Road, which is named after them.

Sheriff Robert C. “Bob” Baker of Palm Beach County (24 Feb 1933, The Miami Herald).

1973

Boynton resident Sam Adams called a local Boynton Beach newspaper,  The Examiner, and told publisher Vernon Lamme that although the Mobley-Ashley gang hid out in Boynton and even robbed the bank that John Ashley was a kindly soul and to remember him as a kind of  “Robin Hood.”

1973

Actors from Little Laura & Big John (1973)

 

Movie based loosely on the Ashley Gang produced. It is called “Little Laura and Big John.” Reviews are not good.

1980

Glenn Murray, in his 1980 oral history interview, denied claims that he, as a teenager, supplied the Mobley-Ashley gang members with groceries.

 

 

 

 

1986

Vandals desecrate and loot the Native American Glades people ceremonial mounds north of Boynton Beach Boulevard and west of 441, looking for the legendary treasure stashed by the Ashley gang.

1992

Boynton resident Arris “Ozzie” Lunsford claimed in a 1992 oral history interview that he witnessed the the Palm Beach County sheriff’s office shoot-up  with the getaway car.  Lunsford was  born in 1909, and moved to Boynton at age 14 or 15 (accounts vary). He describes fishing along the Boynton canal and witnessing the sheriff shooting up the Ashley Gang bandit and that he saw him inside the trunk of the car. This account coincides with the January 1929 capture of fugitive Haywood Register.

2021

As we researched this story, we reached out to some Murray family descendants. Ted Murray remembers stories that his great-grandmother Mary Smith Murray was a crack shot, shooting quail and other game. He owns her .38 pistol. He had no recollection of the family’s relationship to the Mobley-Ashley gang, but he wasn’t surprised.

EPILOGUE

What happened to Dorothy Smith Mosley?

Dorothy divorced Lubby Mosley in the 1930s; she married Robert Garner, a mechanic. She is shown on the 1940 Census as living with her parents, husband, and child. The record showed that she had a 4th grade education.

What happened to Lubby Mosley?

Lubby continued his life of crime and was in and out of jail the rest of his life.

What happened to “Uncle Billy” Smith?

Smith, Martin County’s Superintendent of Roads, ironically perished in a head-on automobile collision in 1951 with his daughter Dorothy at the wheel. Newspaper accounts state that the car’s “brakes failed.”

REFERENCES

Lake Worth Herald

Miami Metropolis

Miami News

Palm Beach Post

Sheriff Bob Baker v. the Notorious Ashley Gang

The Ashley Gang – Palm Beach County History Online

The Ashley Gang Landmarks

HISTORICAL VIGNETTES: Guess who took outlaw John Ashley’s glass eye as a key fob memento?

South Florida’s Most Wiley Gangster

The Ashley Gang and Frontier Justice

Florida Outlaws: Move over Bonnie and Clyde

Desperados: The Life and Times of John Ashley

The Notorious Ashley Gang by Sally Ling

Holiday Magic: Remembering the National Enquirer Christmas Tree  

Souvenir Postcard from the National Enquirer Christmas Extravag

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OH, THAT HOLIDAY MAGIC!

My favorite childhood memories include the enchanting department store Christmas displays in downtown Chicago. The Marshall Field’s vignettes featured vibrant animated scenes. That special treat and its holiday magic is firmly etched in my mind. New York, too, does not skimp on the holiday sparkle. The festive annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade kicks off the season, and Rockefeller Center erects its signature tree, said to average 75-90 feet in height.


Families residing in South Florida during the 1970s and 1980s witnessed its own annual Christmas miracle when publishing mogul Generoso Paul Pope, Jr. brought holiday tradition and magic to Lantana. Pope, known to his friends and family as Gene, began the tradition in 1972 when he ordered a freshly cut 55-foot balsam fir for his newly relocated National Enquirer offices situated along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks at 600 S. East Coast Avenue. Today the National Enquirer site is the Maritime Academy charter school campus.

Current Google map of the old National Enquirer property

Dec 14 1972 The Palm Beach Post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the inaugural tree lighting on December 11th, children of all ages tilted their heads back to view the majestic glittering tree and “oohed and aahed” when Senator Edward Gurney pressed the button illuminating over 7,000 twinkling lights. More than 400 red and green ornaments, 100 red bows and 50 three-foot-tall candy canes decked the tree. The New Directions choir from Riverside Baptist Church in Miami serenaded the enraptured crowd with Christmas songs and hymns. Amid the balmy 80-degree weather that Monday evening, South Floridians indulged in a few hours of authentic holiday magic. For weeks afterward, passersby along Federal Highway (known then as U.S. 1, the main route through Palm Beach County), gawked at the tree and pulled over to take photographs.

Dec. 8 1973 The Palm Beach Post

Most National Enquirer Christmastime attendees knew little about Pope’s six-month struggle to locate and retrieve the big tree. Since trees that size don’t grow in the United States, the tree came from Canada. He had it specially crated and shipped by rail to the coast, then transferred onto a freighter and delivered to the Port of Miami to begin its trek north to Lantana. Pope, his wife Lois and their six children could see the six-foot lighted star atop the Enquirer tree from their home in nearby Manalapan.

Dec 12 1982 The Palm Beach Post

People enjoyed the tree so much Pope continued the tradition, and both the tree and the holiday cheer grew in size and scope with each year. Once word got out about the magnificent Christmas tree and enchanting displays, lines to enter the grounds wrapped around the block, sightseers in tour busses came from places like Miami, Orlando and Tampa, and pilots from Lantana Airport advertised sightseeing flights over the attraction. The town brought in extra police, and lucrative entrepreneurs hawked soft drinks and souvenirs.

National Enquirer Christmas Displays

Perhaps even more mesmerizing than the tree were the impressive animated displays and the seemingly endless trains weaving through an irresistible land of toys. Pope brought in Burl Ives to croon “White Christmas” and delight children with songs like “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Eventually, the tree topped 126 feet and has been dubbed “the world’s largest Christmas tree,” although it doesn’t officially appear on record. A biker group labored to unload, install and decorate the tree, which arrived most years vial rail in boxcars and had to be reassembled. Once Interstate 95 came through, motorists could view the tree from the highway. The tree was visible to the sport fishing boats that frequented the Atlantic Ocean just outside the Boynton Inlet.

Nov 8 1987 The Orlando Sentinel

At times neighbors and local businesses deemed National Enquirer tree and its crowds a nuisance. Although Pope offered free parking, traffic snarled Federal Highway and cut off entry to neighborhoods, shops and restaurants. One year someone called in a bomb threat. Actor Burt Reynolds, who owned a horse ranch in nearby Jupiter, and fed up with the tabloid for exposing his private life, reportedly rented a pilot and a helicopter and dumped a sizable load of horse manure on the tree. Despite the stink from the manure and some neighbors, Pope and his Christmas extravaganza continued to deliver holiday cheer.

A heart attack claimed the 61-year-old Pope in October 1988. Months later, his widow Lois hosted the Christmas tradition in his absence, but that would be the last year crowds pilgrimaged to the little town of Lantana to see its noteworthy tree.

Jan 1 1989 Sun Sentinel

A year later, Gene Pope’s estate sold the the National Enquirer for $412 million to MacFadden Publishing and Boston Ventures. The tree’s decorations, which included three-quarters of a mile of garland, 250 red bows, 1,200 multicolored balls and 150 candy-cane and snowflake ornaments, along with its six-foot lighted star adorned a Christmas tree in Bayfront Park in Miami.

Generoso Pope is buried in Our Lady Queen of Peace Cemetery in Royal Palm Beach. His epitaph describes his legacy as the man who made millions and millions of people happy.  No doubt any kid who grew up viewing Pope’s National Enquirer tree can still recall the festive displays and fondly recall and describe that old-fashioned “Christmas magic.”

Generoso Paul Pope’s Epitaph

Bill Newcott posted an eight minute video of the 1985 display on YouTube.

Paul David Pope reposted an interesting story about the last Christmas tree.

This 1987 Sun Sentinel article provides more insight into the operations choreography for the tree.

Pope’s widow, Lois Pope, continues to live in Manalapan.

Eliot Kleinberg’s Post Time column about the Lantana Christmas tree tradition.

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog about Generoso Paul Pope, Jr. (there was too much interesting information to fit into this blog about Christmas).