About Janet DeVries Naughton

Intrepid historic researcher with ten published local history books. Passionate about Palm Beach County history. Nearly two dozen years experience in Florida libraries, museums and archives. Available as a consultant for family history projects, books and personal archival collections. History....one never-ending mystery waiting to be solved!

Historically speaking about hurricanes (part 1)

Hurricane watches evoke emotion. They are oft-times viewed with humor by those who take these weather events lightly and are greeted with stress and anxiety by those who aren’t sure how to react, have responsibility for others, and people who live alone. Many residents and visitors partake in hurricane parties; not a particularly bad idea for commiserating with others placed in similar situations; provided that you’ve already properly prepared for the storm by “battening down the hatches,” stockpiling adequate water, food, fuel, and other provisions, and don’t over-party.

Wind map of Hurricane Dorian on Friday, August 30 10:00am (Windy.com)


Having lived through several hurricanes and countless watches and warnings over the last fifty or so years, I’ve become accustomed to the Atlantic tropical storm action and the community’s reaction.

Surfers and most tourists love this time of year. Homeowners and small businesses dread it.

Boynton Ocean Inlet Park 2019

Exceedingly, newcomers to town are anxious about hurricanes, albeit somewhat excited.
Historically speaking, Boynton Beach, Florida and its surrounding areas have experienced many devastating hurricanes. On the other hand, most years (about 9 out of 10 over the last 130 years), Boynton has dodged the bullet and had no significant hurricane damage.

Looking back, this blog series will examine Boynton’s most significant hurricanes over the last one hundred years or so. While there’s been loss of life and significant property destruction in the early twentieth century, the region’s growth and expanse has taxed roadways, storm sewers, electrical grids and water supplies in ways no one would have predicted.

Just look at how we communicate? Today one can email and text instantaneously to friends and relatives in other states, countries and continents.

Historically speaking…Imagine being in a storm with no warning, no place to go and no way to reach your friends and family? While today, we have advanced warning, computerized tracking models, the Weather Channel, cell phones and social media for connecting with and helping friends, neighbors and family members, communication used to be severely limited. Before the days of daily newspapers and radios, one of the early warning systems came as the FEC—Florida East Coast Railway locomotives signaled an SOS—a Morse Code system of three short, three long and three short horn blasts, symbolizing distress.

Hurricane fo 1928 Mass Burial Site


From the unnamed 1928 killer hurricane (when the Lake Okeechobee levee broke causing massive flooding), to the 1949 storm that spawned tornadoes that flattened parts of Boynton and much of Briny Breezes, to the 2004 triple play of hurricanes Frances, Jean and Charley, Boyntonites who’ve been here at least fifteen years understand hurricane wrath. They also understand how important it is to heed the ample warnings, to take precautions to secure their home, have basic supplies and expect at the least to be without power for several days or weeks.

Today, the City of Boynton Beach, and other local governments have carefully prepared hurricane plans and recovery plans. The community comes together to help. FEMA—the Federal Emergency Management Agency, created in 1978 also assists people with emergency aid after the storm. You might remember people lining up for MREs—Meals, ready to eat, and ice after Hurricanes Frances and Jean.

City of Boynton Beach Hurricane Preparedness

It’s always surprising, but understandable seeing people running around ransacking grocery stores and jockeying for a full tank of gas as storms approach. These precautions are smart moves, but today most gas stations and grocery stores have generators, and unless roadways are impassable after the storm, new deliveries will arrive again in a few days. We won’t starve. If the power goes out, and it’s likely to happen, food can spoil quickly, so having bread, tortillas, crackers, and peanut butter and jelly on hand will provide ample nourishment.

Gathering Hurricane Supplies navy.mil

Additionally, power is now more easily fixed, due to extensive and ongoing utility upgrades and a team of linemen who travel to affected area to repair lines and rescue new South Floridians who have never lived without air-conditioning. Oh, and water. The water coming out of your tap is fine now. Fill up cups, bottles, containers and such that you have in the house. Freeze them. They will serve as ice, then cold water if the power goes out. Even plastic bags can hold ice.

*If you live in a mobile home or evacuation zone—relocate to a safer place—inland preferably, or Wisconsin or Michigan, especially if you have friends and family there.

American Red Cross – Hurricane Preparedness

More to come…but for now, don’t panic. There’s plenty of time to prepare for Dorian, so heed the warnings and get ready. Please remember to help out others, especially people who live alone, and the elderly. We are all in this together.

Boynton Beach Memories

“What’s your earliest Boynton Beach memory?” If one asked that question on the street, the beach, at the mall or even on Facebook, it’s likely there’d be dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of different early memories, visions (or versions) of Boynton. That’s because we all have our personal memories, our familial stories. We may have been born in different eras, grew up in a different neighborhood, or hung out at different places.

There’s probably some commonalities, like food. People tend to fondly remember food. It wouldn’t be an oversimplification to say that Bud’s Chicken, Lucy’s Donuts, Lucille and Otley’s Restaurant and Sal’s (or Danny’s) Pizza comes up. Who the heck is Danny, anyway? Oh, he’s a new kid on the block, like many of you (Welcome to the neighborhood).

Other common threads are the beach, A1A and the Boynton Inlet. Just don’t call it by it’s official name (The South Lake Worth Inlet). That would irritate generations of people who are certain the name is the Boynton Inlet—and that would be especially confusing because there’s a town nearby named Lake Worth. Or is that Lake Worth Beach? Depends upon who you ask, and when they moved here.

And the Boynton Beach Mall. Again, everyone has their version. Back when there was NOTHING to do in little old quiet Boynton, the mall was a HUGE deal. Jordan Marsh, Burdines, food, games, hanging out in something called air-conditioning…ahh. Then there’s haters…haters gonna hate—and supporters. Like mall walkers. They love the mall. And dad, Sears is one of his favorite stores. Oh dear, Sears is gone. Lots of people will say that Sears, ToysRUs, and K-Mart or whatever store is lame—until it’s gone. Then they miss it and post all kinds of photographs wishing that it was still there, and that they could buy some Craftsman tools.

A view of the original bridge over the inlet, sometimes called Rainbow Bridge or Old McDonald Bridge for its twin arches

That reminds me of the Two Georges. No, not the restaurant, the boat. Back in the 1960s (AKA The old days), Boynton was a farming and fishing town. Really, it was. Once the Inlet (the cut to old-timers) opened up, commercial and sport fishermen and even weekend warriors could ride out through the Inlet to perhaps the best fishing spots in the country. That was before wave runners, jet-skis and selfies. The Two Georges was just one of the ½ dozen head boats and several dozen charter boats docked at Boynton marinas. A head boat is a boat where folks pay a few bucks a head (a person) to fish for four hours. They are sometimes called drift boats, because once the captain gets near a favorite fishing spot, or at least the water is a certain depth, he cuts the engine for a time and lets the boat…drift. I won’t tell you what happened to the Two Georges boat (I’ll let the old-timers here chime in), but I can tell you that the Two Georges Restaurant is still here, and so is the Banana Boat. But someone is thinking of the restaurant that was there before the Banana Boat. It begins with an S…..it was owned by the Molle’s…Smokey’s! That’s it, Smokey’s Wharf!

What about the farms? It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that back in the 1970s pretty much everything west of Congress was farmland. West of Military was “the boonies.” That brings us back to the question? What is your version of Boynton? For some it was the blue crabs that flooded the coastal highway, causing tire punctures. For others it was taking horseback riding lessons at one of Boynton’s many stables. Others recall fishing off N. 22nd Avenue (what’s that you say?)…I mean Gateway Blvd. There was a Go-Kart and midget car race track on Lawrence Road…and a citrus farm where you could drink fresh squeezed orange juice, ride a tram through the groves, eat pie, see a native Seminole wrestle an alligator. Certainly you remember Knollwood Groves? What about Palm Beach Groves, Sturrock Groves, Indian Hill Groves, Blood’s Hammock Groves? Why did you think there is a school on Lawrence Road called Citrus Cove?  Have you any idea where the Rangeline is? State Road 441 (AKA the Everglades). Don’t get me started on the dairies. Or the roses and the orchids. Or the pineapples. Or the toms. Tom who? Tom-a-to.

Times change. Nothing stays the same. People are born. We live, we love, we die. Storms come, storms go, we rebuild, preserve what we can, and honor and memorialize what is gone. Embrace what you’ve got. As Joni Mitchell sang “ … you don’t know what you’ve got
till it’s gone … “

Special Event: Florida Highwaymen Exhibit in Boynton Beach

M. Randall Gill & Kay Baker with Florida Highwaymen paintings

Florida’s historic landscape artists known as The Florida Highwaymen will be coming to Boynton Beach on Saturday, January 19, 2019 from 11-3 p.m. Free Admission. This event is sponsored by the Boynton Beach Historical Society and the Boynton Woman’s Club. The popular Highwaymen artists will be in the Fellowship Hall of First Presbyterian Church, 235 SW 6th Ave. They will discuss their art work during the day and will have paintings available to buy. Visitors will enjoy hearing about their fascinating history and enjoy seeing the bold, classic Highwaymen style. Participating in this event will be: Al Black, Mary Ann Carroll, Isaac Knight, Curtis Arnett and Dorothea Hair Truesdale. The Highwaymen (25 African-American men and one woman) were from the Fort Pierce area and took to the highways to sell their paintings of blowing palm trees, flaming red Poinciana trees, cobalt blue oceans and fire sky sunsets. The artists traveled south to sell their artwork and Boynton Beach was a favorite stop. As they traveled down Federal Highway they sold art work to many of the businesses in town. Today you can still find their artistic legacy displayed in some of the local businesses along Federal Highway.

Holiday Magic: Remembering the National Enquirer Christmas Tree  

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.

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

More enchanting 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).

After 40 years, Jim Torchio’s Finer Meats & Deli closes its doors

On October 26, 2018, a hungry would be shopper stopped by Jim Torchio’s Finer Meats and Delicatessen and found a hand-written note scrawled on what looked like white butcher paper: “Torchio’s is no longer open for business. Thank you for shopping here over the years. It is time for us to move on. Sorry for any inconvenience this may cause anyone. Sincerely, The Torchio Family.”

Note left on the door to Torchio’s

The news spread like wildfire though social media channels. Some people were outraged at the lack of notice, others were concerned about the family. Customers and friends left well wishes. Facebook posters reminisced about the food and the friendly family service. They wrote mouth watering tributes to their favorite delicacies: pastrami and mozzarella sub sandwiches, Taylor ham rolls, antipasto party platters, stuffed pork chops, filets, and other choice meats. Even vegetarians professed their love for the small store located in a strip mall on Woolbright Road just around the corner from Palm Beach Leisureville.

Antipasto Salads in display case (Yelp review)

I remember the store well, its spicy aroma and busy atmosphere. Cases of meat – prime rib, hamburger, veal cutlet, and sausage—fresh ground homemade Italian sausage. Dry goods and vegetables displayed on shelves, in baskets and refrigerated cases, some homemade pies, and a full service deli counter. My mom used to refer it to it as “the stinky store,” a term of endearment that goes back to the Italian butcher and delicatessen we used to visit in Chicago.

Torchio’s Meat Cases


This made me wonder who the Torchio family was, where they came from, and how they ended up with a successful 40-year business in little old Boynton Beach? It’s not exactly the meat packing capital of the world—although there was a time, back in the late 1920s, and early 1930s when livestock, namely cows, outnumbered people. Alas, the cows in Boynton were dairy cows, not Brahman bulls. Boynton’s plentiful dairy farms – Melear, Knuth, Goolsby, Keatts, Weaver, Bell, White, Benson, Muggleton, Rousseau, Fideli, etc., supplied milk and cream to Southern Dairies. Dairy cows blanketed the Boynton landscape until the early 1980s.

Boynton Cows on Winchester’s Land

It turns out that Jim Torchio, a New Jersey born son of Italian immigrants, only owned the Boynton butcher shop and deli for about two years, if that. Torchio, his father Guiseppi, and younger brother Frank were all Jersey City butchers. Jersey City had large stockyards to supply New York City with fresh meat. James Torchio owned and operated an independent butcher shop in Jersey City by 1940 and had a son and a daughter with his wife, the former Angelina Loori. Tragedy struck in 1963 when their 22-year-old son Joseph died suddenly. A few years after Angelina’s 1969 death, Torchio gave up his New Jersey butcher shop and headed south to Palm Beach County with his second wife, Mary Jane Swayze.

1973 Flame Meats Help Wanted Ad (Palm Beach Post)


Torchio, a successful businessman as well as meat carver, served as head butcher/manager at The Flame Meat Market and delicatessen in North Palm Beach. The butcher shop supplied fine meat cuts to The Flame Restaurant. He incorporated Jim Torchio’s Farmer’s Meats operating his business at the West Palm Beach Farmer’s Market on Congress Avenue in the mid-1970s.

Farmer’s Meats at The Farmers Market, 1976 ad

In 1978, Torchio opened a friendly, neighborhood Italian butcher shop and delicatessen in Leisureville Center.

The land the strip mall sits on was part of a failed 1920 boom time development, and before that it was a fresh water lake. The colorful real estate developer K.D. Purdy planned a large, opulent neighborhood around the partially filled in lake.

Lake Boynton Estates postcard

The hurricanes of 1926 and 1928 slowed progress, as contractors couldn’t get building supplies to meet the boom time demand. The real estate bubble burst…and the land sat mostly undeveloped for years, until Caldros properties developed it in 1968 into a 2,000 home adult community and golf course.

1968 Leisureville advertisement


In June 1981, Worley E. Walker, a retiree from Tennessee, applied to operate under the fictitious name “Jim Torchio’s Finer Meats, Inc.” Walker, along with sons Steven, Richard, Terry, and their families, were the friendly faces who operated Torchio’s delicatessen. Jim Torchio, the Italian Jersey City butcher who lent his name to the deli, continued to live and work in Palm Beach and on the Treasure Coast. He was the butcher at Pinder’s Seafood in Jupiter until 1993. Torchio passed away in 1996, but his name will always conjure up mouth-watering memories for generations of Boyntonites. Torchio’s, the landmark, and the Walker family kept Boynton residents and visitors well fed.

While the cows of Boynton have all vanished, so has the family butcher shop. Each generation covers over the previous one with another layer of history. Patronize your local merchants, especially the family operated ones. Some day they won’t be there. You’ll be lucky if there is a kind note left on the door.