Did a famous war start in Boynton?

Most people have heard of the Spanish-American War – Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders charging up San Juan Hill, the sinking of the Maine in Havana’s harbor, or Admiral George Dewey’s victory in Manila. But if the earliest accounts of the Spanish-American war are correct, the first naval battle was fought offshore of a tiny town called Boynton.

Reports surfaced on April 22, 1898 that George Lyman, of the Lantana-founding Lyman family, had been fishing in Lake Worth when he heard the heavy fire of guns at about 10 in the morning. He ran to the beach and saw a United States monitor chasing a

George Lyman

George Lyman

Spanish man-of-war that was guarding a coal ship, probably on the way to Havana. He said that all the ships were traveling “with a bone in their teeth,” meaning they were traveling at top speed.  He watched the battle for an hour before rushing to the railroad agent in Boynton, who wrote the dispatch to the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. Spain declared war on April 23, with the United States following suit on April 25, 1898.

Newspapers around the nation carried the report. Even the New York Times wrote up the story under the headline “A Fisherman’s Yarn.” George Lyman was portrayed as a

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 9.34.15 PM“reliable man,” but the New York Times couldn’t find Boynton on a map:  “The name Boynton does not appear in the Gazetteers, nor in the list of the Post Offices of the United States. There exist, however, a number of clusters of fisherman’s houses in the vicinity of Palm Beach, which may include the village referred to.”

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 9.36.15 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is ironic that the plat for Boynton would be filed later in 1898 by Fred S. Dewey and Byrd Spilman Dewey, and the most well-known hero of the war would be Admiral

Admiral George Dewey

Admiral George Dewey

George Dewey, a distant cousin of Fred’s, who became known as “the hero of Manila.”

Beyond the newspaper accounts of April 1898, there is no other mention I can find of the skirmish that occurred off of Boynton. But it put the little hamlet’s name across the nation for its first 15 minutes of fame. The Spanish-American War lasted but three months, and the lore of the first battle was lost to time.

Newspaper clippings from public domain sources; photo of George Lyman from the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

Jungle Fire: History of Boynton Beach Fire Rescue

For this blog we are pleased to have a another Boynton Beach Fire Department history installment from our resident guest blogger, Michael Landress of the Boynton Beach Fire Department

An interesting early morning structure fire during the late 1940s occurred at a tiny pub called the Jungle Inn Bar located in Briny Breezes. The inn was a popular drinkery owned and op…erated by a man called “Biggin” Baskin — aptly named due to his mountainous size.

The fire began as an unattended barbeque pit that was used inside the tavern collapsed in the wee hours of the morning, sending smoldering coals crashing to the ground. The unabated embers ignited the wooden floorboards and flames quickly rolled up the walls.

This 1946 Mack 500 GPM Piston Pumper is the truck used during the Jungle Inn Bar fire. The fire engine would prove its worth, as it was still in service in our department during the 1970s

This 1946 Mack 500 GPM Piston Pumper is the truck used during the Jungle Inn Bar fire. The fire engine would prove its worth, as it was still in service in our department during the 1970s

The department had recently purchased a 1946 Mack 500 GPM piston pumper and Boynton firemen responded to the blaze with the new engine. On arrival, they found the inn totally insulted by fire. They staged the fire engine parallel to the tangled mangroves and Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in hopes of drafting water, as hydrants were few, or non existent.

In the chaos that ensued, the weary operator engineer [driver] stood aghast at the pump panel. Scratching his head in disbelief, he had forgotten the sequence for pumping. Fireman James I. Lacey then stepped up to the panel and quickly engaged the pump. As other firemen began to pull multiple sections of hose and nozzles from the engine, James deployed the hard suction, complete with strainer into the saltwater, thus beginning the drafting process.

They valiantly battled the blaze until dawn.

“It was saltwater, but it was wet. We pumped water until daybreak and finally extinguished the fire. It was a good thing because we noticed that our drafting hose and strainer were dangling in mid air. The water level had dropped considerably. We thought that we had drained the canal until we realized it was an outgoing tide! We all enjoyed a hearty laugh.”

~ Fireman Lacey

Michael Landress

Michael Landress

Michael Landress is a native Floridian and novice historian. He has spent the previous 15 years as a professional firefighter/paramedic for the City of Boynton Beach Fire Rescue Department. He holds a BA from St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida and his hobbies include; spending time with his two teenage sons, writing, photography, supporting the Miami Dolphins and saltwater fishing.

A Village Tragedy

This cemetery is located on the southwest corner of Woolbright Road and Seacrest Blvd. The red X indicates the approximate location of Albert P. Bowens marker.

This cemetery is located on the southwest corner of Woolbright Road and Seacrest Blvd. The red X indicates the approximate location of Albert P. Bowens marker.

Boynton Memorial Park and Mausoleum, Ca. 2013.

Boynton Memorial Park and Mausoleum, Ca. 2013.

For nearly 20 years, I lived almost directly across the street from Boynton Memorial Park and Mausoleum, commonly called the Boynton Cemetery. The cemetery is the resting place for a number of my family members. I visit there fairly often, and find myself drawn to the old section.

Due to my ties to the community, the Boynton Beach Historical Society, and my propensity for historical research, many of the old family names greet me like old friends.

 

 

 

At some point, I found myself especially drawn to a rather lovely marker engraved with the name Albert J. Bowen. The dates on the monument indicate Bowen was born in 1865 and died in 1903. It dawned on me that his may be the earliest recorded death in this cemetery. Sure enough, according to Palm Beach County genealogist Marjorie Watts Nelson, Albert Bowen’s 1903 tombstone is the earliest legible marker in the cemetery.

When I realized this Boynton pioneer had lived less than 38 full years, I couldn’t help but wonder who this man had been and why his life had been cut short. What I found shocked and rocked me to the core! Poor Mr. Bowen suffered from a poisoning, a lethal poisoning!

Born in Ontario, Canada, in 1865 to Thomas Bowen and Tabitha Filmore Bowen, Albert J. was the fourth of six children, all boys. In 1878, the family immigrated to northern Michigan, where Albert J. Bowen and several of his brothers worked on the river as log drivers.

1900 Census Record

1900 Census Record

When he was 26 years old, Albert married Flora B. Ackley, then age 16, in Sheridan, Michigan. Flora was the daughter of George W. Ackley and Lucy Hall.

The family moved to Florida sometime in late 1900 or early 1901. How they ended up in Boynton remains a mystery. It is possible they heard about the farming opportunities in the Boynton area through Major Boynton’s Michigan Home Colonization project or they heard about the area from friends or relatives. As did many young families in Boynton at the time, the Bowen’s and their little daughters, Rosa (born around 1893) and Ruth (born about 1897) boarded at a rooming house. In this case, Flora Bowen helped with the housekeeping at the Freedlund House, operated by Joseph Freedlund. Albert worked as a truck farmer, planting fruits and vegetables for export to northern markets via Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway. I can only imagine how hard both worked in the tropical frontier without the comforts afforded by our generations. Still, perhaps to them this was paradise, a land of romance…

Their idyllic Florida dream came to a choking halt when Albert, only 37, met an untimely death from ingesting poison. The August 22, 1903 issue of Guy Metcalf’s newspaper, the Tropical Sun, bore the headline “Took Strychnine and Died in Agony: Tragic End of A.J. Bowen, of Boynton.”

died in agony

Took Strytocide and died in agonyAccording to the news article, Albert Bowen had worked hard all day in the fields, planting pineapple slips and came home tired and achy. He took some medicine and what he thought was quinine. Shortly after supper, he retired to his bedroom. Another boarder heard a disturbance and upon investigation found Bowen writhing in agony, screaming and convulsing. Joseph Freedlund went to West Palm Beach on the first train out and summoned Dr. Merrill, who rode back in a carriage driven by Richard Gardner, only to find Bowen’s soul had long left his body. His heart-broken wife and neighbors said Bowen made a mistake and took strychnine instead of quinine.

After the tragedy, Flora and the children, who were only nine and sixteen years old, must have left town. Losing Albert and staying in Boynton likely was too much to bear. The 1910 census shows Flora, Rosa and Ruth living with relatives in Pennsylvania. In 1917, 40 year-old Flora (occupation listed as dressmaker) married Ivan E. Smith, four years her junior, in Flint, Michigan. By then Flora and Alberts’ daughters would be grown women, probably with families of their own.

1917 Marriage Record - Flora Bowen and Ivan Smith

1917 Marriage Record – Flora Bowen and Ivan Smith

Albert Bowen’s headstone is engraved with the following words: “To Live in Hearts We Leave Behind is Not to Die.” At first I wondered why I was drawn to this marker and was compelled to research Albert Bowen 110 years after his death. I needed to tell his story, to make sure he is not forgotten.

-Rest in Peace A.J. Bowen-

Albert P. Bowen - 1865-1903

Albert P. Bowen – 1865-1903

The Hotel Royal Poinciana – A Gem lost to Time

I am very excited about the Society’s October 21 presentation by Patrick Crowley on the Hotel Royal Poinciana and The Beach Club. The Hotel Royal Poinciana was once the world’s largest wooden building. We can’t even imagine the immense nature of the place, with miles of hallways, reeking of diamonds and money. It is with no doubt the most transforming structure ever built in Palm Beach County, bring us from swamp to splendor in a few short years.

The wealthy northern scions even brought their own train cars along, parked on the property, so that not even a moment was spent with the common folk on open train lines. HRP1They stayed that ever so short season from January through March, enjoying the ocean beach, the coconut palms, the balmy air, the concerts – and the gambling over at The Beach Club!

How they spent all those hours will be revealed – no television or movies to idle away the hours, just reading, conversing, strolling, eating, listening and dancing. So if you have Monday, October 21 at 6:30 PM open on your calendar, do stop by the Boynton Beach City Library and be swept back in time to that glorious era of American history.

What did we grow in 1905?

When looking at the PALMM archive online, which houses many old Florida related documents, I found the 1905 Florida Census book – http://books.google.com/books?id=HJxAAAAAYAAJ.

One of the most interesting tables in the book listed the value of each of the crops grown in Dade County, which in 1905 included all of what today is Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Martin counties. Not surprisingly, tomatoes topped the dollar value, followed by pineapple. That really echoes what was grown in Boynton too, where farmers raised tomatoes along the shores of Lake Worth in the rich muck soil. Pineapples thrived a bit further inland in the sandy soils along the pine ridge. The numbers then drop off rapidly so that the third highest cash crop was eggplant, which was one of the few vegetables that could be grown in the heat of summer. The one acre of sugar cane stands in stark contrast to today, where over 400,000 acres is in sugar cane. Somebody also tried peaches, but that did not look too successful with only two bushels valued at $5.00. South Florida is still the nation’s top winter vegetable producer, and our growers are getting the fields ready for the fall planting out in the Glades to put fresh produce on our tables through the cold winter months.

Crops grown in Dade County, 1905

Crops grown in Dade County, 1905