The Rediscovery of Agnes Ballard

West Palm Beach’s Mandel Library on Clematis Street has a wonderful collection of Florida books, maps and rare documents. Among the most fun are old city directories, which people used to find persons and businesses. The earliest edition in the library’s collection is from 1916. The advertisements list businesses, hotels and restaurants of almost a century ago.

One such ad intrigued me. It stated “Agnes Ballard – Registered Architect, member of the Florida Association of Architects.” I thought that was unusual, to have a woman in business for herself in such a male dominated field.

Agnes Ballard's ad from the city directory

Agnes Ballard’s ad from the city directory

When back at a computer, I began an Internet search on her life. And the story that unfolded had to be documented so that someone who lived in Palm Beach County for over 60 years and contributed so much to its betterment would not be forgotten.

Agnes was born September 14, 1877 in Worcester, Massachusetts, the daughter of Dana and Jennie Ballard. Her father’s occupation on the 1880 Census was listed as “driving a job wagon.” But a different path other than menial labor was meant for Agnes. In 1905, she graduated from the State Normal School in Worcester (the teacher’s college) with a teaching certificate.  She also attended Wellesley College and Oxford in England. Her first teaching stint was in Palmer, Michigan, but the cold weather and snow were too much for her. “I wanted to go somewhere where I never would see snow again.”, she told the Palm Beach Post in 1958.

In 1906, at the age of 29, she set out on a grand adventure that landed her in West Palm Beach, Florida, a single woman seeking her fortune. In 1906, the school board approved her appointment to teach 6th grade. Later, she was one of the first teachers at the Palm Beach High School, teaching geography, biology and chemistry. In 1908, she worked at Grace Lainhart’s private school north of downtown where she taught Latin and mathematics. Her income was tight, so she took a better paying teaching job in New York. The cold proved too much and she was back in the spring, finishing out the term teaching in St. Augustine.

But her interest in learning architecture could not be accomplished in Florida. Instead she took a job as a secretary in LaCrosse, Wisconsin to study architecture in the firm of Percy Dwight Butler, according to author Sarah Allaback in her book The First American Woman Architects. It was not uncommon for students to learn architecture by apprenticing in a firm, rather than through formal study in a university, and she did so from 1911-1914. Once she learned her craft, Ballard returned to West Palm Beach in 1914 and began practicing architecture. Her ad from a 1916 Palm Beach Post listed her office as 224 Clematis Street, and her drafting room as 312 Jefferson Road, which also served as her home. She ran several newspaper ads in both the Palm Beach Post and the Palm Beach Daily News for her architectural services. In 1915, she became the first registered woman architect in the State of Florida, according to the Report of the Secretary of the State of Florida. She was one of 82 registered architects in the state. Addison Mizner befriended Ballard and together they founded an architect’s club, with Mizner as president and Ballard as secretary. She was not too impressed with him: “He was very clever with original designs, but I still think he was lazy.”

But a monumental event in 1920 was to drive her career in a completely different direction. On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, granting woman’s suffrage. Not only could women vote, but they also could run for public office. And Agnes Ballard did just that. She ran for the position of Palm Beach County Superintendent of Public Instruction. The League of Women Voters supported Ballard and Clara Stypmann, who ran for school board, and held rallies around the county to get women to register to vote. The campaign was heating up in September. The Palm Beach Post wrote September 17, 1920: “And with a political cartoon too! Little Johnny and Mary, school books under arms and hand-in-hand, stand on the shores (of time) calling for help, which help seemingly is to be rendered in the golden dawn, for Miss Agnes Ballard is the rising sun.” She wrote new lyrics for a popular tune of the time as her campaign song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8kNpGTPbvk).

Campaign ad for Ballard and Stypmann

Campaign ad for Ballard and Stypmann

Election day – November 2, 1920. Turnout among the voters was good, and the first vote by Palm Beach County’s women was a success – both Agnes Ballard and Clara Stypmann won their elections. Neither had run on the Democratic nor Republican ticket, and Ballard beat both the Republican Kishpaugh and Democrat Bell by more than 500 votes, thus becoming the first woman elected county official in Florida. “On election night I recall standing on Clematis Street near Olive Street watching election returns being flashed on the side of a building. Shortly before 11 o’clock my name was flashed as a winner in the school election. I was so excited I didn’t go home until 2 o’clock the next morning.”

Ballard took office January 4, 1921, and faced an underfunded and exploding school district.

Ballard wins election

Ballard wins election

The 1920s boom was on, and each day new residents arrived with children in tow, wanting to enroll in school. She floated bonds to pay for school expansion at several of the area’s high schools, and even designed some of the smaller schools herself. She also urged teachers to have students attend the fledgling Palm Beach County Fair “The children can learn more Palm Beach County geography and conditions agricultural and otherwise in one day at the fair than perhaps days of study from ten books.”

Building of new schools couldn’t happen fast enough. In 1923, schools at Boynton and Jupiter were holding double sessions . To expand, $35,000 in bonds were issued for school expansion. But taking care of schools wasn’t Ballard’s only vocation. She continued her architecture practice, but also advocated for “Near East relief” – “If everyone in this city would contribute 10 cents for Near East relief then no one would have to give until it hurts and Palm Beach County would go far above its quota of $3,000. ”

To beautify local streets, she urged county commissioners to grant her permission to plant Australian pines and Royal Palms along the Dixie Highway, and they granted that in 1922. In education circles, she assumed leadership roles, being elected president of the Royal Palm Educational Association, an alliance of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County schools. In 1924, she decided not to run for reelection to the office of superintendent, wanting to spend more time in architecture. Joseph A. Youngblood took over in 1925. She returned to architecture and with the land boom on, she saw the opportunity to make money in real estate.

With her earnings, she took extensive trips to Europe in 1926 and in 1928. But in the depths of the Depression, architects could find little work. In 1933, she contacted Superintendent Youngblood about a teaching job and was granted one at Conniston Road School. In 1934, she began teaching at Palm Beach Elementary School, where she remained until 1947. At that time she resumed her architecture career full-time, employing two draftsmen to keep up with the work. She designed houses, apartment buildings, and often taught technical drawing classes at the high school at night for adult students.  One of the homes she designed in Palm Beach was demolished in 2009. No detailed record of her designs in Palm Beach County exist.

With this busy schedule, she still managed to continue her education. By attending in the summer, Ballard earned her B.A. degree from the University of Florida in 1936. She met Dr. John I. Leonard there, who was busy getting Palm Beach Junior College started. She wanted to help the effort, so she donated a large portion of her book collection to the fledging college and its library.

In civic circles, she was very active in the Girl Scouts, often guiding them on beach walks to learn the constellations, as astronomy was another hobby of hers. She was an active Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 9.32.25 AMmember of the Bethesda-by-the Sea episcopal church, the West Palm Beach City Library, the Society of the Four Arts, and the Women’s Garden Club. The library work had to have been a bit of a sore-spot. She was initially chosen to design the Memorial Library in Flagler Park, but was later dropped in favor of the Harvey and Clarke firm.

She attempted to reenter politics in 1957 when she ran for school board at age 80, though she was unsuccessful. As she retired, she became more active in local organizations, especially in gardening and church work.

When the Daniel Hulett Children of the American Revolution Society installed its officers in 1961, Ballard was on hand to swear them in at age 84, in the old red school house in Palm Beach. Agnes Ballard died November 24, 1969 at the age of 92 after living at 415 Hampton Road for many decades. Her house was demolished when the parking lot for the then “Sears Town” was expanded. Her obituary in the Palm Beach Post said the following about Agnes: “If knowledge is power, and modesty a real attribute, thoroughly mix with a keen sense of humor and you will have Miss Agnes Ballard.”

A house designed by Agnes Ballard at 411 26th Street in Old Northwood.

A house designed by Agnes Ballard at 411 26th Street in Old Northwood, 1951.

Agnes Ballard was a renaissance woman who lived a life as she saw fit – unconventional, challenging, and fulfilling. The pathway she blazed through the jungle for women today is one we think was always there as millions traverse it each day. But someone had to take that first swipe at it here in Palm Beach County. And it was Agnes.

This story was researched through the Mandel Public Library, the Palm Beach Post archives, the Miami Metropolis archives, and several books at Archive.org and Google Books. 

 

UPDATE: Agnes Ballard was featured in the Palm Beach Post July 10, 2016 – http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/news/news/local-govt-politics/this-trailblazing-woman-was-first-hillary-clinton-/nrsy5/

Agnes Ballard is also featured in the book “Legendary Locals of West Palm Beach.” – https://books.google.com/books?id=ml1UCwAAQBAJ&lpg=PT35&ots=MsIMR9ap-E&dq=agnes%20ballard%20palm%20beach%20post&pg=PT35#v=onepage&q=agnes%20ballard%20palm%20beach%20post&f=false

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.