A Secret from the Past is Revealed

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

Ben Trovato in West Palm Beach, 1896

Ben Trovato in West Palm Beach, 1896

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

Bertha W. Chadwell

Bertha W. Chadwell

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

A.P. Lynch House

A.P. Lynch House

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

Lynch house location

Lynch house location

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

The 1924 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows no structures on lots 1 and 2, where the house had stood. It could be that the house had burned down by the time the map was drawn. This supports Mrs. Chadwell’s report of the house burning down in about 1920. Without further evidence we were left with only the probable location, and no idea what the house was like, other than it was two-story.
Then something very strange happened. Last week I was searching through the old Florida East Coast Homeseeker magazine, which was a sales tool for selling off Henry Flagler’s vast land holdings he had gained from the state of Florida for building the railroad. Several copies of this publication are scanned online in the HathiTrust archive, and once in a while I like to scroll through the pages and clip old photographs of areas long since developed.

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

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

Ben Trovato in Boynton, 1910

There it stood—in the wilderness of pine trees that was Boynton—the big two-story house, with a wonderful deck and unusual windows that is reminiscent of a Frank Lloyd Wright design. A shingled frame vernacular design with high ceilings and screened porches. There stood Fred and Byrd, she in her signature white dress with parasol, and Fred looking down from the deck with his familiar grey hat. The design was probably Byrd’s; from a 1936 letter: “I’ve built nearly a dozen cottages, and several big houses. My biggest ‘job’ is doing that sort of thing, as I’m my own architect, as well as landscaper, and it PAYS when we’ve needed nice sums in a hurry, and my husband was unable to work.”
The photograph is not sharp, having been scanned from the original lithographed magazine page. The photographer was listed as the “Florida Photographic Concern” and “Fort Pierce.” The company was based in Fort Pierce and run by Harry Hill, who was a bee-keeper and avid photographer. Many of his glass negatives have been preserved by the St. Lucie County Regional History Center; we contacted them to see if an original photograph exists in their archives. Hill did much photography for Flagler’s businesses, so he was probably hired to photograph the Dewey house.
I will leave the reader to draw conclusions as to how this happened as it did. A parable written by Mrs. Dewey, “Who Seeks Finds,” certainly fits what occurred in the rediscovery of the Dewey house in Boynton. The joy and triumph of finally seeing that wonderful home in Boynton still lingers. If spirits do return…

UPDATE 4/16/2016:

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

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The “Other” Boynton Beach

In my days working as archivist for the Boynton Beach City Library, every once in a while I’d get a phone call from an enthusiastic caller who thought they discovered a rare image of Boynton Beach. I adore finding new (old) images of Boynton Beach, so you can imagine my excitement as I anticipated this revealing, deeper glimpse into the faded history of our fair city.

A group of young people enjoying the time at the shore.

A group of young people enjoying the time at the shore.

Envision my disappointment, and theirs, when I scrutinized the photograph and determined it was not Boynton Beach, Florida.

How did I know the images were not Boynton Beach? Well, the trees weren’t right (we had pines and palms). The big Ferris Wheel and merry-go-round, while resplendent for their time, weren’t representative of our Boynton Beach.

Beach-goers flocked to the New Jersey shore in the summer-time.

Beach-goers flocked to the New Jersey shore in the summer-time.

The other Boynton Beach, in this case, was a New Jersey waterfront resort established by another Boynton, Cassimer Whitman Boynton, a native of Maine. It was located in Woodbridge Township near Perth Amboy.

 

 

There are many similarities and even more differences in Boynton Beach, New Jersey and Boynton Beach, Florida.

 

One of the amenities in Boynton Beach, New Jersey

One of the amenities in Boynton Beach, New Jersey

Similarities between Boynton Beach, New Jersey (also known as Sewaren) and the Boynton Beach Hotel in Florida.

 

 

 

 

  • Both places called Boynton Beach
  • Both established as resorts for wealthy northerners
  • Both on the waterfront
  • Both offered postcards as souvenirs to guests
  • Both had wooden hotels for guests to stay
  • Visitors arrived to both resorts via train or boat
  • Both had a bathing beach with a bathhouse
  • Both had a shooting range
  • Both offered fishing and boating excursions
  • Both began in the late 1800s
  • Both the resort in New Jersey and the Hotel Boynton in Florida closed by 1925

 

 

Pleasure boating.

Pleasure boating.

Differences between Boynton Beach, New Jersey (also known as Sewaren) and the Boynton Beach Hotel in Florida (established by Major Nathan Smith Boynton of Port Huron, Michigan).

 

 

 

This undivided back postcard shows the bathing beach and bathhouses.

This undivided back postcard shows the bathing beach and bath houses.

  • Started by different Boynton families (they were both descendants of Sir Matthew Boynton)
  • The Boynton Beach in New Jersey attracted visitors in the summer months
  • The Boynton Beach in Florida attracted visitors in the winter months
  • The Boynton Beach in New Jersey offered amusement rides, a Nickelodeon, photographic booths and pony rides.
  • The Boynton Beach in New Jersey had a hot dog stand and an ice cream stand
  • The Boynton Beach in Florida offered dining in the Boynton Beach Hotel dining room. Meals were included for $2.00 a day in 1898.
  • The Boynton Beach in New Jersey had a dance pavilion with live orchestra’s every Saturday in night in the summer.
  • The Boynton Beach in New Jersey had a pier.
The Ferris Wheel. Boynton Beach, New Jersey

The Ferris Wheel. Boynton Beach, New Jersey

 

Both of the resorts closed by 1925. The New Jersey property was sold to the Shell Oil Company. The Florida Boynton property was managed by A.E. Parker, Major Boynton’s son-in-law until 1925. The area is now known as Ocean Ridge.

 

The Dancing Pavillion. Boynton Beach, New Jersey

The Dancing Pavillion. Boynton Beach, New Jersey

 

The faded picture postcards of both Boynton Beach resorts are the remnants of this idyllic time in history.

Pre- 1907 postcard of Boynton Beach New Jersey.

Pre- 1907 postcard of Boynton Beach New Jersey.

More information about Boynton Beach in New Jersey may be found at the following websites:

 

 

 

Hatala, Greg. The Star Ledger. (2013)

http://www.nj.com/middlesex/index.ssf/2013/07/glimpse_of_history_cabanas_at_boynton_beach.html

History of Sewaren. http://mhswebtvprinting.tripod.com/wrcsewarenhistory.html.

ThatNJVideoGuy. Historical Boynton Beach. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpnS1jlVxG0.

http://www.nj.com/middlesex/index.ssf/2013/07/glimpse_of_history_cabanas_at_boynton_beach.html

Trueger, V. Sewaren’s History. (2011) Garden State Legacy. Issue 11. http://gardenstatelegacy.com/files/Sewarens_Heyday_Troeger_GSL11_PRINT.pdf.

 

 

History treasures in your house?

 

What treasures are in your house?

What treasures are in your house?

Do you have photo albums stored on the top shelf of your closet, buried deep in the attic or stowed some other place in your house?  What about that file box of old school awards and birthday cards or the shoebox full of postcards?

The items are probably mementos from your childhood, and likely illustrate people and places lost to time. Perhaps you inherited these items from a relative and you don’t know much about the people and places in the photographs.

House (just north of the Boynton Inlet) built in 1982 and torn down in 2000.

House (just north of the Boynton Inlet) built in 1982 and torn down in 2000.

Please do not throw them away.  Each scrap of paper, image, postcard, receipt and letterhead contains a link to the past. You never know how such information might reveal clues  to our history or provide valuable information to researchers and future generations.

Looking west from Manalapan to Hypoluxo Island. Circa 1912-1917.

Looking west from Manalapan to Hypoluxo Island. Circa 1912-1917.

Case in point: I recently came across a 100-year-old photo album on the Internet. The album contained hundreds of images of coastal Palm Beach County prior to development.  Following clues discovered in the old album, I researched and uncovered the locations of the images and learned about the earliest families to live in the area we call Manalapan; the tropical paradise just north of the Boynton Inlet.

Image of our beach, circa 1912-1917, discovered in a discarded photo album full of coastal Palm Beach County photographs.

Image of our beach, circa 1912-1917, discovered in a discarded photo album full of coastal Palm Beach County photographs.

To learn  more about my “paradise found” in the August issue of The Coastal Star newspaper- click here to read it.

Next time you think about those dusty old photo albums stashed somewhere in your house, consider adding to the historical record by chronicling your family history. If you can’t remember who the people are, or where the images were taken, the historical researchers at the Boynton Beach Historical Society (and our members) might be able to figure it out. We refer you to the appropriate local or national repository.

Manalapan, Florida. circa 1914.

Manalapan, Florida. circa 1914.

Remember, please don’t throw our history away!

The Last Cows of Boynton – Part 1

I guess there has to be a last of everything, and in Boynton’s proud dairy history, these are indeed the last. The last cows of Boynton are in their 12 acre pasture, tucked between a gas station, a development, and Knuth Road. You may have driven past them on Boynton Beach Boulevard. I often take children there to feed the cows carrots, so they can see what

Cow in the Winchester Pasture

Cow in the Winchester Pasture

a real cow looks like. One evening we were lucky enough to meet Mrs. Winchester, who came by to check on them. There was a nostalgic gaze on her face as she told me of the days when thousands of cows grazed across Boynton’s prairies. She laughed as she told me her first name – Elsie! A perfect name for a dairyman’s wife.

These last cows hold the secret of all those that came before them. Boynton’s flat drained sandy and muck soils were ideal for cattle grazing, and in the 1920s,  the Model Land Company encouraged people to enter the dairying business.  The first large-scale dairy had some very lucky cows, who enjoyed an ocean view. In 1920, Ward Miller decided that the lands that today make up Briny Breezes would make a fine dairy. Being near the ocean, diseases brought by ticks would be less of a problem. In 1923, he built the Shore Acres Dairy, along with owning the Miller-Jordan Dairy on Federal Highway, while W.S. Shepard had the Royal Palm Dairy.

Another large dairy in the early days of Boynton dairying was Bertana Farms, owned by A.E Parker and on the Dixie Highway. He was also part owner of the Alfar Creamery in West Palm Beach, and a former city manager of West Palm Beach; much of the milk from Boynton was processed through the Alfar Creamery. Harry Benson and E.L. Winchester also had their dairys on the eastern side of Boynton.

As land along the ocean and the Dixie highway became more valuable, dairies began to pop up along the Military Trail, Lawrence Road and what would eventually become Congress Avenue (Congress was not put through Boynton until 1965). One of earliest and most famous dairy families of Boynton were the Weavers. Their dairy was located along the Military Trail, where the Cypress Creek Golf Club is today. M.A. Weaver served as mayor of Boynton for many years, and their house still stands in Lake Boynton Estates. His sons had land north and south of Boynton Beach Boulevard on Military Trail, all of which was eventually sold for developments and shopping. Stanley Weaver was also very much involved in Boynton, serving as mayor in the 1950s and serving longer than anyone else ever has on the Lake Worth Drainage District Board. The Boynton Canal is now named in his honor.
Next installment – The Last Cows of Boynton – Part 2

The South Lake Worth Inlet – an 85 year-old Boynton landmark

In 2009, local history supporter Robert Neff wrote to me at the Boynton Beach City Library, requesting the assistance and support of the Boynton Beach Historical Society in applying for a historic State of Florida marker at the Boynton Inlet. Mr. Neff offered to fund the cost for the marker. I researched and documented the history of the marker and applied for a Master Site File number. Prior to the application finalization, Mr. Neff passed away at the age of 95. Next month, the marker review board will make a decision on the South Lake Worth (Boynton) Inlet marker. Here is a tidbit of history from the application narrative:

Throngs of anglers and fisherman gather at the inlet to relax, fish and watch the sport fishing, recreation, and drift fishing boats travel in and out of the inlet.

Throngs of anglers and fisherman gather at the inlet to relax, fish and watch the sport fishing, recreation and drift fishing boats travel in and out of the inlet.

The South Lake Worth Inlet (commonly known as the Boynton Inlet) is located in Ocean Ridge, Florida. The first inlet into Lake Worth was cut in the mid-19th century in the vicinity of today’s Lake Worth Inlet on the north end of the barrier island of Palm Beach, and was stabilized in 1917 as a navigable inlet. In 1925, the South Lake Worth Inlet was cut at the south end of the body of water known as Lake Worth.

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

A view of the original bridge over the inlet. Over the years the bridge has been nicknamed the Rainbow Bridge or Old McDonald Bridge for its twin arches

In the early 1920s, the need was seen for an additional inlet at the south end of Lake Worth to allow better water circulation and improve water quality. Both the cities of West Palm Beach and Lake Worth dumped sewage into Lake Worth as water treatment was nonexistent in the 1920s. On October 10, 1923, the newly formed South Lake Worth Inlet District appropriated monies for engineering work on the Inlet and construction began with Karl Riddle serving as chief engineer (Palm Beach Post).

The rainbow-style bridge over the inlet was opened September 3, 1926 to allow automobile traffic to continue through to Palm Beach along Ocean Boulevard (Palm Beach Post). Work continued on the inlet and it opened March 16, 1927 (Palm Beach Post). The inlet impeded the natural sand flow to the south of the inlet, resulting in severe erosion along those beaches. In 1937, the world’s first fixed sand bypassing plant, with extended jetties on the north and south ends were constructed, which greatly reduced erosion (Dean & O’Brien, 1987).

Pelicans patiently waiting for a taste of fish

Pelicans patiently waiting for a taste of fish

The Inlet opening jump-started the local economy and launched Boynton Beach as a fishing and boating destination. The Inlet allowed easy access to the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf Stream, as Boynton Beach is the closest municipality to the Gulf Stream waters. The areas surrounding the Inlet became a popular destination with local residents and tourists. In 1988, the county improved the park and its amenities. The Inlet and site continue to draw thousands each year to its blue waters and park facilities.