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.

The Boynton Theatre

Meteorologists predict temperatures may reach 100 degrees this week in the Palm Beaches. What do people do when the temperature climbs to uncomfortable heights? They head for the refreshing air-conditioning of the movie theatre!

Boynton Theatre

Boynton Theatre

The Boynton Theatre at Lake (Boynton Beach Blvd.) and U.S. 1 (Federal Highway) originally featured silent movies, and a theatre employee provided dramatic music on the piano. The building had one screen and wooden floors. In the 1950s, a quarter-dollar bought two feature movies, a cartoon, and a newsreel. Popcorn cost 5 cents. Church groups met in the theatre building before construction of their own buildings, and businesses occupied the second floor.
Vintage movie theatre brochures provide a glimpse back in time. Look at the entertainment selections from April 1959!

1959 Boynton Theatre Flyer

1959 Boynton Theatre Flyer

 

The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw Movie Poster (1958)

The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw Movie Poster (1958)

The Goddess (1958), a drama loosely based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, a 1959 biography of Al Capone, aptly called Al Capone, a 1958 British/American western comedy starring Jayne Mansfield and Kenneth Moore, and a low-budget 1957 science fiction film – The 27th Day, featuring flying saucers and aliens.

Al Capone 1959 Movie Poster

Al Capone 1959 Movie Poster

What does the spring 1959 movie selection tell us about the Boyntonites escaping to the movies? Did I mention the free air-conditioning?

The 27th Day Poster (1957)

The 27th Day Poster (1957)

Boynton’s Earliest Churches

Before Palm Beach County existed, most of southeast Florida was Dade County. Before the pioneers founded religious institutions, the community relied on the occasional traveling missionary for church services. Congregants gathered in homes and in shady

Bethesda-By-The-Sea Church - Palm Beach (Courtesy Florida Memory)

Bethesda-By-The-Sea Church – Palm Beach (Courtesy Florida Memory)

arbors, reading the Bible and singing hymns. As more settlers arrived, the families raised money, gathered materials, and built small local churches. Weather and fire destroyed most of the early church buildings, though one pioneer church built in 1894, the second Bethesda-By-The-Sea Episcopal church, still stands in Palm Beach.

In 1930-1940, the WPA (Works Progress Administration) surveyed churches throughout the state to chronicle the history and inventory the church archives. The WPA reported the Town of Boynton had seven organized congregations with church buildings, though few buildings were the original structures.

According to WPA records, Saint Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church (1900) is the oldest. The records designate Saint John Baptist (1909) as the second oldest, yet a comprehensive history of the Boynton Methodist Episcopal Church, South published in 2006 (First United Methodist Church of Boynton Beach, Florida: A Centennial Celebration: A History of the First 100 Years 1905-2005) is contrary to the WPA date of 1915 and supports the claim the Boynton Methodist formed in 1905.

Original WPA Notes scanned into Florida Memory

Original WPA Notes scanned into Florida Memory

Other early Boynton churches

Saint John Baptist Church 1909

Saint Cuthbert’s Episcopal Church 1923

Community Church 1926

Church of God 1936

New Mount Zion Church 1939

Methodist Church, 1930s

Methodist Church, 1930s

In the 1976 film, The History of Boynton Beach, one of the scenes shows scores of men, women and children exiting a church. As the church-bell chimes, people scurry across Seacrest Boulevard and gather in small groups to chat. The women wear lovely skirts and wear heels, with their heads covered by colorful hats. Nearly every gentleman wears a tie, and most are carrying a suit coat or sport jacket over his arm. Though today many church-goers don’t dress up as much, this idyllic scene is still repeated across Boynton Beach on Sunday mornings.

Today Boynton Beach and nearby unincorporated areas of Palm Beach County are home to nearly 600 religious institutions. The Boynton Beach Historical Society would like to add to its knowledge base and archive with information including primary documents and photographs of each church. To contribute to the history, please email us at boyntonhistory@gmail.com.

Go West, Young Man

As Palm Beach County’s coastal ridge areas were being developed in the early  1900s, land speculators eyed the lands just beyond, along the pine ridge that started about where Military Trail is today. The land between today’s I-95 and Military Trail needed quite a bit of drainage, through the chain of lakes that runs from Lake Mangonia all the way south to Lake Ida in Delray Beach. This buffer area was quite swampy. The “Flatwoods” or pine ridge that runs  from Military Trail  to 441 was a little higher. The Palm Beach Farms Company bought thousands of acres of this land, and offered it up for sale in five acre (and larger) tracts. The company platted the Town of Lake Worth in the process, to offer a “free” 25 foot town lot if you bought acreage out west. Greenwood and Bryant owned the vast holdings, depicted as the shaded areas on this map – each square is 640 acres.

Palm Beach Farms Land Holdings in 1910

Palm Beach Farms Land Holdings in 1910

They had many takers for the land, yet much of it was not drained for many years, and was wet during the summer rainy season. Many acres end up in farming and dairying, and today of course it is mostly covered with housing and business developments.

The sales literature was filled with glowing reports, and quite frankly, some real untruths, such as this quote: “So dry is the air with an easterly wind that within a quarter mile from the sea a wet garment hung out in the breeze at night will be found quite dry in the morning.” Somehow Florida humidity and mosquitoes did not exist for the sales writer. They were unwelcome surprises for those early land purchasers.

In the process the company built Boynton Road and Delray Road – today’s Boynton Beach Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue as ways west out to the land. Cars and trucks allowed farmers access to the land, although the shell rock roads were slow going. The land boom was on.

 

 

The wilderness as seen in 1910.

The wilderness as seen in 1910.

 

The Boynton Beach Casino

Summer’s here….and the time is right….for going to the beach!! The Boynton Beach Casino served as a popular community gathering spot from its 1928 beginnings until 1967 when the city demolished the outdated buildings  to build newer public beach facilities.

Constructed during the FLorida land boom - opened in 1928

In the boom days of the 1920s, the Addison Mizner-style inspired structure on the ocean beach was completed on or before April 1, 1928. The stately open-air structure had a screened-in dining room and a vaulted ceiling that was trimmed with pecky cypress.  It was used as a recreational facility, a restaurant and for governmental purposes.

Mr. H.R. Farnham was the first custodian, who was assisted by his wife and lived in the apartment upstairs in the casino. He was responsible for the cleaning and upkeep of the grounds and building. He was also deputized as a special police officer to enforce the law which included prohibition of liquor on the grounds. The Farnhams also ran the concession stand.

 

Clipping from the 1939 Palm Beach Post

Clipping from the 1939 Palm Beach Post

Mr. and Mrs. D. S. Ross managed the facility in the late 1930s and early 1940s. According to the Palm Beach Post, in 1939 the city added a seawall and running water  to the buildings. The buildings had showers, locker rooms and bathrooms.

In 1946 Lucille and Otley Scott rented space in the casino and operated a restaurant. The Scotts glassed-in the tall, arched windows; using the hall for their restaurant dining room. The concession area became the kitchen, and the Scotts lived upstairs in the caretaker’s apartment. The Scotts used the casino until 1948.

Boynton Beach Casino 1960

Over the years families and people of all ages flocked to the waterfront casino and beach. Local residents celebrated picnics, barbecues, dances, award ceremonies and parties in style. In 1967 the city tore down the casino, much to the sorrow of town residents who had known and used it for almost 40 years. The city replaced the buildings with a small snack bar, pavilions, bathrooms and showers.

The beach is still used heavily by town residents and visitors, but the facility which provided a central focus for so many gatherings and community activities is gone forever.

For more information on the history of Boynton’s municipal beach please click here: http://www.boyntonhistory.org/wpcontent/uploads/2013/05/HISTORIAN_2007_N_8.pdf

 

For information on Boynton’s municipal beach today please click here: http://www.boyntonbeach.org/departments/parks/water_beach_access.php/#oceanfront