Palm Beach County’s First Automobiles

1905 – Florida requires automobile registration

Florida Memory - Early Auto Registrations, 1905-1917

Florida Memory – Early Auto Registrations, 1905-1917

In 2015, the State Archives of Florida digitized the first two volumes of motor vehicle registrations recorded by the Florida Department of State. These ledger pages, found online at Florida Memory, Found Here contain detailed information recorded between 1905 and 1917 about our earliest vehicles, including the registered owner, city, county, make, model and horsepower of each automobile and motorcycle.

George Potter

George W. Potter was the first person in this part of the state (Palm Beach County) to legally register his automobile with the state.

George Potter, courtesy Potter Collection, Historical Society of Palm Beach County

George Potter, courtesy Potter Collection, Historical Society of Palm Beach County

Other horseless carriages were dotting the sandy roads, but Potter’s registration of a lightweight, four-horsepower Orient Buckboard, recorded November 20, 1905, was the 80th registered vehicle in the entire state of Florida. Before moving to Florida, Potter studied art and engineering in Cincinnati. His great grandson, David Willson, cartoonist for the Palm Beach Daily News, recounts how you could tell Potter had a fascination with all things mechanical as his sketches were filled with bridges and steam boats.

Record #80 Geo. W. Potter Nov. 20, 1905 vehicle registration

Record #80
Geo. W. Potter Nov. 20, 1905 vehicle registration

Waltham Manufacturing Company was a manufacturer of automobiles in Waltham, Massachusetts, including the Orient Buckboard, between 1902 and 1908

Henry M. Flagler

Henry M. Flagler, courtesy Library of Congress

Henry M. Flagler, courtesy Library of Congress

Henry Morrison Flagler registered his vehicle on December 6, 1905, a few weeks after Potter. Local history sources contend that Flagler did not allow motorized vehicles on his luxury island resort at Palm Beach, instead preferring guests to traverse through the gardens and jungle trials via wicker rickshaw bicycles, powered by Negro guides.
White Auto Co. 1905

White Auto Co. 1905


Flagler’s vehicle, listed as a Touring Car manufactured by White Sew’g Mch. Co. (White Sewing Machine Co./White Motor Co.) operated on steam, hence the vehicle was not a noisy as other autos of the time. Presidents William Taft and Theodore Roosevelt also owned White Motor Company automobiles during this time period.

Florida East Coast Hotel Automobile Registrations

Florida East Coast Hotel Automobile Registrations



Florida East Coast Hotel System

The vehicle must have served Flagler well, for in the next few months his Florida East Coast Hotel system purchased and registered five additional identical touring cars.

1907 White Touring Steam Car, courtesy Henry Ford Museum

1907 White Touring Steam Car, courtesy Henry Ford Museum

Boynton Hotel Company President A.E. Parker

A. E. Parker Touring Car Record

A. E. Parker Touring Car Record

In January 1908, Albert Edward Parker, manager of the Boynton oceanfront hotel and son-in-law of hotel owner Maj. Nathan Smith Boynton, registered his 30-horsepower Winton M.C. Co. Touring Car. Parker conducted business in both West Palm Beach and Miami, and likely used the old, bumpy sand trail to traverse the county for business purposes and to take hotel guests on sight-seeing tours.
Winton Motor Carriage Car

Winton Motor Carriage Car


1908 – 500 registered vehicles in Florida

By 1908, 500 vehicles were registered in the state of Florida.


2016 – Over 20,000,000 registered vehicles in Florida

Currently, there are over twenty million vehicles registered in Florida, with 1.2 million in Palm Beach County.

Vehicles registered in the State of Florida as of February 5, 2016

DRIVE SAFE!

Historical Society Officers Conduct Award Winning Historic Moonlight Cemetery Tours

For more information and to register please call the City of West Palm Beach at 561-804-4900

2016

Friday, January 22, 6:30 p.m.
Monday, February 22, 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, March 23, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, April 21, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, May 20, 7:30 p.m.

2017

Thursday, January 12, 6:30 p.m.

Friday, February 10 – 6:30 PM

Thursday, March 16 – 7:30 PM

Thursday April 13 – 7:30 PM

Thursday, May 11 – 7:30 PM

Sponsored by the City of West Palm Beach – Historic Preservation Program and the Parks and Recreation Division.

Look for more cemetery tours for Delray, Boynton Boca Raton & Lantana cemeteries coming soon!

Woodlawn Cemetery - Palm Beach's oldest gated community

Woodlawn Cemetery – Palm Beach’s oldest gated community

Moonlight Cemetery Tours of Woodlawn Cemetery conducted by  Boynton Beach Historical Society officers Janet DeVries and Ginger Pedersen, Palm Beach County historians and authors of “Pioneering Palm Beach: The Deweys and the South Florida Frontier,” and “The Collected Works of Byrd Spilman Dewey.”

Woodlawn Cemetery at dusk.

Woodlawn Cemetery at dusk.

These award-winning history tours are limited to 50 guests, and a $5.00 donation is appreciated and will be used to help restore this historic cemetery. The tour will cover some of the most prominent pioneer families who arrived in the area more than 100 years ago.

chillingworthAlong with a couple dozen other interesting pioneers, Charlie Pierce, Florida’s famous barefoot mailman and Boynton’s first postmaster is featured along with Anna and Albert Parker, Maj. Nathan S. Boynton’s daughter and son-in-law. Mr. Parker managed the Boynton Hotel.

 

Several of South Florida's barefoot mailmen. Charles "Charlie" Pierce on the right.

Several of South Florida’s barefoot mailmen. Charles “Charlie” Pierce on the right.

To make reservations, please call 561-804-4900 (Francene).

PLEASE BRING: A flashlight, bug repellent, water (there are no facilities on-site).

PLEASE WEAR: Closed-toed shoes such as sneakers.

LOCATION: 1500 South Dixie Highway, across from the Norton Gallery. Parking is available on-site inside cemetery gates.

ALL TOURS BEGIN AT 6:30 PM or 7:30 PM dependent upon daylight savings time. PLEASE ARRIVE AT LEAST 15 MINUTES EARLY FOR CHECK-IN.

Rain Policy: If heavy rain occurs on the night scheduled, the tour will be held the following evening. If it rains on the next night also, the tours is suspended for that month.

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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