In reading through old books, newspapers and pioneer accounts, once in a while a name would pop up that intrigued me – Cecil Upton. Various accounts of Cecil described him as eccentric Englishman who bought land in the area that would become Boynton, and that he came from a very wealthy family. With those intriguing clues, the search began for the elusive Englishman of Boynton.
Mr. Upton first appears in a book describing the accomplishments of various Upton family members. Upton was from Long Eaton in Derbyshire, born in 1849, son of William Judd Eaton, a well educated clerk with bachelors and masters degrees to his credit. Cecil too was educated at Oxford. But the great opening of America called Upton, and he emigrated in 1873. Somehow, he made his way to wilds of Florida and bought 40 acres from the State of Florida near Deland on January 4, 1876. Somewhere on his Florida trip, Upton became acquainted with Mason Dwight. Dwight and his family had been some of the very first settlers on Lake Worth, in fact building what could be considered the first true house on Lake Worth, with wood, windows and fixtures brought from Jacksonville, but with a palmetto thatched roof. Life was just too difficult, so Dwight had left his nephew in charge of the Lake Worth homestead while the family had moved further north.
In February of 1876, Dwight came south to check on the Lake Worth homestead and brought with him Cecil Upton. Charles Pierce, in his book Pioneer Life in South Florida, provides our first description of Upton:
Cecil Upton was as Mark Twain describes in one of his books “a remittance man” and although highly educated, was a very odd character. He was forever asking questions that no one could answer, He would suddenly smile when he asked a question in his tremendous voice, and the smile would as quickly vanish when you started to answer. His smile coming and going reminded one of the flashes of lightening in a black cloud. Their first night on the lake they spent at Charley Moore’s. Everyone had been asleep for an hour or more; all but Cecil Upton; he was thinking of the many strange things he had seen, but his thoughts were mostly about coconuts. Suddenly he shouted at the top of his tremendous voice, “Any money in coconuts?” Of course his booming tones awoke everyone in the house. Charlie Moore’s temper was up as he answered “Cut one open and see.”
Pierce then states that Upton bought some land at the land office in Gainesville on his way back to Louisiana, where he was teaching in a Black school.
Upton did not buy any land at that time. He did buy 40 acres in 1880, 82 acres in 1881 and 90 acres in 1888, all located north of present day downtown Boynton along what would become the Federal highway and railroad, stretching to Lake Worth waterway (Intracoastal). He also appears on the 1880 Census as living in Louisiana, a single man teaching school. So he sat on those 200 acres in Florida, paying the taxes and selling a few small parcels here and there.
Somewhere around 1910, Upton appears to have retired to Boynton to finally live on the land he had bought 30 years prior. When he first had the land, he had planted many tropical trees including coconuts, mango, bananas and pineapple. He was on the 1910 Census in Boynton, and listed his occupation as “farmer.” By 1920, his business interests were changing, and he purchased the original Scotia Plantation house owned by John Brown and opened “Upton’s Chicken Dinners.” It was only briefly open, and eventually became a “roadhouse” where liquor was sold during prohibition.
Upton increasingly became a recluse. Rumors began to circulate that Upton was very wealthy, receiving regular payments from his rich sister in England.