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!

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 4.54.22 PM

Happy 100th Birthday to the Boynton School!

1st Permanent Schoolhouse in Boynton, ca. 1907

1st Permanent Schoolhouse in Boynton, ca. 1907

It is hard to imagine a Boynton Beach without a schoolhouse. In 1895, only a handful of people lived here, and for most of those, formal education was unnecessary. Between 1900 and 1910, the little settlement, known simply as Boynton, grew in population from less than 100 people to nearly 700.

Though they had no children of their own, Fred and Byrd Spilman Dewey recognized the need for a school in the growing settlement of Boynton. In 1897, Fred S. Dewey appeared before the school board and petitioned for a Boynton school, as reported in the August 5, 1897 Tropical Sun. A small, one-room schoolhouse on stilts was erected on land donated by the Deweys, in the area of the present day Dewey Park (Ocean Avenue and NE 4th Street). Miss Maude Gee was the first teacher, referred to in the Tropical Sun as Boynton’s “Instructoress.” A makeshift school for African-Americans; known at that time as a “Colored School” opened in 1896 in the area of today’s Poinciana School.

Article from Tropical Sun

Article from Tropical Sun

 

Albert P. Sawyer donated the land for the first permanent schoolhouse for White children, from his Sawyer’s Addition to the Dewey’s original Town of Boynton plat on November 29, 1902. In 1904 the two-room wooden school which was located near present-day Ocean Avenue and Seacrest Blvd. (then Green Street) opened with W.S. Shepard as Principal and Agnes Halseth as teacher. A few years later, in 1909, Palm Beach County was carved out of Dade County.

The Boynton School, ca. 1913

The Boynton School, ca. 1913

In 1912, the Palm Beach County School Board approved a contract with A. Mellson to construct the first part of a new school building. The original plan left the upstairs unfinished and did not include the fire escape. The Board approved a contract for William W. Maughlin, an architect from Baltimore to design a new masonry vernacular school. Maughlin, born in 1847, had previously designed the Palm Beach High School in 1908-1909 and was a draftsman for the Florida East Coast Hotels. Maughlin and his firm of Ruggles and Weller constructed the schoolhouse. The Boynton School was Maughlin’s last project, he passed away suddenly in October 1913 at his office and is buried in Woodland Cemetery.

Architect Wm. Maughlin's Woodmen of the World Monument (1847-1913) at Woodlawn Cemetery.

Architect Wm. Maughlin’s Woodmen of the World Monument (1847-1913) at Woodlawn Cemetery.

In December, 1912, the Board of Instruction authorized work to be completed on the two-story, six classroom building. The structure, one of the first in Boynton to feature indoor plumbing, had a signature portico, large sash windows and transom windows to facilitate the flow of sunlight and fresh air. The floors were made from Dade County Pine, and walls affixed with bead board.

The sturdy school featured a new system in masonry, known as Dunn Tile. The molds, designed by the W.E. Dunn Mfg. Co. of Chicago, the largest manufacturer to make concrete block forms, transformed the building industry. The Dunn Co. used a revolutionary concrete and plaster mixer to make concrete  for block, a precursor to the concrete block house.

Miss Annie Streater (Shepard) with her 1st to 4th grade pupils, ca. 1913

Miss Annie Streater (Shepard) with her 1st to 4th grade pupils, ca. 1913

The school opened September 8, 1913 for grades 1-12 with 81 students in attendance. Little Glenn Murray, age three, was hastily added to the list of pupils so the school had adequate students for the staff of three teachers and a principal. Miss Annie Streater taught the first year and Howard Frederick Pfahl, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, served as school principal for the years 1914-1915. Pfahl motored to school on an Indian motorcycle.

Principal Howard Phahl, ca. 1915.

Principal Howard Phahl, ca. 1915.

The Boynton School served grades 1 -12 until 1927, when the Boynton High School opened next door. For the next three decades the building served as a traditional 1-8 grade school, until Boynton Jr. High opened in 1958. The structure served as a school for primary grades and elementary students until its closing in 1990.

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.