About Janet DeVries Naughton

Janet DeVries Naughton is the immediate past president of the Boynton Beach Historical Society and a librarian and history professor at Palm Beach State College. The intrepid historic researcher has contributed to and published over a dozen local history books. She has 20 years experience in Florida libraries, museums and archives, and is available as a consultant for family history projects, books and personal archival collections.

Happy 100th Birthday Town of Boynton!

Happy 100th Birthday Town of Boynton!

June 14th, 2020 commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Town of Boynton’s incorporation. We couldn’t let this significant date in history pass by without recognizing the notable event. In addition, it’s time to reveal some “hidden history,” about Boynton’s first mayor, forgotten with time.

Boynton Votes to Incorporate, April 19, 1920, The Miami News

 Boynton Incorporates

On Monday, June 14th, 1920 the town council adopted the minutes of the town’s formal organizational meeting. Two days earlier, on Saturday, June 12, G.E. Coon, Mayor, A.C. Shepard, C.M. Jensen, J.F. Bowen, A.A. Atwater, W.S. Shepard, Aldermen and B.F. Evans, Clerk conducted the inaugural meeting at the Masonic Hall on Ocean Avenue for the purpose of organizing the Town Council and electing a President of the Council. C.M. Jensen was nominated and voted in as president. At an April 19th, 1920 community meeting, Boynton’s citizens had voted 49 to 1 to incorporate.

Boynton Town Council Minutes (12 June 1920) page 1



Boynton’s First Mayor

Very few people know that George Edward Coon served as Boynton’s first mayor. Coon’s portrait was not among the portraits of previous and current Boynton Beach mayors that graced the City of Boynton Beach chamber walls. For well over a half century, most people assumed that Horace Bentley Murray was Boynton’s first mayor.

A Mystery!

I worked as the Boynton Beach City Library archivist for fifteen years, and during that time I discovered that Coon was the inaugural mayor. I asked my colleagues at the Boynton Beach Historical Society, including several former Boynton mayors, and no one knew anything about Geo. E. Coon. At the time, Newspapers.com did not exist, and the clunky Google news archive yielded very little. It seemed that no photographs of Coon existed. It bothered me that someone from our past was forgotten, and I was determined to seek out the truth.

Piecing Together a Puzzle

Using my Ancestry.com subscription, I built a tree for Mr. Coon. Initially, I didn’t even know his first name. Census records, and other primary source documents helped, and eventually names, dates and birthplaces emerged. Coon married Abigail Hellier, and together they had one daughter, Marjorie. Yearbooks discovered at the Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach showed Marjorie attended Palm Beach High School, and she taught school in Boynton after graduating from Florida Women’s College (FSU).

A Clear Picture Emerges

A few years ago, Christian Davenport, Palm Beach County’s archaeologist, notified me that one of his volunteers, Mary VanDerlofske, had ties to old Boynton. It turns out her grandfather was Walter Hellier, and Abigail Hellier Coon was his aunt. She didn’t know that George Coon was Boynton’s first mayor, but she advised that she had pictures.

Pictures!

I met with Mary at a small, privately owned bookstore, and we immediately bonded. She and I exchanged historic anecdotes and she shared some photos with me, including this dapper photograph of George Edward Coon, Boynton’s first mayor!


Below is a short biography of Coon, based on information that I found and supplemented with information from Stuart historian, Alice L. Luckhardt. http://stuartheritagemuseum.com/vignettes/

Geo. E. Coon 1863-1934

Born in Wisconsin in 1863, George Edward Coon lived in Michigan with his parents and two younger siblings. In 1880, while in his teens, he came south to the Indian River region and grew pineapples on ten acres of property purchased from John Jensen along the Indian River. Coon worked as a fruit grower and shipper and also served as postmaster for the Jensen settlement. He invested in and organized the Indian River Telephone Company. After his first wife died he married Abigail Hellier. Together they had one daughter, Marjorie Grace.

In the mid 1910s, the Coon family moved to Boynton. As he had family members in Jensen, he spent time in both Boynton and Jensen, actively leading in business and civic affairs until his death in 1934 at age 71.

G.E. Coon obituary



Gone, and forgotten for so many years. Forgotten no more.

References

The Florida Star
Ft. Lauderdale News
The Miami News
The Palm Beach Post

1910 U.S. Census
1920 U.S. Census
City of Boynton Beach City Council Minutes
Luckhardt, Alice.
Vanderlofske, Mary.

Early Boynton Beach Leaders: Horace B. Murray

Horace Bentley Murray


Bailey, Michigan native Horace Bentley Murray, his wife Mary Smith, and their three children, Florence, Clyde and Glenn travelled by train, steamboat and launch to a tiny Florida seaside settlement known as “Boynton,” arriving in January, 1896.

Murray, known as H.B. or simply “Hort” by family and friends, came to Florida as the head carpenter for Michigan politician Major Nathan Smith Boynton’s winter home. The spacious home, located on the rocky coastal ridge. overlooked the turquoise blue Atlantic Ocean.

Henry M. Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway, Boynton station


Nathan Boynton’s winter home – later the Hotel Boynton

While Murray and other laborers constructed the two-story wooden structure, the Murray family lived in a canvas tent on the west side of the canal (known today at the inland or Intracoastal Waterway).

Murray Family outside a Palmetto Thatched structure on their Boynton farm

Murray, like many early settlers, took advantage of Florida’s sunny clime and virgin soil and grew tomatoes (TOMS) and other winter vegetables while helping the fledgling settlement grow. He built homes for many of Boynton’s early settlers, including Fred S. and Byrd Spilman Dewey, who had purchased the Boynton garden lands in 1892 and filed the original plat for the Town of Boynton in September 1898, the same year Maj. Boynton opened his oceanfront home as a winter retreat for northern visitors.

Wooden swing bridge over the inland canal built by H.B. Murray, 1911

Murray raised ten children in Boynton, and fathered the town, designing bridges, constructing buildings, and steering the settlement toward incorporation. Though he didn’t serve as Boynton’s inaugural mayor (that honor belongs to George E. Coon), H.B. Murray has the distinction of winning the first election following the town’s successful incorporation in June, 1920.

Horace B. Murray Family

Lyman A. Boomer’s 1910 Boynton Map

From the October 2004 issue of The Historian. At the time, the society did not know Lyman Boomer’s identity.

In 2004, the Boynton Beach Historical Society reprinted a map of 1910 Boynton in the October issue of The Historian. The map’s creator was Lyman A. Boomer, age 10. At the time, no one at the historical society remembered a Boomer family, and several officers determined that the lad must have been a Lyman family member nicknamed “Boomer.”From the October 2004 issue of The Historian. At the time, the society did not know Lyman Boomer's identity.

The map depicted the original town of Boynton and had a key with family names and businesses. It even showed the Boynton Hotel, Fred Dewey’s orange grove, pineapple plantations, truck farms, the cemetery, and packing houses.

Lyman A. Boomer’s “Boynton in 1910” map reproduced in the Boynton Beach Star, ca. 1968.


Over the years, Ginger Pedersen and I used this map, along with Sanborn maps and real estate sales ledgers to recreate the original Town of Boynton and to research Boynton’s pioneers. Along the way, we discovered that Lyman Boomer was a real person, that the Boomer family did indeed live in Boynton in 1910, that Lyman was a talented artist with a keen interest in history, and we made contact with a family member.

Since Lyman Boomer left us with an important document illustrating early Boynton, I think it’s only fitting to tell his amazing story.

John and Ida Boomer (center/left), John’s sister Ella Boomer, and children Florence, Horace and Lyman in front of the Boomer home, ca. 1910.


John Boomer, a Missouri farmer, tried his hand truck farming in early Boynton. The family arrived in early 1909 and returned back to the Midwest in 1914. The 1910 federal census shows John, his wife Ida, sister Emily, and three children, Horace, age 13, Lyman, age 8 and Florence, age 3. Mr. Boomer’s occupation was listed as farmer. Their small frame house stood on the northeast corner of Ocean Avenue and Federal Highway.

1910 Federal Census record showing the Boomer family living in Boynton. John Boomer’s occupation is listed as a farmer in the truck farming business.


At the time, about 600 people were on the census pages for the greater Boynton region. The Boomer children attended school and played with the Murray kids, and Lyman, we learned, maintained a friendship with several Murray brothers even after they were grown men.

In the early 1920s, the Boomer clan moved to California, and lived in the Los Angeles area. Horace worked in a gold mine and Lyman opened an advertising firm painting signs and backdrops for Hollywood movies. Our Boynton map maker had true artistic talent. In the 1930s, Lyman wrote and illustrated a Wildlife Illustrated trilogy and won national acclaim. School children and families learned about birds, animals, and reptiles in their natural habitats from his works.

Illustrated Wildlife written and illustrated by Lyman A. Boomer, 1935

Lyman returned to Boynton for a visit in the late 1920s, and spent time with his childhood chums, Horace and Arthur Murray. A few years ago, Lyman’s great nephew, Dave Lineberry, saw our Facebook post about Lyman and sent us a link to Lyman’s

of going to a “Cracker Dance” with the brothers Murray. Mr. Lineberry also alerted us to the fact that Lyman also wrote a book about growing up in Florida. We don’t have a copy of it, but are actively looking for one.

The Florida Everglades illustration by Lyman A. Boomer

Lyman later had a cattle farm in Missouri, and over the years earned a reputation as a talented artist and a noted naturalist.

Lyman Boomer, and friends Brice and Bess Jones, ca. 1970s

He cared deeply about history and the environment and learned all he could about the land, including the native American tribes. He served as family historian and kept the family treasures. I feel that somewhere out there there are more Boynton images.

In the early 1970s, Lyman and his second wife sold the farm and moved into town. A local newspaper advertised an estate sale and listed household good, antiques and farming implements. It would seem that was a very sad time for Lyman to give up so much of his estate.

1974 estate auction advertisement for Mr. and Mrs. Lyman A. Boomer. After they sold their farm and moved to town they downsized and sold off personal household good and farming implements.

Lyman and his first wife had two sons, who are both gone now. We are grateful that his grand-nephew is keeping Lyman’s memory alive. In 2004, a newspaperman in Lyman’s hometown was gathering information, photos and stories for a Lyman Andrews Boomer biography. The journalist, Chris Houston advised me a few years ago that he hadn’t received the response he needed and the project is on hold.

One young boy’s simple Boynton cartography leaves us with an understanding of how people lived here 110 years ago. Thank you, Lyman for giving us a glimpse into the past with your legacy. Wish I could have met you.

Lyman Andrews Boomer
1901- 1990

Close-up of Lyman Boomer’s 1910 Boynton map depicting the Boynton Hotel and the Coquimbo shipwreck.

Close-up of Lyman Boomer’s 1910 Boynton map.

Close-up of Lyman Boomer’s 1910 Boynton map.

Historically speaking about hurricanes (part 1)

Hurricane watches evoke emotion. They are oft-times viewed with humor by those who take these weather events lightly and are greeted with stress and anxiety by those who aren’t sure how to react, have responsibility for others, and people who live alone. Many residents and visitors partake in hurricane parties; not a particularly bad idea for commiserating with others placed in similar situations; provided that you’ve already properly prepared for the storm by “battening down the hatches,” stockpiling adequate water, food, fuel, and other provisions, and don’t over-party.

Wind map of Hurricane Dorian on Friday, August 30 10:00am (Windy.com)


Having lived through several hurricanes and countless watches and warnings over the last fifty or so years, I’ve become accustomed to the Atlantic tropical storm action and the community’s reaction.

Surfers and most tourists love this time of year. Homeowners and small businesses dread it.

Boynton Ocean Inlet Park 2019

Exceedingly, newcomers to town are anxious about hurricanes, albeit somewhat excited.
Historically speaking, Boynton Beach, Florida and its surrounding areas have experienced many devastating hurricanes. On the other hand, most years (about 9 out of 10 over the last 130 years), Boynton has dodged the bullet and had no significant hurricane damage.

Looking back, this blog series will examine Boynton’s most significant hurricanes over the last one hundred years or so. While there’s been loss of life and significant property destruction in the early twentieth century, the region’s growth and expanse has taxed roadways, storm sewers, electrical grids and water supplies in ways no one would have predicted.

Just look at how we communicate? Today one can email and text instantaneously to friends and relatives in other states, countries and continents.

Historically speaking…Imagine being in a storm with no warning, no place to go and no way to reach your friends and family? While today, we have advanced warning, computerized tracking models, the Weather Channel, cell phones and social media for connecting with and helping friends, neighbors and family members, communication used to be severely limited. Before the days of daily newspapers and radios, one of the early warning systems came as the FEC—Florida East Coast Railway locomotives signaled an SOS—a Morse Code system of three short, three long and three short horn blasts, symbolizing distress.

Hurricane fo 1928 Mass Burial Site


From the unnamed 1928 killer hurricane (when the Lake Okeechobee levee broke causing massive flooding), to the 1949 storm that spawned tornadoes that flattened parts of Boynton and much of Briny Breezes, to the 2004 triple play of hurricanes Frances, Jean and Charley, Boyntonites who’ve been here at least fifteen years understand hurricane wrath. They also understand how important it is to heed the ample warnings, to take precautions to secure their home, have basic supplies and expect at the least to be without power for several days or weeks.

Today, the City of Boynton Beach, and other local governments have carefully prepared hurricane plans and recovery plans. The community comes together to help. FEMA—the Federal Emergency Management Agency, created in 1978 also assists people with emergency aid after the storm. You might remember people lining up for MREs—Meals, ready to eat, and ice after Hurricanes Frances and Jean.

City of Boynton Beach Hurricane Preparedness

It’s always surprising, but understandable seeing people running around ransacking grocery stores and jockeying for a full tank of gas as storms approach. These precautions are smart moves, but today most gas stations and grocery stores have generators, and unless roadways are impassable after the storm, new deliveries will arrive again in a few days. We won’t starve. If the power goes out, and it’s likely to happen, food can spoil quickly, so having bread, tortillas, crackers, and peanut butter and jelly on hand will provide ample nourishment.

Gathering Hurricane Supplies navy.mil

Additionally, power is now more easily fixed, due to extensive and ongoing utility upgrades and a team of linemen who travel to affected area to repair lines and rescue new South Floridians who have never lived without air-conditioning. Oh, and water. The water coming out of your tap is fine now. Fill up cups, bottles, containers and such that you have in the house. Freeze them. They will serve as ice, then cold water if the power goes out. Even plastic bags can hold ice.

*If you live in a mobile home or evacuation zone—relocate to a safer place—inland preferably, or Wisconsin or Michigan, especially if you have friends and family there.

American Red Cross – Hurricane Preparedness

More to come…but for now, don’t panic. There’s plenty of time to prepare for Dorian, so heed the warnings and get ready. Please remember to help out others, especially people who live alone, and the elderly. We are all in this together.

Boynton Beach Memories

“What’s your earliest Boynton Beach memory?” If one asked that question on the street, the beach, at the mall or even on Facebook, it’s likely there’d be dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of different early memories, visions (or versions) of Boynton. That’s because we all have our personal memories, our familial stories. We may have been born in different eras, grew up in a different neighborhood, or hung out at different places.

There’s probably some commonalities, like food. People tend to fondly remember food. It wouldn’t be an oversimplification to say that Bud’s Chicken, Lucy’s Donuts, Lucille and Otley’s Restaurant and Sal’s (or Danny’s) Pizza comes up. Who the heck is Danny, anyway? Oh, he’s a new kid on the block, like many of you (Welcome to the neighborhood).

Other common threads are the beach, A1A and the Boynton Inlet. Just don’t call it by it’s official name (The South Lake Worth Inlet). That would irritate generations of people who are certain the name is the Boynton Inlet—and that would be especially confusing because there’s a town nearby named Lake Worth. Or is that Lake Worth Beach? Depends upon who you ask, and when they moved here.

And the Boynton Beach Mall. Again, everyone has their version. Back when there was NOTHING to do in little old quiet Boynton, the mall was a HUGE deal. Jordan Marsh, Burdines, food, games, hanging out in something called air-conditioning…ahh. Then there’s haters…haters gonna hate—and supporters. Like mall walkers. They love the mall. And dad, Sears is one of his favorite stores. Oh dear, Sears is gone. Lots of people will say that Sears, ToysRUs, and K-Mart or whatever store is lame—until it’s gone. Then they miss it and post all kinds of photographs wishing that it was still there, and that they could buy some Craftsman tools.

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

That reminds me of the Two Georges. No, not the restaurant, the boat. Back in the 1960s (AKA The old days), Boynton was a farming and fishing town. Really, it was. Once the Inlet (the cut to old-timers) opened up, commercial and sport fishermen and even weekend warriors could ride out through the Inlet to perhaps the best fishing spots in the country. That was before wave runners, jet-skis and selfies. The Two Georges was just one of the ½ dozen head boats and several dozen charter boats docked at Boynton marinas. A head boat is a boat where folks pay a few bucks a head (a person) to fish for four hours. They are sometimes called drift boats, because once the captain gets near a favorite fishing spot, or at least the water is a certain depth, he cuts the engine for a time and lets the boat…drift. I won’t tell you what happened to the Two Georges boat (I’ll let the old-timers here chime in), but I can tell you that the Two Georges Restaurant is still here, and so is the Banana Boat. But someone is thinking of the restaurant that was there before the Banana Boat. It begins with an S…..it was owned by the Molle’s…Smokey’s! That’s it, Smokey’s Wharf!

What about the farms? It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that back in the 1970s pretty much everything west of Congress was farmland. West of Military was “the boonies.” That brings us back to the question? What is your version of Boynton? For some it was the blue crabs that flooded the coastal highway, causing tire punctures. For others it was taking horseback riding lessons at one of Boynton’s many stables. Others recall fishing off N. 22nd Avenue (what’s that you say?)…I mean Gateway Blvd. There was a Go-Kart and midget car race track on Lawrence Road…and a citrus farm where you could drink fresh squeezed orange juice, ride a tram through the groves, eat pie, see a native Seminole wrestle an alligator. Certainly you remember Knollwood Groves? What about Palm Beach Groves, Sturrock Groves, Indian Hill Groves, Blood’s Hammock Groves? Why did you think there is a school on Lawrence Road called Citrus Cove?  Have you any idea where the Rangeline is? State Road 441 (AKA the Everglades). Don’t get me started on the dairies. Or the roses and the orchids. Or the pineapples. Or the toms. Tom who? Tom-a-to.

Times change. Nothing stays the same. People are born. We live, we love, we die. Storms come, storms go, we rebuild, preserve what we can, and honor and memorialize what is gone. Embrace what you’ve got. As Joni Mitchell sang “ … you don’t know what you’ve got
till it’s gone … “