Boynton Beach’s Poinciana School History

POINCIANA STEM ELEMENTARY SCHOOL HISTORY

 THE MAJESTIC ROYAL POINCIANA TREE

May and June are the months when royal poinciana trees bloom the brightest. Their red, flame-colored flowers add brilliant color to the South Florida landscape. A commenter on the Historic Boynton Beach Facebook page declared that the late spring signature flowers are Florida’s version of leaves changing color in the fall.

Royal Poinciana Tree in bloom

WHAT’S IN A NAME? 

Boynton’s Poinciana STEM Elementary School is named after the massive umbrella-shaped royal poinciana tree. The name alone evokes Florida’s lush, tropical beauty. David Fairchild brought the first of these Madagascar natives to South Florida when his wife planted one in their Miami front yard in 1917.  The trees thrive from Key West north to West Palm Beach and it’s likely that Boynton Garden Club members beautified Boynton by planting royal poinciana seeds here in the 1930s or 1940s. According to the University of Florida, the trees bear flowers between four and 12 years after planting. 

LET’S BUILD A SCHOOLHOUSE

Typical 1900s Black School (courtesy NYPL)

Many people don’t realize that Boynton Beach’s Poinciana Elementary School had its humble beginnings as an informal school operated by African Methodist Episcopal church members. St. Paul’s AME Church, constituted in 1900, is Boynton’s oldest church.

The school received government funding after 1907 when the black community petitioned the school board to furnish a teacher, but the residents were to provide a building. The petition was accompanied by a letter of support from farmer and fruit shipper Cullen Pence, a community builder who donated land to the city for a ball field and helped with many town improvements.

1907 Board of Public Instruction of Dade County minutes

Pence & King’s Addition 1908

 

The one-room wooden schoolhouse was situated on Pence & King’s Addition (Federal Hwy. north of Boynton Beach Blvd.), a tract laid out by Pence and black pioneer resident  L. A. King  in 1908. This suggests that Mr. Pence furnished the land and wooden school building and the school board paid for a teacher.  Newspaper accounts and school board records show that by 1909, when Palm Beach County separated from Dade County, the school’s official name became Boynton Negro School.

 

Let’s look back at how the fledgling school, like the brilliant tree it’s named for, took root, and blossomed.

 

 

 

SEPARATE AND UNEQUAL

Under the “separate but equal” doctrine of the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, segregated schools were expected to provide a comparable education and experience for black and white students. On the contrary, black students received second-rate treatment; the buildings were substandard; teachers were paid substantially less than white teachers; supplies were meager, and schools often received desks, books and slates discarded from white schools. The school year too, was shortened for Florida’s black students so the children could work in the fields during winter harvest.

THE TOWN GROWS

Picking Beans (Broward County Library Digital Archives)

 

By 1910, the unincorporated town of Boynton had grown to over 600 residents. The Board of Public Instruction paid to erect an opulent new two-story concrete block school in the 100 block of Ocean Avenue for Boynton’s white students. The modern school had indoor plumbing, gleaming blackboards, and spacious classrooms with large windows and door transoms for ventilation and natural light. In juxtaposition to the overcrowded one-room Negro School, the new Boynton School for white students had a fancy bell-tower and six classrooms. When the school opened on September 8, 1913  it enrolled 81 pupils between grades one and twelve.

 

Boynton School (for white students) 1913

BOOKER T. WASHINGTON AND JULIUS ROSENWALD

In the 1910s, an unlikely pair helped improve education for black children in the rural south. Boynton, a farming community, was indeed rural.  In 1912, Tuskegee Institute founder Booker T. Washington invited Jewish-American philanthropist Julius Rosenwald (then president of Sears, Roebuck & Co.) to serve on the Tuskegee board of directors to help black education, where segregated southern schools suffered from inadequate facilities, books and other resources. Rosenwald’s 1917 school building fund encouraged local collaboration between blacks and whites by providing seed money and requiring communities to raise matching funds. Between 1917 and 1932, Rosenwald funded 5,357 community schools and industrial shops in 15 southern states.

Julius Rosenwald & Booker T. Washington in 1915 (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library)

ORDINANCES 37 and 136

The Town of Boynton imposed segregation in 1924 with Ordinance 37. This forced black residents, businesses, churches, and the school to move west. Ordinance 136 passed in 1933  stipulated that black residents stay in the designated “colored town” from sundown to sunup.

JULIUS ROSENWALD SCHOOL BUILDING FUND

The Rosenwald funded Boynton School after the 1928 Hurricane (State Archives of Florida)

 

The Boynton Negro School located on the west side of Green Street (now Seacrest Blvd.) and today’s NE 12th Ave. was the first Rosenwald funded school in Palm Beach County. In 1925, at the height of Florida’s great 1920s land boom, the Rosenwald Fund contributed $900 in seed money toward a new four-room, three teacher Boynton Colored School. The fund also provided architectural plans and specifications for the schoolhouse.

 

THREE TEACHER COMMUNITY SCHOOL

Building Plans, Three Teacher Community School, 1924

Three Teacher Community School Interior Plans 1924

Building Plans, Three Teacher Community School, 1924

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tuskegee architect approved community school design included a porch, three classrooms and an industrial room, running water, and indoor toilets. Black community members raised $100 and the white community donated $4,000 with the Palm Beach County Board of Public Instruction paying the last $12,000. Its four rooms served grades one through eight until 1952 when the building was no longer big enough to handle the number of students. Six further classrooms were built to the west.

Ten other Rosenwald-funded schools followed in Palm Beach County. After the devastating September 1928 hurricane left the Boynton school intact, the damaged or leveled most other Palm Beach County schools. School Superintendent Joe Youngblood petitioned the Rosenwald Fund for emergency monies. By 1931 Rosenwald schools and industrial trade shops were operating in Jupiter, Boca Raton, Delray Beach (shop), West Palm Beach (school, shop), Pahokee, Belle Glade, South Bay, Kelsey City, and Canal Point (school, library). 

Boynton Negro Elementary School, 1950. Teacher Blanche Hearst Girtman (Boynton Beach City Library Local History Archives)

 

OVERCROWDING

Boynton Negro School Basketball Team members, 1942 (Boynton Beach City Library Local History Archives)

 

 

In the mid-1940s, rural black schools consolidated. The Lake Worth Osborne Colored School that had operated out of a church combined with the Boynton School.

In the area west of Boynton/Hypoluxo/Lantana, the Rangeline School on Rte. 441 taught children of farmers and migrant workers in a World War II Quonset Hut.  

 

 

 

Students entering Poinciana School, teacher Blanche Hearst Girtman

In reaction to the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, school leaders decided to rename “colored” schools after local points of interest. In June 1954, the Boynton Colored School became Poinciana School. The 1950s were a time of rapid growth in Palm Beach County. The district added a Poinciana Annex building with six additional classrooms located at 121 NE 12th Ave. next door to the original school in 1952.

By the 1960s overcrowding (over 700 students in 18 classrooms) forced double sessions with some classes held outdoors and in hot, cramped portable classrooms that Fire Chief Jack Tuite called “death traps.”

Fumes Evacuate Poinciana Portables (The Palm Beach Post, 16 Dec. 1960)

DESEGREGATION

In March 1962, the school board approved a land purchase of more than a half-acre for a Poinciana School addition to accommodate a junior high school. That same year Rev. Randolph Lee of St. John Missionary Baptist Church led efforts to establish a high school for black students. The closest high school for black students was Carver Industrial High School in Delray Beach. Students who wanted an education had to bus there from all over the region.

A $362,000 new school was planned for 1963, about the same time that Palm Beach County Schools began integration. The district had difficulty getting the site owner to sell as originally agreed. Furthermore, the school district had a large list of new school projects and improvements. In October 1963 the district was trying to prioritize the multiple projects, including a proposed $572,000 new Poinciana elementary and middle school that would include 13 classrooms, science rooms, industrial and home economics shops, a library, cafetorium [cafeteria/auditorium], locker rooms, and an administrative suite.

School System Needs $29 Million (10 Oct 1963, Fort Lauderdale News)

Meanwhile, school integration did not go smoothly. It turned out that most black families and white families wanted their children to stay in the neighborhood and not be bussed across town. A May 1965 Miami Herald article about school desegregation reported that the boundary lines for Poinciana School in Boynton Beach had been precisely drawn to encompass the negro residential section.

Poinciana Elementary School 1962 (Boynton Beach City Library Local History Archives)

Head Start (Boynton Beach Star 17 Jun 1965)

 

Poinciana became a site for the federally funded Head Start program for children not enrolled in private kindergarten in 1967.Sarah Costin and Lena Rahming incorporated the Boynton Beach Childcare Center about that time and worked with community leaders to build a separate building for preschool and kindergarten aged children.

By 1969, school officials agreed to remove grades 7-8 from Poinciana School, a decision that  forced 42 students to integrate into Boynton Junior High (now Galaxy Elementary School). Integration was so much stress for students and families of both black and white students that some students enrolled in private school and other  students simply dropped out of school.

NEW MAGNET SCHOOL 

The dilapidated school building saw its last days in late 1995, when it was razed for a larger, modern school. The Palm Beach County School Board built a brand new, closed campus Poinciana Elementary School that opened as a Math/Science/Technology magnet school in August 1996. With over 97,000 square feet and a Planetarium, the school occupies 8.7 acres, backing up to the Carolyn Sims Recreational Center. 

Poinciana STEM Elementary School

Today Poinciana STEM Elementary School attracts K-5 students across Palm Beach County for its robust science, technology, engineering, and mathematics curriculum. The 572 Poinciana Panthers are a diverse student body, approximately half of its students are black, 22% white, 13% Hispanic, 8% Asian or Pacific Islander, and at 6 % or more identifying as 2 or more races.

Sources

  • The Boynton Beach City Library Local History Archives
  • The Boynton Beach News
  • The Boynton Beach Star
  • The Broward County Library Digital Archives
  • Fisk University Special Collections & Archives
  • The Florida Department of Public Instruction
  • The Ft. Lauderdale News
  • The Historical Society of Palm Beach County
  • The Lake Worth Herald
  • The New York Public Library Photographic Collection
  • The Palm Beach County Property Appraiser
  • The Palm Beach Post
  • The School District of Palm Beach County
  • Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library
  • The State Archives of Florida
  • The Sun-Sentinel
  • The University of Florida

Special thanks to Georgen Charnes and Ginger Pedersen for their contributions to this research.

If you have any photos, comments, additions, or clarifications regarding Poinciana School and its history, please email boyntonhistory@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you.

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.

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 … “

Boynton’s Oldest House

In the early 1900s, Boynton pioneer families lived in frame vernacular homes. Horace Bentley Murray, who built the Boynton Hotel for Michigan investor Maj. Nathan S. Boynton, constructed many of the wood houses, commercial buildings and swing bridges. The majority of these early structures became lost to time with progress, fire and hurricanes claiming them over the last 120 years.

The Andrews House

The Andrews House

Today’s “Andrew’s House” at 306 SE 1st Avenue is Boynton’s oldest residence. Bert L. Kapp, a Dutchman who moved to Boynton from Michigan built the house in 1907. Although the house is typically thought of as constructed in 1901, newspaper records support a 1907 construction date. The Kapp family sold the house to A.E. Parker, Major Nathan S. Boynton’s son-in-law, and moved to West Palm Beach.

Who were the Andrews?
Charles Lee Andrews and Katie Andrews purchased the house from Parker. The Andrews’ story is intriguing.

Charles Andrews AKA Benjamin Green

Charles Andrews AKA Benjamin Green

Charles Lee Andrews served in the Confederate Army under the name Benjamin F. Green. He married Katie in Mississippi, in spite of the fact that he was at least 42 years older than Katie. They had two sons, George Kermit and Charles Lee Jr. The Andrews ran a small grocery store in Boynton. Charles Lee Andrews passed away in 1922, and Katie remained in the house. She began collecting Andrew’s Civil War pension. She continued to collect that pension until 1971, when she passed away, making her the last Civil War pensioner in Palm Beach County. Her son George and wife Edith then lived in the house; George passed away in 1993. Edith moved to a nearby apartment, and the house was boarded up and fell into disrepair.

In 1998, Boynton native Bob Katz bought the Andrews house and several other downtown properties. He had the Andrews house moved to an adjacent lot so it could be better seen from Ocean Avenue, and had the house restored. Katz’s untimely death at age 50 in 2006 has left all his downtown properties in limbo, and several are currently for sale.

For more information on Boynton’s historic buildings, visit the City of Boynton Beach’s Historic Preservation page. Historic Preservation

Site information
306 SE 1st Ave.
Style:
Frame Vernacular
Built:
1907
Period:
Spanish-American War
Type:
House: Fish scale shingles to gables, wood shake roof, brackets, exposed rafters, dormer window.

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.