The Notorious Ashley Gang and Its Surprising Boynton Connections

INTRODUCTION

This research chronicles Florida’s notorious Ashley Gang and their connections to Boynton Beach. Readers will learn about John Ashley and his infamous bank-robbing posse that kept a secret hideout in western Boynton, held-up trains and  interacted with unsuspecting Boynton residents.  

In addition, we share the surprising revelation of a prominent  Boynton pioneer family whose 16-year-old daughter married into the outlaw Mobley-Ashley family and some speculation of how Boynton locals supplied the gang with groceries and sundries—and one famous son who even lent Ashley his pistol!

1888

John Ashley is born near Fort Myers, Florida.

1896 – December

Horace Bentley Murray and his wife Mary Elizabeth Smith moved to Boynton from Michigan. Murray was a tomato farmer and crew leader/carpenter for Major Nathan S. Boynton’s oceanfront hotel.

Horace Murray & wife Mary Smith Murray (far right), with William Henry “Uncle Billy” Smith to the left, along with Murray children and an unnamed Boynton schoolteacher (Boynton Beach Historical Society)

1898

Mary Smith Murray’s younger brother William Henry “Billy” Smith and his wife moved to Boynton and lived near the Murray family. Local historical accounts don’t mention much of Smith, but he is identified in a Murray family photo as “Uncle Billy.”

It was that photo that instigated the research which led to the Ashley Gang connection. In the photo, Billy appears rugged and self-confident, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and long-sleeved shirt while standing in front of the Murray’s palmetto frond packing shed. While you don’t see any visible guns in the photo, it’s likely that Smith was packing a pistol, as in the wilds of tropical Florida wildlife outnumbered humans, and gun ownership (revolvers and rifles) was very important. Billy Smith farmed and became Palm Beach County Supervisor of Roads. Mary Smith’s sister, Lillie, lived in Boynton her entire life, and married carpenter Charles Davies.

Billy Smith and wife Florence had four daughters; it was teenaged Dorothy Louise (born in 1913) who married into the Mobley-Ashley family at age 15— Louise’s daughter, Mary Lou Mobley, child of the notorious Lubby Mobley was born two months later. John Robert “Lubby” Mobley was born to gang members George Westley “West” Mobley and Mary Alice Ashley (John Ashley’s sister). Lubby lived a crime-riddled gangster life both before and after his 1928 marriage to Dorothy Smith. 

1911 – December

JOHN ASHLEY ACCUSED OF MURDERING FELLOW TRAPPER DESOTO TIGER

DeSoto Tiger’s Gravesite (9 Oct 1913, Lake Worth Herald)

The Boynton story begins shortly after 19-year-old trapper John Ashley was wanted  for the December 1911 murder of DeSoto Tiger, son of Cow Creek chief Tommy Tiger. Ashley was the last person seen in a canoe with DeSoto and was spotted selling a load of valuable otter skins. Later, in 1915, Ashley would testify on his own behalf and claim self-defense in Tiger’s killing.

A charming John Ashley testifies on his own defense saying that the DeSoto Tiger shooting was self-defense (4 April 1915, The Miami Herald)

1910-1912

JOHN ASHLEY CAMP IN WESTERN BOYNTON

According to Marvin Pope “Ham” Anthony in a Historical Society of Palm Beach County oral history interview with Harvey E. Oyer III, Joe Ashley (John Ashley’s father) and one of John’s brothers both worked at the Anthony’s Store in the men’s wear department around this time. Anthony’s father was friends with both the Ashley and Mobley families and claimed that they were good, outstanding people. John Ashley was really the only bad one. The Mobleys lived on Tanglewood Court in West Palm Beach.

Anthony related a surprising story about Boynton’s Chuck Pierce [Charles W. Pierce, Jr.] who worked in the sporting goods department at Anthony’s, who was given a pistol for Christmas. Pierce and a friend were “out back of Boynton where their home was.” Pierce told Anthony that while out in the woods the two boys met a nice-looking man who inquired what they were doing. When they said they were just turkey hunting, the man offered to do it for them and asked for the gun. After a long time, they finally heard a shot, and the fellow gave them a turkey and the gun back. The Ashley Gang robbed the Bank of Boynton a few weeks later. As the story goes, one of the boys went up to see what the handcuffed thugs looked like “…and this nice-looking man looked over and winked at him and said ‘Son, how was that turkey?’” Apparently Chuck Pierce had loaned his new pistol to the bandit John Ashley.

Boynton hunting party attacked by Ashley Gang 19 Feb 1915, Orlando Evening Star)

1915 February

John Ashley and his band of thugs terrorized and machine-gunned a hunting party camped out west of Boynton near the Rangeline (State Road 441).

 

 

 

(19 Feb 1915, Orlando Evening Star)

1914 November

JAIL BREAK

John Ashley breaks out of jail.

1915 – February

BLUNDERING BANDITS

The Ashley Gang robs the Stuart Bank. John Ashley loses his right eye when his accomplice accidentally shoots him. Since Ashley’s wound demanded medical attention, the fugitive was apprehended.

John Ashley, leader of gang

1915 – February

30 local men form a posse to hunt down the “organized crime family” that had no respect for the law. Sheriff Baker wanted them “dead or alive.”

1915 March

Ashley is captured and imprisoned in the Miami jail.

1915 June

Bob Ashley (John’s brother) ambushes and kills Miami Police Department Deputy Sheriff Wilber W. Hendrickson in an attempt to release John Ashley.  In the process, Bob Ashley and another police officer,  John Rhinehart “Bob” Riblet are killed. (Sheriff Hendrickson was a great uncle of Boynton resident Jean Ann Thurber and brother to her grandfather.)

Miami Deputy Sheriff – Wilber Hendrickson

Photo shown below: (L-R) Alvin Hendrickson and Captain U.D. Hendrickson (uncles of Wilbur Sr.), Dorothy Hendrickson, Etta Hendrickson, and Frances Lane Hendrickson Bridgeman (Etta was U.D.’s wife and the mother of Dorothy and Frances), Marion Platt Hendrickson, Wilbur W. Hendrickson Sr. and Wilbur W. Hendrickson Jr. (Jean Ann Thurber Photo)

Hendrickson Family, courtesy Jean Ann Thurber

1916

John Ashley sentenced to 17 ½ years for the Stuart Bank heist. Ashley is finally sent to prison. Two years later he escaped from a road gang. John Ashley is once again a fugitive from the law. 

1920

The early Boynton Bank was a repeat victim. “Ashley’s here!” Tellers would fill up their bags; no alarms or dye packs at that time. The notorious outlaws rob banks across Florida including Fort Meade, Avon Park, Pompano Beach, and Stuart.

1921

Horace Bentley Murray, Billy Smith’s brother-in-law, is elected Boynton mayor.

Horace Bentley Murray

Hanford Mobley, Ashley Gang Leader  (Florida Photographic Collection)

 

 

1922 May

The Ashley gang (ordered by John while he was still in jail) made their second robbery of the Stuart Bank. Hanford Mobley, (John Ashley’s nephew and brother of Dorothy Smith Mobley’s husband Lubby) assumed leadership of the gang.  The handsome teenager held up the bank dressed as a woman and fled with $8,000.

A posse of men from the sheriff’s office chased them for 265 miles and deputy Sheriff Morris R. Johns dropped dead from indigestion two days after the unsuccessful hunt.

Members of the notorious Ashley Gang

1924 February

 Hanford Mobley robbed the Florida East Coast Railway train.

1924 September

The Mobley-Ashley gang robbed the Pompano Bank of $9,000.

1924 November

DAY OF RECKONING

Deputy Frederick A. Baker led a posse of over 50 men to the Ashley/Mobley camp. Some were equipped with guns borrowed from the old National Guard armory. As the posse entered the camp, the fugitives opened fire. Deputy Baker and Joe Ashley were killed in the shootout. Laura Upthegrove was wounded, but escaped. The remaining fugitives hid in the Everglades as their hideout was burned to the ground. 

Deputy Fred Baker and Joe Ashley Killed (8 Jan 1924 The Lake Worth Herald)

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a carefully orchestrated trap on the Sebastian bridge, four additional members of the Mobley-Ashley gang were shot and killed along with Deputy Sheriff Fred Baker. The four outlaws were John Ashley, nephew Hanford Mobley, Ray Lynn and Clarence Middleton. The Palm Beach Post reported that the slaying of Ashley gang brings end to career of crime.

Deputy Fred Baker killed by Ashley-Mobley Gang (9 Jan 1924, The Miami News).

1927

Laura Upthegrove dies after drinking a bottle of disinfectant. The “Queen of the Everglades” is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in West Palm Beach, in an unmarked grave.

1929 – January

Prison escapee Haywood Register, Ashley Gang leader killed in shootout with Sheriff Baker in Boynton (30 Jan 1929, The Miami Herald)

Haywood Register, the assumed Mobley/Ashley Gang leader who was sentenced to life in the Florida State Prison, escaped and was gunned down along the canal in Boynton by Sheriff Bob Baker. Years later, several Boyntonites described witnessing this event.

1930

Lubby Mosley arrested and jailed on an illegal liquor distribution charge at a moonshine camp.

1933 – February

Sheriff Robert Baker (son of George Baker) died, and the newspaper reported that he died “with his boots on.” William Hiram “Hy” Lawrence, appointed after Baker’s death is another Boynton connection. Lawrence and his brother Red owned Boynton property in the vicinity of today’s Lawrence Road, which is named after them.

Sheriff Robert C. “Bob” Baker of Palm Beach County (24 Feb 1933, The Miami Herald).

1973

Boynton resident Sam Adams called a local Boynton Beach newspaper,  The Examiner, and told publisher Vernon Lamme that although the Mobley-Ashley gang hid out in Boynton and even robbed the bank that John Ashley was a kindly soul and to remember him as a kind of  “Robin Hood.”

1973

Actors from Little Laura & Big John (1973)

 

Movie based loosely on the Ashley Gang produced. It is called “Little Laura and Big John.” Reviews are not good.

1980

Glenn Murray, in his 1980 oral history interview, denied claims that he, as a teenager, supplied the Mobley-Ashley gang members with groceries.

 

 

 

 

1986

Vandals desecrate and loot the Native American Glades people ceremonial mounds north of Boynton Beach Boulevard and west of 441, looking for the legendary treasure stashed by the Ashley gang.

1992

Boynton resident Arris “Ozzie” Lunsford claimed in a 1992 oral history interview that he witnessed the the Palm Beach County sheriff’s office shoot-up  with the getaway car.  Lunsford was  born in 1909, and moved to Boynton at age 14 or 15 (accounts vary). He describes fishing along the Boynton canal and witnessing the sheriff shooting up the Ashley Gang bandit and that he saw him inside the trunk of the car. This account coincides with the January 1929 capture of fugitive Haywood Register.

2021

As we researched this story, we reached out to some Murray family descendants. Ted Murray remembers stories that his great-grandmother Mary Smith Murray was a crack shot, shooting quail and other game. He owns her .38 pistol. He had no recollection of the family’s relationship to the Mobley-Ashley gang, but he wasn’t surprised.

EPILOGUE

What happened to Dorothy Smith Mosley?

Dorothy divorced Lubby Mosley in the 1930s; she married Robert Garner, a mechanic. She is shown on the 1940 Census as living with her parents, husband, and child. The record showed that she had a 4th grade education.

What happened to Lubby Mosley?

Lubby continued his life of crime and was in and out of jail the rest of his life.

What happened to “Uncle Billy” Smith?

Smith, Martin County’s Superintendent of Roads, ironically perished in a head-on automobile collision in 1951 with his daughter Dorothy at the wheel. Newspaper accounts state that the car’s “brakes failed.”

REFERENCES

Lake Worth Herald

Miami Metropolis

Miami News

Palm Beach Post

Sheriff Bob Baker v. the Notorious Ashley Gang

The Ashley Gang – Palm Beach County History Online

The Ashley Gang Landmarks

HISTORICAL VIGNETTES: Guess who took outlaw John Ashley’s glass eye as a key fob memento?

South Florida’s Most Wiley Gangster

The Ashley Gang and Frontier Justice

Florida Outlaws: Move over Bonnie and Clyde

Desperados: The Life and Times of John Ashley

The Notorious Ashley Gang by Sally Ling

Tales of Boynton’s Old Stone Lodge: Death by Electrocution, Rattlesnake, and Double Suicide

A STORIED PAST

Some people might claim the old Boynton restaurant held some type of curse. We know that its proprietors and managers met unnatural deaths. Within eight years, four people perished in three separate incidents on and around the Stone Lodge.

THE STONE LODGE RESTAURANT

The roadside eatery, known as the Stone Lodge, operated from 1924 to 1940 1 1/2 miles south of Boynton’s Ocean Avenue along U.S. 1. The property intersects with the road known today as SE 23rd Avenue. Further west that roadway turns into Golf Road as it continues on to Military Trail past the Village of Golf, Delray Dunes and Country Club Stables.

The lodge occupied the land west of U.S. 1, where the Marathon gas station is today. When the 1920 Federal census enumerators came through Boynton, they counted about 550 people living here, and its residents were primarily laborers, tradesmen and farming and fishing families.

Stone Lodge ad (20 Feb. 1925, The Palm Beach Post)

Stone Lodge ad (20 Feb. 1925, The Palm Beach Post)

Initially, the lodge only operated as a seasonal lunch stand type restaurant, typically open from November through April. Austin Abbot Stone and wife Louisa Jane Turner opened the establishment in 1924. The Stones owned and operated a bakery and rooming house in Massachusetts. They began wintering in Boynton about 1923/24, as did Louisa’s two younger sisters, Grace and Mabel.

MOUTH WATERING HOME COOKING

Help Wanted at Boynton Stone Lodge ad (20 Jun 1925, The Palm Beach Post).

Help Wanted at Boynton Stone Lodge ad (20 Jun 1925, The Palm Beach Post).

The Stones served hearty home cooked lunches like ham and alligator pear sandwiches on thick slices of bread that they baked daily. Their chickens supplied plentiful eggs and fresh chicken to be roasted or fried and served to hungry guests. Razor-back hogs, wild turkeys and deer provided other protein. Boynton’s bounty of fish and oysters supplemented the green beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and other vegetables from their garden. Freshly squeezed seasonal orange and grapefruit juice and milk from the cows kept on the property washed down delicious desserts like cocoanut cake and huckleberry pie.
Stone Lodge ad (23 Dec. 1927, The Palm Beach Post)

Stone Lodge ad (23 Dec. 1927, The Palm Beach Post)

By 1925 the Stones took out Help Wanted ads in the Palm Beach Post seeking kitchen help and tea room attendants. They began advertising their “Chicken and Waffle Dinners” with large ads in The Post, The Lake Worth Herald and Miami News show similar advertisements, and society news columns tell about the lively luncheons, meetings and dinner parties at the Lodge.

HURRICANES

According to news accounts, an unnamed 1926 hurricane shuttered the restaurant for a season Since the Stones only wintered in Boynton, they were not in town during the hurricane season. In 1928, two more hurricanes hit Florida’s east coast, including the devastating “Okeechobee” killer ‘cane.

Ad for Boynton Stone Lodge (16 Apr. 1927, The Palm Beach Post).

Ad for Boynton Stone Lodge (16 Apr. 1927, The Palm Beach Post).

An advertisement for the Stone Lodge Restaurant indicated that the restaurant closed due to road washout and obstruction caused by the hurricanes. Since the rural nature of Boynton at the time considered the isolated place as “in the boonies,” the roadways between Boynton and Delray were likely not a priority for improving.
Mr. and Mrs. Stone operating the Brazilian Court Hotel Dining Room (17 Nov. 1928, The Palm Beach Post).

Mr. and Mrs. Stone operating the Brazilian Court Hotel Dining Room (17 Nov. 1928, The Palm Beach Post).

It is unclear if the restaurant itself sustained damage. It’s probably that the enterprising Stones had another couple to manage the Stone Lodge, since in November, 1929 Austin and Louisa Stone were managing The Brazilian Court Dining Room at the swanky boom-time Brazilian Court Apartments in Palm Beach.

The renovated eatery opened in 1929 adding “Fried Chicken and Fish Dinners,” and boasted that it attracted an élite clientele. In other words, it was pricy, and it is likely that more snowbirds and club women dined at the eatery than Boynton locals. There was not much along U.S. 1 in those early years. The 1930 Federal Census shows that Mr. and Mrs. Roland Owens who operated the Lee Manor Inn next to the Boynton Woman’s Club were enumerated as their nearest neighbors to the north.

By the 1930s, one can see that the Depression has set in, and the Stone’s featured “summer specials,” including breakfast, lunch, dinner, homemade cake and pie. The aging, hardworking couple had hired help that probably boarded with them. The establishment’s size is not disclosed in news accounts, however, since the Stones had “boarders” living with them in Massachusetts, the lodge probably served as a temporary home to northern visitors.

DEATH BY ELECTROCUTION

Austin Stone, the Stone Lodge’s namesake, met his demise in the inn’s wash-house in 1932. According to The Post, a family member (probably his wife Louisa) found the unresponsive 74-year-old proprietor on the laundry room floor in a puddle of water, with both hands severely burned.

Death notice for Austin A. Stone, electrocuted at home repairing a washing machine (11 Feb. 1932, The Palm Beach Post).

Death notice for Austin A. Stone, electrocuted at home repairing a washing machine (11 Feb. 1932, The Palm Beach Post).

Mr. Stone had attempted to fix a washing machine while standing in a puddle. Dr. Nat Weems and medics dispatched from Smith Funeral Home in Lake Worth administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the restaurant owner for over an hour with no avail. Dr. Weems listed primary cause of death as electrocution (accidental), and recorded senility as secondary cause.

STOIC MRS. STONE WORKS TO KEEP THE RESTAURANT

During the Great Depression, the widow Stone rented out rooms with board and continued to run the Stone Lodge Restaurant. On the 1935 Florida census, her sister Mabel and brother-in-law Jay Herbert Gould are listed as family members; their occupations are both bakers. Discounted lunches and dinners are once again advertised in The Post. It was what Little Orphan Annie called a “hard-knock life.” Few people had the money to dine out, and those that did, were not spending their time or discretionary income in Boynton.

FOR SALE

After her sister Mabel’s husband died in 1937, Louisa attempted to sell the Lodge, including the house, restaurant and surrounding property. A Palm Beach Post advertisement illustrates that the complex included fully stocked acreage of over three acres, chicken coop and other outbuildings, house, established restaurant with a favorable reputation.

PLEA FOR HELP

As the 1939 season began, Louise again advertised her property, this time with a $5K price tag. On October 30th, the Palm Beach Post ran a wanted ad in which Louise sought a couple to manage the property. It stipulated that the Stone Lodge had an established clientele and had continuously operated for over 14 seasons with the same owner.

PREPARING FOR THANKSGIVING

On November 12, 1939, Louisa Turner Stone awoke early, as usual, and headed out to the Stone Lodge’s chicken coop. Running a restaurant was hard work, and even on a weekend morning, much work had to be done. Thanksgiving and Christmas were approaching, and business at the restaurant was picking up. Earlier in the year, a wild grass fire started at J.J. Williams Fernery had threatened the Stone and Woolbright properties, and severely damaged the Boynton Nurseries. Louisa had recently hired a couple to help her operate the restaurant for the season, and placed prominent advertisements for holiday dinners (this year the fare included roast duck) in The Post. She was probably feeling optimistic, perhaps even excited on that Sunday morning.

TRAGEDY RATTLES BOYNTON

Death notice for Louise J. Turner Stone fatally bit by a rattlesnake (14 Nov. 1939, The Palm Beach Post).

Death notice for Louise J. Turner Stone fatally bit by a rattlesnake (14 Nov. 1939, The Palm Beach Post).

While Louisa was in a chicken yard, a large rattlesnake bit the 71-year-old. Her certificate of death signed by Dr. William Ernest Van Landingham indicates that she died from the rattlesnake bite at 7:00 a.m. the next day at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Palm Beach. Good Samaritan, was the the closest hospital to Boynton in those days. Someone, either the new restaurant manager, or Louisa’s sister Mabel, who served as informant on the death record, drove the victim 17 miles up U.S. 1 to no avail.

BITING BACK

Two days later, Joe Harless and Paul Mercer were motoring down U.S. 1 on their way to the opening of the Delray Beach Country Club. The duo saw a large rattler in the road outside the Stone Lodge. The newspaper article reported that the men stopped the car, and Mercer stepped out and used his golf club to whack the snake and completely sever its head. Whether the rattler was the same one that fatally struck Louisa Stone, we will never know, but on that day one less rattlesnake lived in Boynton.

Smith Funeral Home held services for Mrs. Stone. She was laid to rest in Woodlawn Cemetery next to her husband Austin. Their tombstones are in the old section, and one can stay that I have walked amid the Stones many times on our Historic Moonlight Cemetery Tours. Their story, and that of the old Stone Lodge Restaurant will live on through this blog and on the historic tours.

Woodlawn Cemetery, West Palm Beach

Woodlawn Cemetery, West Palm Beach looking east. Pillow headstones for Austin and Louisa Stone are in the forefront.

DOUBLE SUICIDE

One would think that those two horrendous events at the Stone Lodge proved tragic enough. Unfortunately, there is more to the story. It appears that the restaurant operated through the holidays and the rest of the season, probably under the management of Mabel and the newly hired couple. Then, on April 1st the following year, two bodies were found dead in a car outside the lodge. A garden hose was taped to the car’s exhaust and run inside the window. Justice of the Peace W.F. Ridel determined it a double suicide.

Former Ringling Brothers performers commit double suicide in car outside Boynton eatery (1 April 1940, Tampa Bay Times)

Former Ringling Brothers performers commit double suicide in car outside Boynton eatery (1 April 1940, Tampa Bay Times)


The Palm Beach Post reported former vaudeville and Ringling Brother’s Circus performers Joseph and Laura Cameron McNutt who had managed the Stone Lodge committed a double suicide. The married couple left two notes in the car, one indicating that they should be cremated, and another saying that the car was rented.

In July, 1941 The Post published an ad offering the Stone complex and property for $5K. Augustus Robinson from Hartford, Connecticut purchased the property, Robinson also bought adjacent properties and filed a plat for his subdivision in 1951.

If you have any memories, tales or photos of the old Stone Lodge, we’d love to see/hear more about the establishment.

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.

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 … “

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.