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.

1938 – February

Sheriff Robert Baker (father 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 consecrate 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

Polio Vaccination at the Delray Drive-In Theater: A Spoonful of Sugar Made the Medicine Go Down

Memories Sparked

In a recent email to the Boynton Beach Historical Society, Robin Raborn described how she and her brother would go with her dad, Dr. Robert (Bob) Raborn to the Delray Drive-In Theater to drop off little paper cups to dispense the oral polio vaccine to children and adults.

Dr. Robert Raborn

“My father, Dr. Bob Raborn, ran the distribution at the Delray Drive In. He had worked in the United States Public Health Service and my mother, Lenore, was a medical social worker, so they made a good team. I was nine. I remember running back and forth, delivering tiny paper cups with the sugar cubes to the families driving through. Dad was also in Rotary which championed eliminating polio worldwide.”

Dr. Bob Raborn Obituary, The Palm Beach Post, Apr 28 1999

Historic Note

During the first half of the 20th century, tens of thousands of Americans, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt (32nd United States President) were stricken by poliomyelitis. Polio, as it’s known, is a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed. The affliction paralyzed Roosevelt from the waist down, confining him to a wheelchair. You might recall the movie Forrest Gump that started out with young Forrest Gump limping and wearing leg braces. In Florida, the contagious disease shuttered swimming pools and theaters warned moviegoers to not sit too close to one another.

Drs. Salk & Sabin

Jonas Salk developed the first polio vaccine as an injection of inactivated (killed) polio to give immunity. This discovery led to a remarkable decline in polio beginning in 1955.

Polio Pioneer Pin

Another medical researcher, Dr. Albert Sabin, created a “live” oral polio vaccine that was low cost, eliminated the needle, and tasted great.

 

 

 

 

 

Albert Sabin gives his oral poliovirus vaccine to a girl. Courtesy of the Hauck Center for the Sabin Archives, University of Cincinnati Libraries

Sabin’s vaccine required three doses administered over three months. Three drops of polio antibodies were added to sugar cubes or cherry flavored water for quick, painless, and tasty immunity.

The 1964 Mary Poppins song “A Spoonful of Sugar Makes the Medicine Go Down” was inspired by the Sabin vaccine. Interestingly, in 1964 my parents fed me a spoonful of raw honey to conceal antibiotics hidden inside for several weeks as I recovered from surgery.

Polio Vaccine Poster

Sabin Oral Sundays

How to effectively administer the vaccine to entire families most effectively? Mass applications of the Sabin vaccine began in the early 1960s with “Sabin Oral Sundays.

Sabin on Sunday, 1965 Jaycees Photo Collection, Courtesy of the Boynton Beach City Library Local History Archives

Drive-In Theater Program

Dr. Raborn sold the Palm Beach County Medical Society on holding a local public health program at drive in theaters. As the Delray Beach/Boynton Beach polio representative, Dr. Raborn partnered with the Jaycees (Junior Chamber of Commerce members) to get out the “SOS” and schedule a series of massive “Sabin on Sunday” events at the Delray Drive-In on Federal Highway. The programs goal was to immunize at least 80% of the local population—adults and all children over six months—and it worked!

Fort Lauderdale News, Feb. 24, 1964

Immunity in a Paper Cup

Thomas Bruce Smith recalls his family driving to the theatre on a Sunday afternoon. “When you got in, they sent the cars into three lanes, you pulled up and they gave you little paper cups to drink and then you left. You had to come back for a second dose.” 1960s Palm Beach Post and Sun Sentnel newspaper articles confirm Smith’s memories. The lanes were segregated with two lanes for white families and one lane for black and brown residents.

An Army of Volunteers

The polio eradication program took many volunteers. The Health Department, schools, churches, and civic organizations distributed authorization forms that households could pre-sign permission to vaccinate entire families or minors. Block captains went house by house and helped to sign up neighbors. School nurses and mothers volunteered as site coordinators and vaccine administrators. Seacrest High School students who served as candy stripers at Bethesda Memorial Hospital volunteered at SOS events.

Each dose of three pale drops of Sabin vaccine in a small cup of distilled water cost about 25 cents, and participants received the vaccine regardless of their ability to pay. Quarters raised went back into the program to educate and fortify more people against the crippling disease.

“Some 161,400 persons sipped their Sabin vaccine in Palm Beach County yesterday [January 19, 1964], 57% of the 280,000 target. 90% immunization mark. In Delray Beach 12,100 persons gulped the polio-preventer at the Delray Drive-In Theater. Dr. Robert E. Raborn and Delray Jaycee President Charles Gwynn lauded Paramedics and Seacrest High School students.”

Mass Vaccination Program Eradicates Polio

Boynton’s population in 1960 was just over 10,000. “A total of 21,966 persons received the third and final dose of Sabin oral vaccine at stations in Delray Beach, Boynton Beach and Boca Raton. The vaccine feeding station at the Delray Beach drive-in station had its biggest day to date yesterday [April 5, 1964]. Chairman Charles Gwynne said that 9,150 persons received the vaccine at the drive-in” (06 April 1964, Fort Lauderdale News).

Polio Vaccine Memories from the Historic Boynton Beach Facebook page

The vaccine was distributed at schools, churches, the Health Department, and of course the Delray Drive-In Theater.

Edward Morley
Delray drive in. Rode my bike there.

Dyle Cronenweth Warren
At the Delray Drive-in. Our parents drove in, the guy at the entrance booth passed out our sugar cubes and we drove out.

Robin Pierce Morgan
My mom had polio when she was 18, she almost died. When the vaccine came out, we stood in line.

Barbara Brooks
I got a certificate saying I am a polio pioneer. Never had any problems after I got the shot

Ann Carter
I’m sure I got a shot when I was little (born in 1954), but I remember in 1963 or 1964 going to North Grade Elementary school for Sabin Oral Sunday, where we were given a little cup of vaccine. We had to go back a week or two later for the second dose. At that point, several of my siblings and I had mumps, so someone brought the tray of cups out to the car for us.

Susan Sheehan
I remember being so afraid of shots! I was so happy to get an oral vaccine!

Rick Cummins
Got mine at the Delray Beach drive in 1962 or 1963.

Leslie Worrell Jurney
I got it with my family at the Delray Drive in!

Joan Anderson
People were lucky to get the vaccine…. most don’t remember the polio epidemic before the vaccine. I do as I was hospitalized with polio as a child, very scary. I was blessed not to have effects like some did. I wish the vaccine were around for me.

Kathleen Kidd
My whole family went together to the cafeteria at North Grade Elementary after church to get it as a liquid in a small paper cup.

Teresa Wilhelm
My parents and I went to Lantana Elementary, on a Sunday afternoon (I think) a couple of times to drink a tiny cup of liquid. Do not remember it tasting bad.

Nelda Hall Erwin
It was ‘64, I was 5 and I remember standing in a long line with my mom at Canal Point Elementary School. My oldest brother had and survived Polio without any handicaps.

Karen Dutch
At Boynton Beach Elementary my third-grade class was called Polio Pioneers. We did not know if we were given a placebo or the real vaccine. We were given a wallet size card and a little metal button, you bent in half on a pocket to wear.

Richard Katz
Line of cars …. little paper cups…we lived on 5 acre farm on two-lane Atlantic Avenue.

Video Links

From The Vault: Dr. Albert Sabin’s oral polio vaccine helps eradicate the disease around the world

Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins singing “A Spoonful of Sugar” 1964

Forrest Gump Movie clip 1994 “Run Forrest Run”

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.

Special Event: Florida Highwaymen Exhibit in Boynton Beach

M. Randall Gill & Kay Baker with Florida Highwaymen paintings

Florida’s historic landscape artists known as The Florida Highwaymen will be coming to Boynton Beach on Saturday, January 18, 2020 from 11-3 p.m. Free Admission & Free Parking. This event is sponsored by the Boynton Beach Historical Society and the Boynton Woman’s Club. The popular Highwaymen artists will be in the Fellowship Hall of First Presbyterian Church, 235 SW 6th Ave. They will discuss their art work during the day and will have paintings available to buy. Visitors will enjoy hearing about their fascinating history and enjoy seeing the bold, classic Highwaymen style. The artists tentatively scheduled to attend are Curtis Arnett, Al Black, Mary Ann Carroll, Issac Knight, Robert Lewis and Doretha Hair Truesdell. The Highwaymen (25 African-American men and one woman) were from the Fort Pierce area and took to the highways to sell their paintings of blowing palm trees, flaming red Poinciana trees, cobalt blue oceans and fire sky sunsets. The artists traveled south to sell their artwork and Boynton Beach was a favorite stop. As they traveled down Federal Highway they sold art work to many of the businesses in town. Today you can still find their artistic legacy displayed in some of the local businesses along Federal Highway.

It’s a Wrap: The Sunday Brown Wrapper Weekly History Vignettes

Do you remember the Sunday Brown Wrapper history pages published in South Florida newspapers during the late 1970s and 1980s? These history pages, resembling a brown grocery sack and sponsored by First Federal Savings of the Palm Beaches (The Big First), were written by local authors and contained short history vignettes (much like today’s blog posts). The accounts weren’t foot-noted, but delivered interesting information on a variety of local news topics with the Sunday newspaper. The history section was wrapped around a thick bundle of advertisements and the popular “funnies.”

wreck of the coquimbo

Many of the Brown Wrappers are available online in their entirety via Google News, and more are being scanned by local historical societies and libraries for your reading pleasure. The Wreck of the Coquimbo, shown here, from the July 27, 1980 edition of the Palm Beach Post and the Palm Beach Daily News, was written by James H. Nichols.

The Wreck of the Coquimbowreck of the coquimbo2png

Jim Nichols graduated from FAU with a Master’s Degree in History and served as a historic researcher for the Boynton Beach City Library. Mr. Nichols was also a photographer and a member of the Boynton Beach Historical Society.

Ronald Tee Johnson created the Sunday Brown Wrapper format in 1975, initially as a monthly special advertising campaign produced by First Federal Savings ad agency. The weekly Sunday Brown Wrappers ran for seven consecutive years in The Palm Beach Post – Post Times and were also packaged with the Ft. Lauderdale News and the Sun-Sentinel Sunday newspapers. The reverse side of each Brown Wrapper contained a full-page advertising First Federal’s services.

Judge James R. Knott

Judge James R. Knott


The most prolific writer for the Sunday Brown Wrapper series was Judge James R. Knott. Judge Knott, a Palm Beach County circuit judge from 1956 to 1977, served as the President of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County. His passion for history resulted in several books on the subject including Tales of Tallahassee Twice Told and Untold: A Reminisce.
tales of tally

Many of Judge Knott’s Sunday Brown Wrapper stories are available in book format, The Mansion Builders, Historical Vignettes of Palm Beach, Palm Beach Revisited: Historical Vignettes of Palm Beach County and Palm Beach Revisited II: Historical Vignettes of Palm Beach County. While now out of print, several local libraries have copies of these books. You can also occasionally purchase copies on used book sites such as Half and AbeBooks.

pb revisited 2

pb revisited

Some of the Sunday Brown Wrappers currently available online are about Boynton history.

Breakfast Poetry (about poet Edgar Guest wintering at the Boynton Oceanfront Hotel) by James Hartley Nichols, September 12, 1982.
Breakfast Poetry

Orange Grove House of Refuge

Orange Grove House of Refuge

The Story of a Pioneer Woman – About Little Pierce Voss and Charlie Pierce
Pioneer Woman
And others that are simply of general interest.

November 15, 1980 – Daddy’s Bicycle Carried Five People
Daddy’s Bicycle Carried Five People

January 4, 1981 – The Currie Map of West Palm Beach 1907.
The Currie Map of 1907

Since the brown grocery sack paper the history accounts were printed on was thick and durable, many of the original copies have survived and can be viewed at libraries and historical societies throughout Palm Beach County. The ongoing digitization efforts ensure preservation of this important facet of Palm Beach County history and will make research and reminiscing easier than ever.