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

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.

Palm Beach County’s First Automobiles

1905 – Florida requires automobile registration

Florida Memory - Early Auto Registrations, 1905-1917

Florida Memory – Early Auto Registrations, 1905-1917

In 2015, the State Archives of Florida digitized the first two volumes of motor vehicle registrations recorded by the Florida Department of State. These ledger pages, found online at Florida Memory, Found Here contain detailed information recorded between 1905 and 1917 about our earliest vehicles, including the registered owner, city, county, make, model and horsepower of each automobile and motorcycle.

George Potter

George W. Potter was the first person in this part of the state (Palm Beach County) to legally register his automobile with the state.

George Potter, courtesy Potter Collection, Historical Society of Palm Beach County

George Potter, courtesy Potter Collection, Historical Society of Palm Beach County

Other horseless carriages were dotting the sandy roads, but Potter’s registration of a lightweight, four-horsepower Orient Buckboard, recorded November 20, 1905, was the 80th registered vehicle in the entire state of Florida. Before moving to Florida, Potter studied art and engineering in Cincinnati. His great grandson, David Willson, cartoonist for the Palm Beach Daily News, recounts how you could tell Potter had a fascination with all things mechanical as his sketches were filled with bridges and steam boats.

Record #80 Geo. W. Potter Nov. 20, 1905 vehicle registration

Record #80
Geo. W. Potter Nov. 20, 1905 vehicle registration

Waltham Manufacturing Company was a manufacturer of automobiles in Waltham, Massachusetts, including the Orient Buckboard, between 1902 and 1908

Henry M. Flagler

Henry M. Flagler, courtesy Library of Congress

Henry M. Flagler, courtesy Library of Congress

Henry Morrison Flagler registered his vehicle on December 6, 1905, a few weeks after Potter. Local history sources contend that Flagler did not allow motorized vehicles on his luxury island resort at Palm Beach, instead preferring guests to traverse through the gardens and jungle trials via wicker rickshaw bicycles, powered by Negro guides.
White Auto Co. 1905

White Auto Co. 1905


Flagler’s vehicle, listed as a Touring Car manufactured by White Sew’g Mch. Co. (White Sewing Machine Co./White Motor Co.) operated on steam, hence the vehicle was not a noisy as other autos of the time. Presidents William Taft and Theodore Roosevelt also owned White Motor Company automobiles during this time period.

Florida East Coast Hotel Automobile Registrations

Florida East Coast Hotel Automobile Registrations



Florida East Coast Hotel System

The vehicle must have served Flagler well, for in the next few months his Florida East Coast Hotel system purchased and registered five additional identical touring cars.

1907 White Touring Steam Car, courtesy Henry Ford Museum

1907 White Touring Steam Car, courtesy Henry Ford Museum

Boynton Hotel Company President A.E. Parker

A. E. Parker Touring Car Record

A. E. Parker Touring Car Record

In January 1908, Albert Edward Parker, manager of the Boynton oceanfront hotel and son-in-law of hotel owner Maj. Nathan Smith Boynton, registered his 30-horsepower Winton M.C. Co. Touring Car. Parker conducted business in both West Palm Beach and Miami, and likely used the old, bumpy sand trail to traverse the county for business purposes and to take hotel guests on sight-seeing tours.
Winton Motor Carriage Car

Winton Motor Carriage Car


1908 – 500 registered vehicles in Florida

By 1908, 500 vehicles were registered in the state of Florida.


2016 – Over 20,000,000 registered vehicles in Florida

Currently, there are over twenty million vehicles registered in Florida, with 1.2 million in Palm Beach County.

Vehicles registered in the State of Florida as of February 5, 2016

DRIVE SAFE!

A Secret from the Past is Revealed

In the great adventure that has been the story of Byrd Spilman Dewey and husband Fred S. Dewey, who filed the plat for the Town of Boynton in 1898, a few mysteries remained, nagging for an answer. We had wonderful photographs of the grand house they built in West Palm Beach called Ben Trovato (meaning “well invented” in Italian), but we knew there was another Ben Trovato, and that home stood somewhere in Boynton.

Ben Trovato in West Palm Beach, 1896

Ben Trovato in West Palm Beach, 1896

We didn’t know where the house was, nor how it looked. Not one person living in Boynton today had any recollection of the house.
We had a few clues. When Judge Earl Hoover researched Mrs. Dewey in 1966, he had a letter from prominent Boyntonite Bertha Williams Chadwell, who had moved to Boynton in 1907 and was friends with the Deweys. Mrs. Chadwell wrote: “The Dewey home stood at the corner of Second Avenue [Boynton Beach Boulevard] and the Dixie Highway [Federal Highway]. It was a big two-story house facing east. It is no longer in existence. It stood where the Cities Service Station now stands. The house was destroyed by fire later when owned by a succeeding owner, about 1920.”

Bertha W. Chadwell

Bertha W. Chadwell

That was our only clue as to the house’s location and how it looked. We combed through old pictures of Boynton from books, pamphlets, historical society newsletters, and other archival collections, but none seemed to match the location and the description.
In July, a postcard with a lovely frame vernacular Boynton house owned by A.P. Lynch appeared on the eBay auction website.

A.P. Lynch House

A.P. Lynch House

We checked land records and noted that the Deweys had sold their seven-acre citrus grove to Mr. Lynch in 1912. The Lynch house was two-story, but located on the east side of Federal highway at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Federal. We saw the Lynch house noted on the well-known 1910 “Boomer” map of Boynton, and a portion of the house is visible on an old snapshot from Cindy Lyman Jamison.

Lynch house location

Lynch house location

In August we pulled all the lot sales records from the original Town of Boynton at the Palm Beach County Courthouse for careful inspection of the lot buyer’s names and lot locations. We found that in 1912, the Deweys sold lots 1 through 5 in Block 1 of the original Town of Boynton to Charles T. Harper, which according to Mrs. Chadwell, is where the Dewey house stood. This information would also coincide with the year Mr. Dewey reentered the Soldier’s hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee and the Deweys left Boynton. Harper and wife Cora Stickney Harper would have lived in the house until they moved to Fort Pierce in 1913 when Charles was transferred to the Florida East Coast Railway station as head agent. In 1923, Charles sold the five lots to the Austin family.

The 1924 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows no structures on lots 1 and 2, where the house had stood. It could be that the house had burned down by the time the map was drawn. This supports Mrs. Chadwell’s report of the house burning down in about 1920. Without further evidence we were left with only the probable location, and no idea what the house was like, other than it was two-story.
Then something very strange happened. Last week I was searching through the old Florida East Coast Homeseeker magazine, which was a sales tool for selling off Henry Flagler’s vast land holdings he had gained from the state of Florida for building the railroad. Several copies of this publication are scanned online in the HathiTrust archive, and once in a while I like to scroll through the pages and clip old photographs of areas long since developed.

As I was looking through the Homeseeker late one evening, Janet DeVries texted me about the Dewey house – would we ever really know what it looked like – could it be the Lynch house after all? I answered back that I doubted we could ever know what it looked like. I continued to scroll through the Homeseeker issue, which featured the Everglades drainage project. Some interesting pictures of dredges and such, then a picture of a Delray house with a wooden cistern that looked like a scene from the 1960s television show Petticoat Junction.

Then I scrolled to the next page—and saw a rather imposing two-story house in the woods—and the words “Ben Travato” [sic] sprang out from the page…and Dewey…and Boynton. It was as if I was guided to that page, that one page among the millions of books scanned online and their billions of pages, the one page that had a picture of the Dewey house in Boynton, at the exact moment we wanted to solve that mystery.

Ben Trovato in Boynton, 1910

There it stood—in the wilderness of pine trees that was Boynton—the big two-story house, with a wonderful deck and unusual windows that is reminiscent of a Frank Lloyd Wright design. A shingled frame vernacular design with high ceilings and screened porches. There stood Fred and Byrd, she in her signature white dress with parasol, and Fred looking down from the deck with his familiar grey hat. The design was probably Byrd’s; from a 1936 letter: “I’ve built nearly a dozen cottages, and several big houses. My biggest ‘job’ is doing that sort of thing, as I’m my own architect, as well as landscaper, and it PAYS when we’ve needed nice sums in a hurry, and my husband was unable to work.”
The photograph is not sharp, having been scanned from the original lithographed magazine page. The photographer was listed as the “Florida Photographic Concern” and “Fort Pierce.” The company was based in Fort Pierce and run by Harry Hill, who was a bee-keeper and avid photographer. Many of his glass negatives have been preserved by the St. Lucie County Regional History Center; we contacted them to see if an original photograph exists in their archives. Hill did much photography for Flagler’s businesses, so he was probably hired to photograph the Dewey house.
I will leave the reader to draw conclusions as to how this happened as it did. A parable written by Mrs. Dewey, “Who Seeks Finds,” certainly fits what occurred in the rediscovery of the Dewey house in Boynton. The joy and triumph of finally seeing that wonderful home in Boynton still lingers. If spirits do return…

UPDATE 4/16/2016:

The newly updated Palm Beach Post archive at Newspapers.com revealed that the Dewey house burned May 16, 1916 in the early morning hours. No cause was given.

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Happy 100th Birthday to the Boynton School!

1st Permanent Schoolhouse in Boynton, ca. 1907

1st Permanent Schoolhouse in Boynton, ca. 1907

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

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

Article from Tropical Sun

Article from Tropical Sun

 

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

The Boynton School, ca. 1913

The Boynton School, ca. 1913

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Principal Howard Phahl, ca. 1915.

Principal Howard Phahl, ca. 1915.

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