A Rich Historical Heritage

The "Origins & History of the Palm Beaches" information site is a retrospective look at the history of Palm Beach County, and how its past has influenced the present. This blog is a companion site to "Palm Beach County Issues & Views." Both sites are edited by Robert I. Davidsson, retired manager of the Palm Beach County Library System's Government Research Service (GRS), and author of the book "Indian River: A History of the Ais Indians in Spanish Florida" and related articles about Florida's past.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Digging Up Palm Beach County's Haunted History

By Bob Davidsson
        When it comes to the supernatural, Palm Beach County has it all - Everglades ghost towns by the score, haunted mansions, cemetery tales from beyond the crypt, even a preternatural road on the island of Palm Beach.
        From Jupiter to Boca Raton, and west to Belle Glade, folktales, superstitions and unexplained experiences are unearthed from the timelines of our history. Readers are invited to join this journey through the catacombs of crypto science to learn the history of our county's dark side. Continue at your own risk:

Every Lighthouse Deserves a 'Tall Tale'
        The Jupiter Lighthouse was built on an ancient Jeaga Indian shell mound along the north shore of the Jupiter Inlet. Lt. Robert E. Lee is credited as one of the site's original military surveyors, while his future opponent at the Battle of Gettysburg, Lt. George Gordon Meade, was the architect.
        Since its completion in 1860, visitors to the lighthouse have reported "cold spots" and heard "strange noises" while climbing the 100-foot internal stairway. Occasionally, spooked visitors have felt hands touching their shoulders, only to turn and discover no one is behind them.
       There is a gallery of spectral suspects to question in an attempt to solve this invisible riddle. The Jeaga tribe's main village of Hobe was once located directly across the inlet from the Jupiter Light. Archaeologists also have discovered Indian artifacts at the lighthouse site.
        During the Civil War, the lighthouse was inactive and its keepers hid the valuable Fresnel lens to prevent its use by the Confederacy. This did not prevent rebel smugglers and blockade runners from using the site in a deadly three-year game of hide-and-seek with Union gunboats on patrol.
        A short distance north of the lighthouse, in the Jupiter Narrows, Spanish conquistadors fought a desperate four-month battle against the native Jeaga and Santaluces tribes at Fort Santa Lucia during the winter of 1565-66. After sustaining nearly 80 percent casualties, the Spanish garrison mutinied, captured a supply ship entering Jupiter Inlet, and sailed away.
        Santa Lucia became a ghost town that has never been rediscovered, although many amateur history detectives and archaeological teams have tried and failed.
        In the 1760's, Lord Temple and his brother, Sir George Grenville, a future English prime minister and opponent of American independence, attempted to establish a plantation on the north shore of Grenville (Jupiter) Inlet. The enterprise failed when Grenville died in 1770. Several years ago, British pottery was excavated near the lighthouse.
        During the 19th century, the family of Eusebio Maria Gomez, a Spanish colonial official in St. Augustine, acquired the Grenville's "Jupiter Land Grant," which included the north shore of Jupiter Inlet and most of Jupiter Island. His heirs and family agents made several unsuccessful attempts to establish a plantation on the land grant. A few never left the island alive.
       The U.S. Army established and garrisoned an outpost called Fort Jupiter west of the lighthouse site in an effort to control marauding Indians during the Second and Third Seminole Wars. Two battles were fought along the Loxahatchee River in the 1830's.
       Today, visitors who dare to climb the lighthouse alone may risk an encounter with one of these unsettled spirits from Jupiter Inlet's rich and varied past.

Glades Ghost Towns R.I.P. Under the Muck
        The hopes, dreams and legacy of thousands of pioneer farmers rest within the foundations of numerous Glades ghost towns hidden today under green fields of sugarcane in western Palm Beach County.
        You won't find most of the towns listed on modern maps, but if you turn the pages of time back to the years 1900-30, these small farming communities will come to life. The first was Kraemer Island (established in 1893), followed by the villages of Bryant (1902), Ritta (1909), Gardena, Fruitcrest (1912), Okeelanta and Gladecrest (1913), Chosen and Geerworth (1921) and Bean City (1923).
        Fertile Everglades muck, and misleading promises by developers, attracted would-be farmers from northern states, immigrants from Europe, and African-American farm workers from across the south. The town of Geerworth was promoted in England by H.G. Geer and C.C. Chillingsworth as a promised land of plenty for hard-luck, out-of-work British farmers.
        The reality was far different. The new arrivals faced the debilitating heat and humidity of the Glades, insect pests, droughts, seasonal flooding and a series of  tropical storms climaxed by the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928. Most of these fledgling communities ceased to exist after a wall of water from Lake Okeechobee, nearly 10 feet high, flooded their homes and fields.
        Between 2,500 and 3,000 residents of these small farming communities were killed by the storm, and about 35,000 were left homeless in Palm Beach County. The bodies of many of the dead were burned in the fields to prevent disease. Others were carried to mass graves near Port Mayaca, where about 1,600 were interred.
        As the flood waters receded, the dead were lined in row along the Belle Glade-Chosen road. They were divided by race. The black storm victims were hauled to the county's "Paupers Cemetery," founded in 1913 at the intersection of 25th Street and Tamarind Avenue in West Palm Beach. The bodies of 674 African Americans, and those listed as "race unknown," were rapidly buried in mass graves.
        Many white hurricane victims were transported to Woodlawn Cemetery, located near downtown West Palm Beach, for their final interment. While the bodies lay at rest, some say their spirits still wander through both cemeteries on the night of Sept. 17, the anniversary date of the 1928 hurricane.

Haunts of the Rich and Famous in Palm Beach
        Whitehall, the palatial mansion on the shore of the Lake Worth Lagoon in Palm Beach, was built by railroad tycoon Henry Flagler as wedding gift for his third wife, Mary Lily Kenan Flagler Bingham. Some say old Henry was so fond of the landmark home, and his young wife, that he continued to walk the halls of the mansion even after his death.
        It was May 10, 1913 when the Palm Beach magnate slipped and fell down a flight of marble stairs at Whitehall. He died of his injuries at age 83. For several years, the trains of Flagler's FEC railroad stopped for 10 minutes as a tribute on his burial date of May 23.
        Today, Whitehall is a museum visited by thousands of guests each year. While the ghost of Henry Flagler is credited as the source of ephemeral foot steps heard on the stairs, he may not be alone.
        Flagler's second wife, Alice, was diagnosed as medically insane by her husband's physicians. She had an unsettling habit of consulting a Ouija board and forecasting the deaths of others. Flagler pushed a special bill through the Florida Legislature making "insanity" legal grounds for divorce. Alice was institutionalized and died in 1930.
        Mary Lily, wife number three, also met an untimely and mysterious death in 1917. As an heiress to both the Flagler and Bingham fortunes, Mary Lily was the wealthiest woman in America. An autopsy, conducted at the request of her two brothers, revealed her body contained "enormous amounts" of  morphine, as well as traces of adrenaline, and the heavy metals arsenic and mercury.
        Murder conspiracy theories filled the newspapers for months, but there would be no justice for Mary Lily in this world. Perhaps she is seeking it in the afterlife.
        Stalking the undead has become a tourism industry in the Town of Palm Beach and several other communities in the county. A "Ghosts of Palm Beach" walking tour targets the historic buildings and alcoves along Worth Avenue.
        Famed architect Addison Mizner is best known for his stylish Mediterranean Revival homes and buildings in Boca Raton and Palm Beach. Some of his unique designs were incorporated in the Everglades Club on Worth Avenue, where Mizner once lived. The architect died at his Palm Beach residence in 1933.
        While there are no human cemeteries in Palm Beach, there is a gravesite in the Via Mizner arcade for his beloved spider monkey, "Little Johnnie Brown". The monkey's tombstone reads, "Johnnie Brown: The Human Monkey. Died April 30, 1927."
        According to the local urban legend, Mizner, with Johnnie on his shoulder, can be seen late at night admiring his architecture and browsing the shops in the exclusive shopping district. One favorite haunt is his "Memorial Fountain," which he designed as a tribute to Henry Flagler and other early pioneers.
        No supernatural tour of the island of Palm Beach is complete without a visit to the "Witch's Wall," located where North Lake Trail merges with Country Club Road. For generations of local high school teens, visiting the haunted site by car, with a group of friends in tow, was considered a rite of passage, as well as a fun Saturday night thrill.
        The "Witch's Wall" is actually a ridge of Anastasia limestone carved to create a steep valley that allows a road to pass through to the center of the island. Limestone is porous and contains many cracks and fissures. Many years ago bars were placed across one of  the larger holes on the south wall.
        It became the perfect scenario for a ghost story. There are many plots and versions, but the basic story line is a wicked witch lives in a house at the top of the limestone hill. The witch captures passing travelers (mainly children) and places them in a dungeon below the house.
        Cars passing the Witch's Wall at night hear the voices of children coming from the dungeon, and strange light passing through the bars. It is believed the source of the noises and reflected light was actually a nearby water utilities pump station.
        Teenagers find the paranormal legend more exciting than reality, and a proven method of enticing coed dates to hold their boyfriends a little tighter.

Ghosts That Haunt Public Places
        Some specters are not shy about making their eerie presence known in public buildings found throughout  Palm Beach County. Libraries, theaters, even five-star hotels, are frequented by spirits from the afterlife.
        The modern, high-tech Warren Library, located on the campus of Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, is not a setting where the living would expect to encounter the undead. Apparently, spirits don't always follow library codes of conduct written by the living.
        According to the PBAU academic legend, the ghost that frequents the Warren Library is a janitor who mysteriously disappeared after working at the college for many years. Students and staff have heard someone (or something) rummaging in a locked janitor's closet late at night. Perhaps a ghostly cleaning crew is still making its rounds.
        The staff of the Palm Beach County Library System's Main Library on Summit Boulevard share their information center with an avid reader from the beyond the grave. An elderly women dressed in conservative clothing, perhaps from an earlier age, has been observed by several librarians shortly before 9 p.m., the library's closing time.
        While librarians are making a final circuit before closing, the elderly woman is observed as they pass by, always standing in the nonfiction section reading a book. However, when a librarian turns to tell her the library is closing, there is no one there.
        The nonfiction collection is located in the oldest section of  the Main Library. It was built in 1968, and has survived numerous hurricanes, bomb scares, fire alarms and evacuations. The library has policies and procedures for every emergency - except ghosts.
        In the winter of 2012, the author of this article had a close encounter with the Main Library's spectral patron. While working a night shift as library supervisor after closing time, he walked past the collection of "New Books" which were all neatly placed in their stacks. Unexpectedly, a book popped out of the shelf directly behind him and fell to the ground with a loud pop.
        The book was nonfiction, the ghost's favorite genre.
        The Lake Worth Playhouse on Lake Avenue has entertained the public since 1975 with its community theater productions. In one of its prior lives, it was called the Capri Theatre and billed X-rated adult movies. In the 1920s, silent films were featured in the Oakley (LC) Theatre.
        The theater was built in 1924 and operated by brothers Lucian and Clarence Oakley. The 1928 hurricane badly damaged the original theater, but the determined brothers invested all their savings rebuilding the Oakley Theatre with an Art Deco design.
        The 1928 hurricane disaster was followed by the economic devastation of the Great Depression. The Oakley Theatre lost customers, and Lucian became depressed trying to keep his theater out of bankruptcy. He committed suicide. Exactly one year later his brother, Clarence, died of a heart attack.
        Today, the two brothers share a paranormal interest in Lake Worth Playhouse productions. Lucian's spectral image allegedly is seen in mirrors, and the departed theater owners are occasionally heard walking the catwalk above the stage. Objects also have been observed moving on their own accord.
       In recent years, the playhouse has become a popular venue for entertaining "haunted house" productions on Halloween.
       The historic Gulfstream Hotel is located three blocks east of the Lake Worth Playhouse. It was built in 1923 at the height of the "Roaring '20s." Fifty years later, in January 1983, the hotel was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
       The ghostly presence encountered by both guests and staff in the past is believed to be the mischievous spirit of a 6-year-old girl who roams the hotel playing tricks on the living. According to the legend, the Gulfstream Hotel became haunted after a child fell down an elevator shaft in the 1930s.
        The child spirit is fond of playing games with new arrivals in the hotel. Some of her favorite tricks are tapping people on their shoulders, pulling on the dresses of women, and switching televisions on and off. She also continues to have a deadly fascination with elevators.
        In recent years, the Gulfstream Hotel fell on hard times and was vacated for nearly 10 years. The preliminary plans for renovation and expansion of the historic site were approved in 2016. The spirit of a little girl residing in the hotel was not consulted about its future plans.     
       The upscale Boca Raton Resort and Club opened Feb. 6, 1926 as the Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn. It was originally designed by Palm Beach architect Addison Mizner.
        For more than 90 years, the ghost of  a long-deceased chambermaid named Esmerelda has been making her rounds on the third floor and Cloister Hall. Esmerelda was one of the first service employees hired by the hotel in 1926. Visitors have reported hearing her walking the hallways, and discovered items rearranged upon returning to their rooms.
        Apparently, the spectral maid is continuing to tidy up the resort's rooms for guests. Either out of dedication to their earthly responsibilities, or ignorance of their current ephemeral state of existence, some ghosts don't know when it is time to retire to the grave.

Local Cemeteries Are Lively Places at Night
        Judging from the growing popularity of cemetery tours in West Palm Beach, Boca Raton and elsewhere in the Palm Beaches, there are many tales to be told of restless spirits in our county graveyards.
        The Riddle House was once located at 327 Acacia St. in West Palm Beach. It was built in 1905 using leftover wood from Henry Flagler's hotel projects on Palm Beach.
        The building was originally used as a funeral parlor serving the adjacent Woodlawn Cemetery. For 15 years, it was known as the "Gatekeeper's Cottage" for the graveyard. Due to its brightly-colored exterior, the cottage also was commonly called a Victorian "Painted Lady".
        Cemetery workers used the Gatekeeper's Cottage as a meeting place. One large gravedigger, called "Buck," was killed during an argument, but continued to report to work after his death. He was observed walking through the cemetery, and often seen sitting on the porch of the Gatekeeper's House taking his breaks from work.
        Karl Riddle, a former city manager responsible for the upkeep of Woodlawn Cemetery, lived in and later acquired the house in 1920s. His home earned a supernatural reputation when Joseph, an associate of Mr. Riddle, hanged himself in the attic. It is said he was trying to escape pending financial difficulties.
        In 1995, the Riddle House was donated to the "Yesteryear Village" historic park, located near the South Florida Fairgrounds. As they moved and repaired the historic home, workmen experienced missing tools and strange sightings while completing the project.
        The Riddle House was featured in a 2008 episode of  "Ghost Adventures" on the Travel Channel. Today, the home is a favorite haunt of visitors during "Yesteryear Village " ghost tours.
        Our Lady of Peace Cemetery in Royal Palm Beach opened in 1974 as the only Catholic cemetery owned and operated by Diocese of Palm Beach. As its name implies, by day it is a restful setting of mausoleums and gravesites, and features a fountain topped by a statue of Our Lady.
        The cemetery is promoted as "a peaceful atmosphere that reflects our respect of loved ones who rest here in peace." However, on some nights, visitors claim the atmosphere is much different.
        There have been reports of a strange fog covering the cemetery, and shadowy figures standing in the mist that move and vanish at will. Others have seen orbs of light in the cemetery at night.
         The true history of one cemetery is even stranger than the most fanciful ghost story. Such is the saga of the Boca Raton Cemetery and Mausoleum.
         Before 1916, deceased family members from the rural community of "Boca Ratone" were buried at their homes, a nearby church, or on the barrier island near the Boca Raton Inlet. The first community cemetery was a one-acre section at the site of the future Boca Raton Resort and Club.
        Prior to the construction of the new hotel in the 1920s, the cemetery was closed, the bodies disinterred, and then transported to a new 10-acre gravesite north of Glades Road. During World War II, western Boca Raton was selected as the site of an Army Air Force airport. The cemetery had to move a second time.
        The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers selected the highest point in Boca Raton for its third cemetery, Sunset Hill. Some bodies were exhumed for a second relocation in 1942 and buried in their third plot. The new 15-acre graveyard became the Boca Raton Municipal Cemetery and Mausoleum.
        It is not surprising that at least two spirits are active at night in the Boca Raton Cemetery. Automobiles passing the cemetery before dawn have called in reports to the Boca Raton Police Department of a "screaming man" in the graveyard. He is never found by police units on patrol.
        The main mausoleum in the cemetery is the haunt of a little girl with a restless spirit. Visitors claim to have seen a child at prayer by the mausoleum. Others have heard a young girl playing games among the monuments.
        Yes, Palm Beach County is a paradise where the living enjoy the days, and restless spirits join in the fun after sunset.
(c.) Davidsson.  2016.

NOTE: See related October 2015 article, "Muck Monster Legend Becomes Part of Our History," archived in Older Posts.    

Friday, August 19, 2016

Final Voyage and Sinking of 'SS Inchulva' off Delray

By Bob Davidsson
        For more than a century, one of the most popular diving sites along coastal Palm Beach County is the so-called "Delray Wreck," the final undersea resting place of the storm-tossed freighter "SS Inchulva," which sank during a hurricane on Sept.11, 1903.
        The Delray Wreck is located less than 150 yards offshore of the southern end of Delray's public beach, in just 25 feet of water. Divers can view the ship's boilers, and occasionally a debris field scattered over a 70-foot area whenever the waves and tides choose to uncover the ship's burial shroud of sand.
        A "Delray Wreck Historical Marker" was posted along highway A1A on May 22, 1990. The "Friends of the Delray Wreck" collected $1,500 to pay for the permanent tribute. Today, the official  memorial is co-sponsored by the Palm Beach County Historic Preservation Board and the Florida Department of State.
        While the historic marker gives a brief summary of the Delray Wreck, there is much more to learn from the saga of the "SS Inchulva" - the ship's origin, final voyage and the impact of the "Florida Hurricane of 1903" on the history of the fledgling coastal communities of  what later became Palm Beach County.

The Palm Beaches in 1903
        In the summer of 1903, Dade County extended from Cape Florida north to the mouth of the St. Lucie River. The Palm Beaches were not granted a county charter by the Florida Legislature until the year 1909.
        The only incorporated cities in the Palm Beaches were West Palm Beach and Juno. Juno served as the county seat of Dade County in the 1890s as the result of a referendum passed by a majority of  voters who wanted a more geographically accessible government center. However, once Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railroad linked the scattered communities by rail, the county seat was moved back to Miami.
        South of Palm Beach were the unincorporated rural settlements and postal centers of  Figulus, Jewell (Lake Worth), Hypoluxo, Lantana, Boynton, Delray, Wyman and "Bocaratone". In 1903 the two landmark buildings on Delray Beach were the Chapman House, which served as a hotel, and the "Orange Grove House of Refuge No. 3."
        Delray's House of Refuge, dedicated in April 1876, was one of five built and staffed by the U.S. Treasury Department's Life Saving Service between Cape Canaveral and Cape Florida. The mission of the Houses of Refuge was to "rescue and provide sustenance" to survivors of the many shipwrecks along thinly populated eastern coast of Florida.
        The 1879 "Annual Report of the Life Saving Service" stated the House of Refuge "contemplates no other life saving operations than affording succor to shipwrecked persons who may be cast ashore, and who, in absence of means of relief, would be liable to perish from hunger and thirst in that desolate region."
        The House of Refuge keepers and members of their families were required to "go along the beach, in both directions, in search of castaways immediately after a storm."
        The two-story building consisted of four rooms in its lower level with an upper floor dormitory. It received the tropical moniker of "Orange Grove House of Refuge" from a small grove of sour oranges adjacent to the station. The House of Refuge also served as the site of the "Zion" community post office on Delray Beach between 1888-92.
        The U.S. Life Saving Service operated the House of Refuge for 19 years. It ceased operation in 1896. The station had a variety of public and private uses until the building burned to the ground on March 2, 1927.
        The Chapman House, also known as the Chapman Inn and Delray's "Grand Hotel," was a three-story Bahamian-style building completed in 1902. It served as both a guest house and home for Frank and Lucy Chapman, the owners and innkeepers.
        After the closing of the House of Refuge, the Chapman Inn was often used as a shelter for local residents during hurricanes. It also provided refuge to waterlogged survivors of shipwrecks, including the crew of the "SS Inchulva" during the hurricane of 1903.
        Ironically, the Chapman House - Delray's first "Grand Hotel" - also was damaged by fire in 1927, the same year as the Orange Grove House of Refuge.

The Florida Hurricane of 1903
        Between 1900 and 1929, Florida was hit or impacted by 23 hurricanes. The Palm Beaches experienced tropical storm winds in 1888, 1894, 1903, 1904 and 1906. The cluster of storms tested both the determination of pioneers and the pace of coastal development at the turn of the 20th century.
        The Florida Hurricane of 1903 was not the strongest storm to hit the Palm Beaches. The maximum winds hitting West Palm Beach were estimated at 84 miles per hour. However, there were no hurricane building codes and the sustained winds on the north side of eye wall caused widespread destruction from Jupiter Inlet south to Boca Raton.
        The 1903 hurricane formed over the central Bahamas on Sept. 9 and moved northwest toward the southeast coast of Florida. Residents of Dade County were given about a 24-hour notice of the storm's approach by government officials in Miami, but its exact landfall was unknown in these early days of hurricane forecasting.
        The eye of the storm hit the coast north of Fort Lauderdale the afternoon of Sept. 11 with maximum winds of 90 miles per hour. It continued on a northwest path across the peninsula, entering the Gulf of Mexico south of Tampa. Three days later, it hit Florida a second time at Panama City as a category one storm.
        The hurricane cut power lines and newswire services south of Tampa for more than two days. This caused a news blackout and the outside world was unaware of the devastation in South Florida until the Associated Press forwarded a report from Jacksonville on Sept. 15.
        The news report stated, "At Palm Beach, damage was serious. Grunber's Opera House was partly unroofed, as were eight other business blocks, which were also damaged in other ways. All the boats on the Lake Worth waterfront, excepting three, were wrecked and sank. The Royal Poinciana Hotel was slightly damaged."
        An eight-foot storm surge was reported at the Jupiter Inlet. The schooner "Martha Jones" was blown ashore nine miles south of the inlet. Three cottages were blown into the Lake Worth Lagoon at Munyon Island, and the island's hotel was damaged.
        Rough seas forced a Standard Oil barge onto a shallow reef offshore of Boynton Beach. The crew of 11 had to swim to shore as the barge began to break up in the surf.
        The "Lake Worth News" building was severely damaged, as was the home of "The Tropical Sun" newspaper. The interruption of  local news services added to the confusion after the storm.
        Local tourism in the Palm Beaches was impacted by damages sustained at the Seminole Hotel, Palm Hotel and Schmidt's Commercial Hotel. Three of four churches in downtown West Palm Beach also were destroyed and had to be rebuilt.
        Half of the orange crop along Florida's west coast, and about one-forth of the southeast coast harvest, was ruined by the hurricane. The storm-related damages are estimated at $500,000 in 1903 gold-backed dollars.
        The 1903 Florida Hurricane killed a total of 16 persons. Nine of the deaths were crewmen of the "SS Inchulva" which sank off Delray Beach at 5 p.m. Sept. 11 at the peak of the storm.

The Last Voyage of the 'SS Inchulva'
        In 1892, a 386-foot-long, steam-powered freighter was built at the West Hartlepool, England, Harbor and Docks shipyard by the W. Gray & Co. Ltd. The ship was christened and launched as the single-stack steamer "Alberta," powered by one screw-driven triple expansion engine.
        She was listed by the Lloyds Register of Shipping as a steel vessel of 4,823 tons gross. The ship was designed with a 48-foot-wide beam and thus capable of carrying a variety of cargos. By British standards, it was a state of the art merchant vessel, with many of its sister ships sailing long after World War I.
        The "Alberta" was purchased by the Hamilton, Fraser & Company of Liverpool in 1898, and assigned to a fleet of ships operated by its American subsidiary, the Inch Shipping Company, based in Galveston, Texas.
        The "Alberta" was renamed the "SS Inchulva" to promote the Inch Shipping Company. It became the sixth of the fleet's "Inch" ships. Its sister cargo ships were the "Inchura," "Inchmona," "Inchmarlo," "Inchmaree" and "Inchdune."
       The "SS Inchulva" set sail from England in July 1903, bound for Galveston to receive a shipment of agricultural products. In what became its final voyage, the ship left Galveston Sept. 6 with a cargo of wheat, lumber and cotton. Its destination was Newport News, Virginia.
        It is not known if the ship was aware of a hurricane forming in the Bahamas. The "Inchulva" sailed directly into the path of the tropical storm. Capt. G.W. Davis and his crew of 27 were soon fighting for their lives against the wind and huge waves, with nearly zero visibility along he coast.
        In the "Inchulva's" ship log, Captain Davis wrote, "At 2 a.m. (Sept. 11) I was 15 miles off Fowey Rocks (southeast of Miami near Key Biscayne) by bearings, and gale increasing. By noon the hurricane was fearful."
        The Sept. 15 newswire report stated, "The ship's steering gear broke and she floated at will, striking the beach at great force and breaking into three pieces. The captain, mates and 14 of the crew were saved. Nine were drowned, among them the engineer. A small boat with five men was battered to pieces by waves and its occupants drowned."
        The text of the "Delray Wreck" historic marker adds, "The storm struck at 5 p.m., tossing the ship and causing the cargo to shift. Steering became impossible, so Captain Davis put out both anchors, but to no avail. The anchors parted, and the "Inchulva" grounded and was torn apart (by the waves)."
        The Orange Grove House of Refuge rescue station closed six years prior to the shipwreck, so the surviving "Inchulva" crew were escorted to the Chapman House, where several local residents were taking shelter from the hurricane. They were reported to have received hot food, dry clothing and "every kindness and attention at the hands of Mrs. Chapman."
        While "Inchulva" officers and sailors recovered at the hotel, the Inch Shipping Company forwarded the wages earned by the surviving crew members of the ill-starred voyage. After a week of recuperation, they were sent to New York by the company.
        The nine dead sailors were tersely identified in a Lloyd's report and British newspapers as seamen Smith (the engineer), Magill, Weatherill, Taylor, Gaeting, P. Whitley, Shaw, Whitney and cabin steward Allen. They were buried by local residents on the Delray Beach dune.
        Captain Davis, his chief officer, second officer and a seaman on watch during the hurricane were brought before a hastily called naval court of inquiry held Sept. 19 at the British Vice Consulate building in Jacksonville. The court exonerated the captain and crew of all blame for the destruction of the "SS Inchulva". It was deemed an act of nature's fury.
        Today, the Delray Wreck is home to schools of tropical fish, and visited by hundreds of divers who swim from the beach to view the final resting place of the "SS Inchulva".
(c.)  Davidsson. 2016.

NOTE: Read additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Short Life and Sudden End of God's 'Chosen' City

By Bob Davidsson
        The community of "Chosen" was established in 1921 as an early agricultural center on the southeast shore of Lake Okeechobee. It was created as a religious haven for a small sect of true believers known as the Church of the Brethren.
        Chosen was located about one mile west of Belle Glade and east of Torry Island, near the source of the original 1913 Hillsboro Canal. It also was the site of an ancient midden and burial mound complex of Mayami Indians, dating back in time 2000 years.
        The Church of the Brethren, also known as the "Dunkards," are a reformed branch of Anabaptist Protestants founded in eastern Germany in the year 1708. The common name of "Dunkards" comes from their religious requirement of total immersion in water three times during baptism.
        The sect refused to take oaths of obedience to their German rulers, the established state church, or to serve in their armies. This resulted in persecution and emigration of many church members to America during the 18th century.
        By the early 20th century, several Brethren congregations were established in South Florida, including in the town of Chosen.

The Chosen Indian Mound
        A village midden and burial mound near Chosen, today known as the "Belle Glade Indian Mound" complex, was the easternmost town of the Mayami Indians of Lake Okeechobee. The shore of the big lake was inhabited by the tribe for nearly 5,000 years.
       Villages along Lake Okeechobee are classified locally as part of the unique "Belle Glade Culture." The mound site near Chosen was firmly rooted between 200 and 600 A.D., and continued as an active inhabited village site until the Spanish Colonial Period in the 17th century.
        The Mayami were a part of the regional Calusa Mound Building culture with close trade and inland navigation connections to the larger Gulf Coast tribe. Mayami villages extended from the mouth of the Kissimmee River, on the northern shore of Lake Okeechobee, south to Belle Glade. Their largest mound complex was located near Fort Center in Glades County.
        Wooden artifacts and pottery recovered from the Chosen Mound are similar in design to those found at both Fort Center and Calusa Indian middens at Key Marco on Florida's west coast. The Mayami shared the resources of Lake Okeechobee, called "Lake Mayami" by the Spanish during the 16th century, with the Santaluces Indians, their neighbors along the inland sea's eastern shoreline.
        The Chosen midden served as an elevated village site which kept the inhabitants dry during periodic flooding of the lake. The smaller adjacent ceremonial mound also served as a burial site for the village.
        The Chosen site was excavated by a team sent from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. The project was funded as part of the Emergency Relief Program during the Great Depression by the Civil Works Administration.
        The Smithsonian's G.M. Sterling was director of the archaeological project. He was assisted by a large expedition of formerly unemployed laborers sent to unearth and explore the mound during its 1933-34 excavation.
         At the time of excavation, the Chosen site was divided by a creek known as the Democrat River, named for a Glades expedition sponsored by the New Orleans Times-Democrat newspaper in the 1880s. The small river was probably used as a canoe route to Lake Okeechobee. It was later destroyed by agricultural drainage projects.
        The Smithsonian team examined the circular burial mound and its dome-shaped summit. In addition to native crafts, the archaeologists found Spanish trade beads and metal fragments from St. Augustine and coastal shipwrecks.
        In 1977, a house was built at the mound site. Prior to its construction, state archaeologists were able to make further excavations. Today, artifacts from the mound are cataloged and archived by the Smithsonian Institute. Other items are located in the Florida State Museum, and the Lawrence Will Museum in Belle Glade.

J.R. Leatherman's 'Chosen' Village: 1921-28
        John Robert "J.R." Leatherman was born in the Cabin Run section of Mineral, West Virginia, one month before the end of the Civil War on March 13, 1865. His parents, Dan A. and Margaret Leatherman, were of German ancestry and baptized members of  the Brethren of the Church.
        On Jan. 2, 1881, he married Mary Sowers, and together they raised two children, Lena and Vida. J.R. Leatherman was a skilled architect and builder. He moved his family to Fairfax County, Virginia, where he built a two-story brick house with a veranda for his family near the town of Vienna. His grandfather and namesake, John, was from Virginia.
        Fairfax County had a Brethren of the Church congregation of 197 members. Leatherman served as an assistant minister to Elder I.M. Nelt, and helped erect a new church and Sunday school at Dranesville, Virginia, for the 216 children in the congregation.
        Shortly before the turn of the 20th century, he moved his family from Virginia to a new home in West Palm Beach. He continued his career as a builder, and used Henry Flagler's new East Coast Railroad to commute weekly from his home to three construction projects under contract in the town of Delray.
        His best known building is the historic Sundy House, built in 1902 and still used today as a bed-and-breakfast restaurant. Leatherman also built the First Methodist Church on Atlantic Avenue in Delray. The sanctuary was destroyed by the 1928 hurricane, but its original rectory is still standing.
        In 1903, he built and briefly resided in a house later sold to merchants William J. and Grace Cathcart in 1910. Today, it is known as the historic Cathcart House.
        In the 1910 Census, recorders listed his primary residence as Delray instead of West Palm Beach. In addition to his architectural projects, Leatherman also raised fruit on a small farm outside of Delray.
        Leatherman was a man of vision. For 10 years he envisioned and worked tirelessly to create a religious community supported by agriculture for his fellow Brethren of the Church along the shore of Lake Okeechobee.
        According to U.S. Census documents, by 1920 the J.R. Leatherman family resided at Okeelanta in unincorporated Palm Beach County. He was joined by the family of his older brother, Isaac. He used his church connections to recruit Brethren from the Indian River Church in Wabasso and elsewhere.
        The official Ministerial Lists of the annual "Brethren Family Almanac" confirm Leatherman was a church elder serving Wabasso (1899, 1902 editions), Delray (1907 edition), as well as the Vienna, Va., congregation.
        In order to obtain a U.S. Post Office, the new community needed a name. Leatherman turned to the Bible for an inspiration. It came from the book of Deuteronomy 16: 1-2, which set guidelines for God's "chosen" place of worship. The rural community was postmarked as "Chosen" for the next seven years of its existence.
        One enduring legend about the name states, "He (Leatherman) saw the rich soil and temperate climate and declared it to be God's 'Chosen' place."
        The Chosen church was dedicated by the Brethren on May 4, 1922. Leatherman served as its first "Elder" or minister. At its peak, the church served 10 Brethren patriarchs and their families. The community also attracted merchants, fishermen and black farm laborers.
        Isaac West, member of the Brethren, was a merchant and became the community's postmaster when the village  received its U.S. Post Office address in 1922. Brethren Sister Bertha Albin of Kansas moved to Chosen and became the community's school teacher and secretary for six years.
        The village of Chosen may have been inspired by God, but was not without its share of scandals. Community founder J.R. Leatherman was removed by the Brethren as the Elder and overseer of the church in April 1925.
        He was relieved of duties as Chosen's spiritual leader for "unbecoming moral behavior." According to the accusations, Leatherman was not only a Dunkard, but also a "drunkard," who overindulged in alcohol.
        During its final three years, services for the Chosen congregation were led by a traveling circuit minister or elder from the Town of Sebring's Brethren Church, established in 1916.

The Hurricane of 1928
        For those who believe events on earth are directed by a supreme divinity in Heaven, then the final judgment of the community of Chosen was decreed Sept. 17, 1928 in the form of a category five hurricane.
        The "Hurricane of 1928," also known as the "San Felipe Segundo" tropical storm in Puerto Rico, was the third of its kind in the summer season. It was born the first week of September, but intensified rapidly as it crossed the Windward Islands on Sept. 12, killing 1,200 residents of Guadalupe.
        When it reached Puerto Rico the next day, it shredded the island with peak winds of 160 miles per hour. The massive storm killed 312, and left 500,000 islanders homeless.
        On Sept.17, the hurricane hit West Palm Beach with 145 mph winds and a 10-foot storm surge along the coast. More than 1,700 coastal houses were destroyed as the storm twisted toward Lake Okeechobee.
        The storm surge on the big lake formed an 18-foot wall of water, smashing weak mud dike walls, and submerging the lake communities. Witnesses say the lake was in the eye of the hurricane for nearly 30 minutes before the winds changed directions and intensified.
       According to the latest 2003 estimates, more than 2,500 residents and farm workers living in the lake communites drowned in the flooding. About 35,000 people became homeless. Recovery was slow and bodies were discovered for weeks in the muddy farm fields, then burned or buried in mass graves near the lake or in West Palm Beach.
        In the community of Chosen, members of the Brethren Church sought refuge in the three largest houses, and also in a packing warehouse located at the edge of town. One house was lifted off its foundations and floated into the farmland.
        Pat Burke's house was used as a shelter for 19 frightened residents. Only two survived when the storm surge from Lake Okeechobee capsized the home. The 20 residents seeking refuge in Isaac West's store survived by crowding into a bathroom in the middle of the building.
        The only land in Chosen which did not flood was the ancient Mayami Indian mound which rose about 10 feet above the surrounding countryside. Thirty-one fortunate residents and black farm workers survived the hurricane by holding onto thick weeds growing on the lee side of the midden. At the peak of the storm, flood waters crested two feet below the top of the mound.
        Most of the homes in Chosen were swept away by the lake flooding. After the storm, bodies were stacked along the Belle Glade-Chosen Road. The town's death toll is unknown. Estimates range from less than 100 to 1,000. Many were black farm laborers.
        The community of Chosen never recovered from the Hurricane of 1928. Even though the school and church were destroyed, secretary Bertha Albin tried to rally the surviving Brethren to remain in Chosen. Most chose to leave.
        Chosen's sister city, Belle Glade, become home for some of the survivors. It was known as "Hillsboro" when the community organized in 1919. It incorporated as the City of Belle Glade on April 9, 1928, five months before the hurricane.
        J.R. Leatherman's brother, Isaac, died in the hurricane. He remained in Chosen for a few years, remarried after of loss of his wife, and returned to West Palm Beach in 1932. He attended meetings of the Church of the Brethren congregation in Miami after the destruction of Chosen.
        Leatherman died Oct. 6, 1953 in West Palm Beach. The founder of the community of Chosen, his first wife, and one of his daughters are buried in Woodlawn Cemetery. An historical marker in a sugarcane field near SR 715 and the Hillsboro Canal was erected as a sentinel of the community's past.
        Today, there are about 100,000 Church of the Brethren members in the United States and Puerto Rico, with mission partners on five continents.
(c.) Davidsson. 2016.

NOTE: Additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A History of the Tequesta Indians in Boca Raton

By Bob Davidsson
        In its unique history, Boca Raton's Barnhill Mound was used and misused as an Indian burial theme park for tourists, part of a Japanese colony farmstead, a Boy Scouts camping and bone-hunting site, and today as green space near the guarded entrance to a private yacht club.
        But for nearly 1,000 years, the Barnhill Mound, located north of Yamato Road and east of U.S. Highway One in Boca Raton, was a ceremonial burial site and center of the so-called "Spanish River Complex" of middens and villages of southern Palm Beach County's original inhabitants - the Tequesta Indians.
        At the time of the European discovery of Florida in 1513, the Tequesta tribe occupied an area extending from the Florida Keys north to Highland Beach in Palm Beach County. The Spanish named the coastal tribe after its main village of "Tekesta," located near the mouth of the Miami River in Dade County.
        Juan Ponce de Leon, named governor of the uncharted "Bimini and the Northern Isles" by King Ferdinand of Spain, entered Biscayne Bay during his voyage of discovery. In contrast to earlier hostile encounters with the Ais Indians north of the St. Lucie Inlet, and the Jeaga tribe at Jupiter Inlet, the proprietary governor of Florida was received peacefully during his brief visit to Tekesta.
        Ponce de Leon called the people of southeast Florida "the Chequesta," which also is the name given to the leader of the tribe in the 16th century. Perhaps it was the peaceful reputation of the Tequesta which inspired two failed attempts by the Spanish to establish Catholic missions near the town of Tekesta in 1567-70 and 1743.
        In March 1567, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, the founder of St. Augustine, built a stockade on the Miami River and left a garrison of 30 soldiers to protect Jesuit missionary Brother Francisco Villareal and Father Juan Rogel in their efforts to convert the Tequesta tribe and include it as part of the Spanish mission system in Florida.
        While serving the Tekesta mission, Lay Brother Villareal wrote two "comedias" or plays to introduce Christian doctrine to the Tequesta Indians. He documented the scripts in a descriptive letter - the first confirmed record of a theatrical performance in North America.
        Their mission was compromised when the Spanish garrison killed the uncle of the Tekesta chieftain during a dispute. The stockade was surrounded and held under a state of siege by the angry Tequesta until Governor Menendez was forced to abandon the mission in 1570.
        A second mission led by Fathers Alana and Monaco, guarded by a weak garrison of just 13 soldiers, met a similar fate in 1743. They were recalled to Havana after just a few months on the Miami River, and the triangular stockade of "Pueblo de Santa Maria de Loreto" was deserted. The Tequesta remained pagans in the eyes of the church.

The Tequesta in Palm Beach County
       The Tequesta shared the geographical area which became Palm Beach County with three other tribes during the period of Spanish exploration in the 16th century. North of Highland Beach were numerous village sites of the Jeaga Indians along both shores of the Lake Worth Lagoon (Rio Jeaga) and their main village of Hobe at Jupiter Inlet.*
        Along the southwestern shore of Lake Okeechobee, were the mound-building Maymi Indians. They shared the big lake with the neighboring Santaluces Indians to the east, a tribe which also utilized the marine resources from the St. Lucie (Santa Lucia) and Indian (Rio de Ais) rivers.
        A source of fresh, potable water was vital to the success and continuity of coastal villages in Palm Beach County. The Tequesta sites near the Boca Raton Inlet utilized the Hillsboro River, while villages further north used the Rio Seco (Spanish River) as their primary water source.
        The native American villages uncovered by archaeologists in Highland Beach and Boca Raton were located in the northernmost frontier of the Tequesta nation. They are identified and grouped as the Spanish River Complex and the Boca Raton Inlet Complex. Chronologically, both sites date back to the "Glades II" period (about 750 A.D.).
        The Spanish River Complex includes the 20-foot high Barnhill Mound, used as both a cemetery and religious ceremonial site. University of Florida researcher Ripley P. Bullen excavated the mound in 1958. He uncovered 72 bodies which through further analysis revealed they were interred between the years 700 and 1300 A.D.
        Researchers believe the Tequesta village adjacent to the Barnhill Mound once housed a population of 150 inhabitants. An additional four middens made of shells and earthen materials also were found in the Spanish River Complex.
        The most recent discoveries were unearthed in Highland Beach during waterfront development in the city. So far, a total of 120 interred Tequesta Indians were uncovered in the Highland Beach sites.
        The Boca Raton Inlet Complex to the south once contained three shell middens and a burial mound. The sites were excavated in 1970, but later destroyed by coastal development.
        A special 2002 edition of "Florida Anthropologist" journal summarized the findings of a team of  experts concerning the "Coastal Tribes of Palm Beach County." By compiling data from Indian village and burial sites, they estimated coastal Palm Beach County supported a pre-Colombian population of 2,225, of which about one-third were Tequesta.
        Determining the population of native Florida tribes is difficult. European explorers and colonists introduced deadly diseases (such as smallpox and measles) which soon decimated native American villages in the 16th century.
        The Tequesta may have numbered 10,000 at the time of Ponce de Leon's visit, about one-third the size of the rival Calusa tribe in southwest Florida. Warfare between the two tribes involved disputes over the distribution of tribute, and control of the Florida Keys and related trade with Cuba.
        In 1957, the remnants of 46-foot cypress dugout canoe was discovered near Boca Raton. The large canoe could hold a crew of 30 Tequesta sailors, and was seaworthy enough to make the two-day voyage to Cuba.
        The Tequesta, like the Jeaga, Santaluces and Ais tribes to the north, were a hunter-gatherer culture utilizing the ocean, its estuaries and the Everglades for food sources. They traded pottery and artifacts with neighboring tribes, and occasionally with the Spanish in St. Augustine.
        Numerous shipwrecks along the southeast Florida coast and Florida Keys brought unexpected wealth to the Tequesta. In addition to ransoms held for castaways and ship cargos, the Tequesta and Jeaga tribes profited from the sale of ambergris (whale amber) which the Spanish valued and was used to make perfume at a time when bathing was a luxury in Europe.
        Like all native Florida tribes, the Tequesta were weakened by continual population decline during the Spanish colonial period due to introduced diseases and occasional inter-tribal conflicts. It was the shock of slave raids during the colonial Queen Anne's War (1702-14) between Spain and England that shattered the tribe.
        Slave merchants in Charleston organized raids by the allied Yemassee, Yuchi and Creek Indians, armed with English muskets, against the tribes in Spanish Florida. The Tequesta lacked European weapons and fled south to the Florida Keys.
        By the time of the short-lived Santa Maria de Loreto mission on the Miami River in 1743, less than 200 "Boca Ratones (Tequesta)," Matacumbe (Keys) and Carlos (Calusa) Indians were counted by the Spanish. Most opted for transport to Cuba when Florida became an English colony in 1783.

E.G. Barnhill's 'Ancient America' Site
        The Yamato colony was a Japanese farming community founded and organized by Jo Sakai in 1905. He purchased 1,000 acres of land in Boca Raton from Henry Flagler's "Model Land Company" and recruited several hundred displaced farmers in Japan to settle and raise pineapples in the new community.
        Their farmsteads were located in northern Boca Raton near Yamato Road, which is named in their honor. The farming community often used an outcropping of coquina limestone, later known as "Jap Rock," for family picnics and swimming at the beach.
         Another landmark of the community was a high dune of white sand dotted with palmettos and sable palms. It was the old Tequesta ceremonial mound soon to become known as the Barnhill Mound.
        The Yamato farmers occasionally used the fine sand from the mound for landfill, but otherwise left it undisturbed. The profits made from pineapples and truck farming were small, and by the beginning of World War II most of the colonists moved elsewhere. The Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden west of Delray Beach is a reminder of this bygone age.
        Esmont Gerrard Barnhill (1895-1987) was a photographer and painter who also was an admirer of native American culture. He collected Indian artifacts and wasn't opposed to turning a profit from their sale. He owned and operated a trading post in Wisconsin.
        During a visit to Boca Raton, he observed the 20-foot high mound north of Yamato Road and with an artist's eye and a merchant's wit knew it to be an Indian burial mound. He purchased the 24-acre site and modestly named it the "Barnhill Mound" in 1953.
        He turned the Barnhill Mound into the featured attraction of a native American theme park for tourists called "Ancient America." A tunnel was dug into the mound where glass panels were installed so visitors could observe old bones and other Indian artifacts.
        An adobe-style storefront was built along highway U.S. One for the sale of his Indian artifacts and tourist trinkets. On at least one occasion, Barnhill hired Seminole Indians as greeters to attract visitors.
        Barnhill promoted and operated his "Burial City" from 1954 to 1958. Like most of his business ventures, "Ancient America" failed to make him a wealthy man, and the theme park closed. Barnhill did have a true admiration for Indian cultures, and allowed a team from the University of Florida to excavate the site soon after its closing in 1958-9.
        After the closing of "Ancient America," Barnhill opened the "Indian Spring Museum" on U.S. One in Palm City. When that business failed, he moved to Kissimmee, where he operated the "Indian World Museum and Trading Post" before his death at age 93 in 1987.
        In 1968, local historians lobbied the Florida Legislature to create a 200-acre "Barnhill Mound Site State Park" and began fundraising for an adjacent museum. The state approved the purchase, but the Palm Beach County Commission chose to fund preservation of Native American historic sites in the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area.
        The County Commission considered placing the Barnhill Mound site on its list of historic places in 1981, but voted to sell it to developers instead. Today, a section of grass-covered mound near the entrance of the Boca Marina Yacht Club is all that remains of the ancient Tequesta site.           
(c.) 2016.
*NOTE: See articles about the Jeaga and Santaluces tribes archived in Older Posts.   

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The U.S Navy's Expedition to Lake Okeechobee: 1842

By Bob Davidsson
        For most of its 6,000-year history, Lake Okeechobee, also known as Florida's "Inland Sea," was a mystery to the outside world.
        Between 1824-45, most of Lake Okeechobee was included in Florida's "Mosquito County," a sparsely populated frontier province extending from modern Daytona Beach south to the Hillsboro River. It was not until the final months of the Second Seminole War in 1842 that a military expedition was organized by the U.S. Navy to explore the 730-square-mile lake and its unknown water sources and outlets.
        The primary goal of the expedition was to locate hostile Seminole villages along the shores of the lake, specifically to find an elusive medicine chief named Sam Jones (Abiaka). His last known hideout was reported near the mouth of the Kissimmee River.
        It was the sage advice of Sam Jones which led to the victory over U.S. troops Dec. 25, 1837 at the battle of Okeechobee near Taylor's Creek. His successful defensive strategies were repeated at the first battle of the Loxahatchee River fought three weeks later near Jupiter Inlet, and at the March 22, 1838 battle of Pine Island Ridge in Broward County.

A Lake with Many Names
        Lake Okeechobee has often been described as a shallow bowl, with an average depth of just 8 to 10 feet, with a base made of clay and limestone, and tilted on its southwest side to allow an outflow of water to the Everglades and Florida Bay.
        Perhaps the first European to view the wide nautical expanse of the largest freshwater lake within the borders of a single state was a Spanish captive of the Calusa Indians named Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda. In his 1572 "Memoirs," published in Spain after his rescue, he called it "Lake Mayaimi" after the name of the tribe living along its western shore.
        The Mayaimi (or Maymi) tribe were descendants of the Calusa mound building culture. Their neighbors to the east in the 16th century were the Santaluces Indians, another mound-building tribe, centered in their main village of Guacata near modern Pahokee on the southeast shore of the big lake, with villages extending north and east to the St. Lucie River.*
        The name "Lake Mayaimi" was used to identify the inland sea on Spanish maps during most of the 16th and 17th centuries in Spain's First Colonial Period in Florida (1513-1763). During Spain's Second Colonial Period (1783-1821), the lake also acquired a religious moniker, "Laguna de Espiritu Santo" (Lagoon of the Holy Spirit).
       Adding to the geographic confusion, Rene de Laudonniere, the French founder and governor of the short-lived Fort Caroline settlement, christened the big lake "Serrope" during a 1564 journey up the St. John's River. He rescued two Spanish captives of the Ais Indians, who gave him an interesting description of the lake included in his "L'Histaire Notable de la Florida," published in 1586.
        He wrote, "Near the middle of his route was a lake called 'Serrope' nigh five leagues about encircle an island, whereon dwelt a race of men valorous in war and opulent from a traffic in dates, fruits and a root 'so excellent well fitted for bread that you could not possibly eat better,' which formed the staple food of their neighbors."
        During Florida's British Colonial Period (1763-83), yet another name appeared on English maps of Florida - "Lake Mayacco (or Mayaca)". The lake was renamed for a small Indian village on its eastern shore that served as the last refuge for remnants of the Mayaca, Maymi and Santaluces tribes at the time of British rule.
        When the United States purchased Florida from Spain, the big lake was known as "Lake Macaco" on early Florida territorial maps. However, by the 1840's, most geographers adopted the Seminole tribe's Hitchiti dialect name - "Oki (water)-chubi (big) - transcribed as Lake Okeechobee.

The Rodgers Expedition to Lake Okeechobee
        After nearly seven years of inconclusive warfare between the U.S. Army and the Seminole nation from 1835 to 1841, the War Department desperately sought a military solution to end the costly stalemate in Florida.
        While the Army was successful in forcibly transporting most of the Seminole tribe and many of their Miccosukee allies to "Indian Territory" in Oklahoma, several hundred determined Indians and their principal war chiefs continued to elude pursuers in the vast Everglades of South Florida. The unique marsh environment of the Everglades required a radical change of tactics.
        Colonel William Jenkins Worth, and his naval counterpart, Captain J.T. McLaughlin, commander of the Navy's Florida Expedition, more commonly known as the "Mosquito Fleet," developed an ultimately successful strategy in the winter of 1841-42.
        Using native dugout canoes, Seminole guides, and a small picked force of soldiers, Army Capt. Richard Wade surprised a large band of Indians in their hunting camp on the Hillsboro River, south of the Boca Raton Inlet. He followed this success by raiding Cha-chi village, located west of  Hypoluxo Lake (later changed to Lake Worth), and exploring the entire 20-mile length of the waterway.*
        The Navy also adopted the use of a 19th century rapid deployment force consisting of hand-picked Marines and sailors from the brigs "USS Madison" and "USS Jefferson" of the Mosquito Fleet. Lt. John Rodgers was selected to lead an expedition to the uncharted inland lake called Okeechobee by its native inhabitants.
        Today, we are fortunate to have two detailed accounts of the two-month Rodgers expedition. The first is the "Official Report of Lt. John Rodgers" drafted and filed April 12, 1842 while aboard the brig "Jefferson." The second historic record is the "Diary of a Canoe Expedition into the Everglades of Florida". The journal was kept by Midshipman George Preble, an officer serving under Lt. Rodgers.
        Preparations for the Okeechobee expedition began Feb. 4, 1842 on the island of Indian Key, located five miles southeast of Islamorada, Florida. Indian Key, the county seat of Dade County during the Seminole war, was recovering from a devastating raid by the chieftain Chekika and his band of so-called "Spanish Indians" in August 1840.
        The Navy assumed temporary military control of Indian Key for the remainder of the Indian war to ensure the protection the surviving residents. The brig "Jefferson" transported Lt. Rodgers and 22 men Feb. 12 from Indian Key to Key Biscayne.
        They paddled their five dugout canoes from Key Biscayne to Fort Dallas (Miami), where they camped and were joined by a detachment of sailors and canoes from the brig "Madison". Rodgers divided his command into three divisions totaling 16 canoes, 51 sailors, 24 Marines, Seminole guide John Tigertail, one African-American aide-de-camp, one "squaw" and her "papoose".
        The canoes used in the expedition were described as "cypress dugout construction," 30 feet long and four feet wide, with six-foot lockers in the sterns for supplies and blankets. Each canoe also was issued a cotton sheet that served as a tent or boat cover at night.
        While crossing the Everglades, the expedition often failed to find dry ground at sunset. The sailors and Marines placed their oars broadside across the canoes and slept in their boats at night.
        On Feb. 14, Rodgers led his 87 Marines and sailors to the source of the New River which they followed east to the abandoned Army post of Fort Lauderdale. The next day they retraced their route upriver and began seven days of slogging north-by-northwest through the marshes, hammocks and reptile-infested gator holes of the Everglades.
        They reached their goal on Feb. 22. Midshipman Preble's expedition "Diary" reads, "At 4:30 p.m. left the Everglades, passed through a narrow belt of cypress swamp, hauled (the canoes) over a sandy ridge, and launched our canoes in the waters of Lake Okeechobee, or Big Water."
        "We camped under what was once Fort Dulray," the Diary states, "a cabbage-tree log fortress. The lake spread out before us, and to the west where the sun went down, no land visible."
        The "Dulray" ruins cited in Preble's Navy journal was Fort McCrae, an Army post built in 1838 and decommissioned three years prior to the Rodgers expedition. It was located between Canal Point and Port Mayaca.
        The expedition continued paddling west along the coast of Lake Okeechobee. They passed eight abandoned Seminole villages along the shore of he lake. Their guide, John Tigertail, reported the villages were deserted in 1837.

Exploring the Water Sources of Lake Okeechobee
        The expedition reached the mouth of Fisheating Creek, near the town of Lakeport in Glades County, on March 3. In his "Official Report," Lt. Rodgers wrote, "The 'Thlo-thlo-pop-ke' or Fisheating Creek runs through on an open prairie, to which it serves as a drain."
        "This stream is very tortuous, and sometimes swells to a river, and then dwindles into a brook. Its head is in a marshy prairie, where a number of streamlets run together about 20 miles in a straight line due east to Okeechobee, but following the course of the creek is about twice that distance."
        He concluded, "The banks of Fisheating Creek are covered with game, and its waters filled with fish."
        By March 11, the expedition reached the mouth of the Kissimmee River, the source of more than 60 percent of the water entering Lake Okeechobee. Rodger's command spent the next 18 days exploring the river, nearby lakes and tributaries, and Army posts in the area.
        Lt. Rodgers reported, "The Kissimmee is a deep, rapid stream, and generally running through a marshy plain, but sometimes the pine land approaches its borders, and sometimes beautiful live oak hammocks fringe its banks."
        "The Kissimmee is, I think, the natural drain of the immense plains what form this part of the country; but though deep and rapid, it is quite narrow. It is something strange that very often the surface of the river is covered by floating grass and weeds so strongly matted together that the men stood upon the mass and hauled our boats over it, as with our shoals."
        Rodgers observed "Indians once lived here in great numbers" prior to the Second Seminole War. In a futile attempt to capture the chieftain Sam Jones, the sailors and Marines surrounded the village of  "I-to-kee-tah" (Deer-Driving Place) for a dawn attack. They entered a town long deserted by its inhabitants.

The Long Journey Back to Indian Key
        Rodgers was perhaps the first explorer to identify the "River of Grass" (Pay-hai-o-ke) extending from the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. In his "Official Report," he accurately concludes, "The Kissimmee runs into the Okeechobee, which fills its spongy sides into the Everglades, whose waters finally by many streams empty into the ocean."
        The expedition entered the deserted stockade of Fort Gardner near Lake Kissimmee on March 19. The next day they began the long journey down the Kissimmee River and retraced their nautical route along the west shore of Lake Okeechobee. They rested for three days, March 28-30, at Fort Center in Glades County. Rodgers left 12 weary Marines and eight sailors to help garrison the post.
        The remaining sailors and Marines in Rodgers' command returned to the ruins of  "Fort Dulray" on April 1, and the next day re-entered the Everglades. They emerged from swamps eight days later and drifted down the New River to Fort Lauderdale.
        In his "Official Report, Rodgers wrote, "We returned to Key Biscayne, having been living in our canoes for 58 days, with less rest, fewer luxuries, and harder work than fall to the lot of that estimable class of citizens who dig our canals. At Key Biscayne, the various detachments were disbanded, and returned to their several commands."
        Rodgers returned to Indian Key and filed his report on April 12. He would lead one final expedition against the Seminoles a few days before the end of the war. On June 4, 1842, an official notice arrived by ship at Indian Key. The President of the United States proclaimed the "Florida War" at an end.
        About 300 Seminole and Miccosukee Indians remained in the Everglades, including the elusive Sam Jones. They did not surrender.  Lt. Rodgers, a Virginia native, served the Union as the captain of three new ironclad warships during the Civil War. He later retired with the rank of rear admiral.
(c.) 2016.

*NOTE: View related articles entitled "Cha-chi's Village Rests Beneath West Palm Beach" and "Uncovering the History of the Santaluces Indians" archived in Older Posts.       

Monday, March 28, 2016

Inside the Eye of Hurricane Cleo: August 1964

By Bob Davidsson
        Palm Beach County has weathered many destructive hurricanes in its history, but to "Baby Boomers" raised in the Palm Beaches during the 1960's, there is one tropical storm that left a lasting memory to all experiencing its fury - Hurricane Cleo.
        In August 1964, students basked in the final days of summer vacation before the beginning of a new school year. Their transistor radios were turned to WIRK or WQAM to hear the harsh bluesy melody in "House of the Rising Sun," the number one song in the country, or "Oh, Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison, a new upbeat tune shooting up the music charts on a bullet.
        With an exception of a few weather geeks, no one was concerned about a tropical depression forming off the Windward Islands. After all, Tony Glenn, the Atlantic Oil Company weather man on Channel 5, said the storm was more than 1,000 miles away.
        Many of the kids catching the last rays of summer sun on Lake Worth beach weren't even born when Hurricane King struck the Florida coast in 1950. Even the post-World War II "boomers" born before the arrival of the previous tropical storm were too young to remember it.
        It was an election year. While LBJ and Barry Goldwater argued about using "the bomb" to fight Communism in their 1964 presidential campaigns, local boomer kids went to the movies where they learned how to stop worrying about nuclear war by instead laughing at the witty satire in "Doctor Strangelove," showing at the Lake and Carefree theaters
        By Aug. 20, Hurricane Cleo formed and rapidly intensified. Two days later it crossed the island of Guadalupe as a Category 3 storm packing 115 mph winds. As Cleo passed the southern coast of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the storm reached its peak intensity as a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 155 mph.
        Floridians began to take notice, and the staff of the "U.S. Weather Bureau" office in Miami was concerned. Yet, life continued in the Palm Beaches in its usual lazy off-season summer pace. Before the storm reached Florida, it would first have to cross the mountains of Cuba. Few storms survived that obstacle. Right?
        Hurricane Cleo slammed the southwestern peninsula of Haiti on Aug. 24, then weakened to a Category 1 storm as it crossed southern Cuba. For the first, but not the last time, Cleo demonstrated her ability to regain strength after encountering land masses.

Hurricane Cleo Targets Florida
        The storm entered the Florida Straits on Aug. 27 and immediately began to intensify. Hurricane preparations began in earnest in the Palm Beaches, as meteorologists predicted Cleo's future track and possible landfall in South Florida. The storm mystified most experts, taking an unusual route along the entire eastern coast of Florida from Miami to just south of Jacksonville.
        Cleo made landfall in Miami, and for nearly two days created a 20 to 35-mile wide path of destruction along the coastline before returning to sea north of St. Augustine. The storm intensified with sustained winds of 100 to 110 mph, with gusts of up to 135 mph, as it entered Dade County, then slowly weakened as it marched north.
        Many streets in Miami Beach were flooded by a combination of rain, high tides and storm surge. From Miami to Melbourne in Brevard County the frantic reports were the same - broken glass, interior building and street flooding, uprooted trees, beach erosion, overturned aircraft and boats, power failures, damaged traffic signals and agricultural loss.
        As Cleo entered Broward County, the popular "Storyland" children's theme park in Pompano Beach was destroyed and never reopened. For the first time in its history, the Fort Lauderdale News missed a publication date due to a loss of power to run its presses.
        As it approached Boca Raton, students at the new Florida Atlantic University (FAU) stayed home as the storm delayed the "Grand Opening" of the college for six days. The ceremony could not be held until power was restored and debris was cleared from the campus.
        Storm surge reached four to six feet above high tide along the east coast and its estuaries. Bryant Park in Lake Worth flooded, with the surge reaching as far west as Lakeside Drive. Sections of Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach also were impassible. Total rainfall in Stuart reached 9.37 inches in a 24-hour period.
        The eye of Hurricane Cleo followed State Road 7 (U.S. 441) through suburban Palm Beach County. The most powerful winds were east of the eye wall. Both the Lake Worth and Palm Beach piers were badly damaged by the storm. The Lake Worth pier was rebuilt, but the pier at the end of Worth Avenue never fully recovered.
        A tunnel leading from the Lake Worth Casino building, passing under the parking area and access road to the beach just north of the pier, was clogged with sand and debris. It was closed to public use after Cleo due to safety risks.
        Another landmark destroyed by Cleo was a mile-long one-way road fronting the beach east of A1A. The coastal road began at Lantana Beach and circled back to the highway in Manalapan. The only section remaining today is between the public beach and the Eau Palm Beach resort.
        At the height of the storm, the parking brakes of a Bluebird school bus at the Lake Worth Christian School failed. Neighbors peaking from behind their storm shutters were amazed to witness the force of the wind blowing a bus more than 100 feet across a parking lot.
        Two blocks to the east, the concession hut at Lake Worth's Sunset Ridge Park disintegrated under the pressure of the wind gusts. Wooden debris and supplies from the shed scattered across the park's baseball field.
        Two dozen fires were reported as Hurricane Cleo headed due north up the coastline. More than 1,200 office buildings and houses were heavily damaged or destroyed. The storm cut electrical power to 620,000 homes and businesses in southeast Florida.
        Cleo returned to sea on Aug. 28, but the next day made her second U.S. landfall at Savannah, Ga., as a tropical storm. Widespread flooding was caused by heavy rainfall and coastal storm surge in the Carolinas until the storm reentered the Atlantic on Sept. 1.
        Once free of the mainland, Cleo regained her hurricane strength Sept. 2 and threatened shipping and fishing boats along the east coast. The storm refused to die until it reached the hurricane graveyard east of Newfoundland, Canada.

Hurricane Cleo's Toll and Aftermath
        Hurricane Cleo claimed the lives of 156 people, mainly in Haiti and the Caribbean islands. A total of 13 Floridians were killed.
        Property damages from Hurricane Cleo totaled $200 million in the U.S. alone. In 1964, coinage was still made of silver, and the dollar was backed by a gold standard. Using today's inflated currency as a measure, damages are estimated at $2 billion. Palm Beach County sustained about $50 million in property loss and rebuilding costs.
        With a population of less than 300,000 in 1964, most county residents were spared the long lines for food, water and gasoline experienced as an aftermath of the three sister hurricanes of 2004-05 - Frances, Jeanne and Wilma. However, cleanup efforts after Cleo continued for weeks.
        President Lyndon B. Johnson declared southeast Florida a federal disaster area on Sept. 10. The 1964 citrus harvest along the Treasure Coast was nearly a total loss. Farmers and businesses needed help with their recovery. FEMA did not exist in the 1960's, but Small Business Administration (SBA) loans and U.S. Department of Agriculture assistance were available.
        Appalled by the scale of destruction along its eastern seaboard, some politicians began finger pointing and looking for scapegoats. Florida Sen. George Smathers demanded an investigation of the U.S. Weather Bureau for negligence in its forecasting and early warning to the news media.
        In a letter to Florida newspapers, he wrote, "It has been brought to my attention by many persons and news organizations that there was a lack of information and even some misinformation as to the course and velocity of the winds..."
        Florida news agencies and broadcasting stations came to the defense of Weather Bureau staff before and during the hurricane. No further action was taken by the Senate.
        Due to the historic magnitude of the hurricane, the name "Cleo" was retired by the National Weather Service from the NOAA list of future storms in 1968, and replaced in the rotation by the given name "Candy".
        The 1964 hurricane season had one final unpleasant surprise for Palm Beach County. On the night of Oct. 14, Hurricane Isbell crossed the Everglades from the Gulf of Mexico and struck the Palm Beaches from the west.
        The hurricane spawned several tornadoes. One of its twisters hit the coastal community of Briny Breezes, damaging or destroying 22 mobile homes. One man was killed before the storm entered the Atlantic.

NOTE: The author was a 10-year-old eyewitness of Hurricanes Cleo and Isbell in 1964. See additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.
(c.) 2016

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Welcome to Historic Downtown 'Figulus': 1881 - 1893

By Bob Davidsson
       Buried beneath 21st century condominiums and planned unit developments in the Palm Beaches are villages of yesteryear with rich histories mainly lost in time. One of the most interesting is the community of "Figulus".
        Figulus was the dream of two brothers from Cincinnati, George Wells Potter and his older sibling, Dr. Richard Potter. The Potter family was originally from Groton, MA, and moved to Ohio when George was still a youth. George was an artistic prodigy and at the early age of 18 became the chief cartoonist for the daily "Cincinnati Enquirer" newspaper.
        In an era of coal-burning stoves and factories, George developed a severe case of asthma. Dr. Potter decided the only way to improve his brother's health was to move to a warm climate with clean air found in the sparsely populated frontier communities of Dade County in 1873. At the time of their arrival in Lemon City (Miami), Dade County extended north and included modern Broward, Palm Beach and Martin counties.
        In the 1870's, Lemon City was a rough-and-tumble pioneering community and home to more than its share of smugglers, scalawags, carpetbaggers, and men and women of uncertain virtue. Dr. Potter established a medical practice and made his living in Dade County while his brother recovered his health and studied surveying and engineering.
        By the year 1881, the Potter brothers decided it was time for a change of venue to improve their fortunes. George visited the island of Palm Beach and purchased a family homestead encompassing 160 acres of land south of current Palm Beach Bath and Tennis Club. The homestead featured 2,000 feet of waterfront property along the ocean and Lake Worth, and included the wooded islands south of Southern Boulevard today known as the Audubon Islands preserve.
        The brothers named their fledgling community "Figulus" - the Latin word for their surname - Potter. Lake Worth pioneer George D. Lainhart was hired to clear the property for the Potters and build two houses. The homestead was built on a high dune ridge offering views of both the ocean and the lake to the west.
        The Figulus homestead is noted as the first oceanfront residence built on the island of Palm Beach. Most early island settlers favored homes along the bayside of Lake Worth. Figulus was landscaped with citrus trees, guavas and sapodillas, with vegetable and pineapple row crops.
        Dr. Potter joined his brother in Figulus, and became the first medical doctor to establish a practice serving the scattered residents living along the shores of Lake Worth. Figulus was the second U.S. postal office to open on the island of Palm Beach Jan. 7, 1886, with Dr. Potter listed as the postmaster of record.
        Figulus first appears on the 1886 O.W. Gray and Son map of Dade County, and is included in subsequent historic maps through the year 1893. These dates correspond with the operation of the Figulus Post Office. It is not recorded on the 1894 Dade County map produced by Rand-McNally, published after the Figulus property was sold.
        During its short history, the Figulus Post Office was often used as the starting point or final destination for the "Barefoot Mailmen," who carried mail by foot between Palm Beach and Miami before the two communities were connected by railroad.
        After the completion of the Figulus homestead, the two Potter brothers were joined on the island of Palm Beach by their mother, sister and foster brother from Cincinnati. They would later move to West Palm Beach where they resided with Dr. Potter.
        In 1884, George Potter used  his artistic skills to illustrate and co-author a book entitled "Camping and Cruising in Florida" with Dr. James Henshall. The book is a rare guide to life along Lake Worth and Dade County in the pre-Flagler era.

Lake Worth Communities at the Time of Figulus
        While living at Figulus, George Potter purchased a schooner to visit the scattered communities along the 20-mile Lake Worth waterway. He also built a dock extending from bayside shore of Figulus to his small islands in the lake.
        Prior to the extension of Henry Flagler's East Coast Railroad to West Palm Beach in February 1894, Lake Worth served as a primary transportation and trade network. The village of Juno was at the northern terminus of Lake Worth, with the waterway extending south to near the future site of Boynton Beach Hotel in 1894.
        Sailing south from Juno, Potter's schooner would have passed early settler homes in the future town of West Palm Beach, and community centers such as the "Lake Worth Post Office" in Palm Beach, Figulus, the village of Jewell (Lake Worth) Post Office established in 1889, the Lantana Point Post Office (1892), the Hypoluxo Post Office (1886) and Manalapan Cottage, located on the east shore of the lake.
        In 1889, the residents of northern Dade County, dissatisfied with traveling to a distant county seat on Biscayne Bay, demanded a voter referendum to establish a more centralized center of county government. North county residents won the election, and the county seat was temporarily moved from Lemon City-Miami to the village of Juno.
       The same year, the narrow-gauge "Jupiter & Lake Worth (Celestial) Railroad" connected the Jupiter Inlet with Lake Worth with stops in the communities of Jupiter, Venus, Mars and the new county seat of Juno. Less than six years later, Henry Flagler's standard-gauge railroad would connect the Palm Beaches with the rest of the country, marking the end of pioneer era along Lake Worth.
        A visit to the Palm Beaches by Flagler's wealthy Cleveland neighbor, Charles W. Bingham, also was the end of Potter's community of Figulus. With Flagler's blessing and encouragement, the Bingham family purchased the Figulus property in 1893.
        George Potter earlier acquired land on the west shore of Lake Worth in 1891, and moved with his family to the future city of West Palm Beach. During the same year he sold Figulus to the Bingham's, Potter married Ella Dimick, and with George Lainhart's assistance built a new home just west of the current site of the Trump Plaza Towers.
        George Potter's distinguished career continued after the sale of Figulus. He became the first county surveyor for Dade County in 1888, and in 1893 surveyed the original 48-block plat for what became downtown West Palm Beach for Henry Flagler.
        Lainhart and Potter Lumber Company was formed as the city's first business. Potter also served on the first Board of Aldermen following the city's incorporation, and became mayor of West Palm Beach in 1910. He died in 1924 at age 73.

The Bingham Family: Figulus Mansion and Casa Apava
        Charles W. and Mary Payne Bingham were a wealthy power couple in Cleveland, residing near their neighbor, Henry Flagler, in the exclusive Euclid section of the city. The Bingham and Payne families were active in oil refineries, manufacturing, Ohio politics and philantrophy. They also were major investors in the Standard Oil Company.
        As was the case with George Potter, it was a family illness that motivated the Bingham's to relocate to the island of Palm Beach. The Figulus property was purchased by Charles and Mary Bingham for the purpose of  building a winter retreat to improve the health of their ailing son, Oliver Perry Bingham, who died in 1900.
        Construction began in 1893 on a rectangular-shaped "Shingle-Style" mansion with two projecting wings. Building supplies were literally shipped down Lake Worth to the site. As with the earlier Potter homestead, a high island ridge was the site chosen for the residence, providing views of both the Atlantic and Lake Worth.
        According to the November 1894 "Tropical Sun" newspaper, Cleveland architect Forrest A. Coburn arrived in Palm Beach to consult with the design and construction of the Figulus mansion. Builder George Lainhart returned to Figulus as the construction contractor. Noted botanist Dr. David Fairchild was hired to landscape the property.
        Mary Bingham died at Figulus in 1898. In 1919, Charles Bingham conveyed the Figulus (Bingham-Blossum) mansion, along with 17 acres of adjacent land to his daughter, Elizabeth Payne Bingham Blossum, as part of her share of the $70 million Bingham estate. The estate included the small islands in the Lake Worth Lagoon, known collectively as Bingham Island.
       Daughter Frances Bingham Bolton was deeded a parcel south of Figulus along South Ocean Boulevard. With her husband, Chester Bolton, a Mediterranean-style mansion which they named "Casa Apava" was built at the site in 1919. Cleveland architect J. Abram Garfield, youngest son of President James Garfield, designed the mansion.
        The Figulus mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on Dec. 5, 1972. Unfortunately, the unique residence was badly damaged by fire and demolished a few years later. Today, Casa Apava remains a local landmark.
(c.) 2016

NOTE: See additional articles archived in Older Posts.