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, November 30, 2017

A Long and Winding History of the Hillsboro River

By Bob Davidsson
        The Hillsboro River was a small stream with a long history as a natural boundary between native American tribes, and years later as the border between Palm Beach and Broward counties after the waterway was converted into a Lake Okeechobee flood control canal.
       The legacy of its namesake, Wills Hill (1718-93), the Viscount and later Earl of Hillsborough from 1742 until his death, looms large on geographic maps of Florida. The Hillsboro River and Hillsboro Inlet, a few miles to its south in Broward County, are named in his honor. So are Hillsborough County and the Hillsborough River on the west coast.
        During Florida's British Colonial Period (1763-83) the Indian River (Rio de Ais) also appeared on maps as the South Hillsborough River for more than 20 years. The list of place names is quite impressive for a British politician and Ulster Irish peer who never set foot in America.
        So, who was Wills Hill and why is he so honored in the State of Florida?
        Hill was born into a family of minor nobility in England. He was the son of Trevor Hill, the first Viscount Hillsborough. Hillsborough town and castle in Ulster were named for its leading family. Wills Hill inherited his father's title of Viscount Hillsborough in 1742 and became Earl of Hillsborough in 1751.  His peerage as the First Marquis of Downshire was granted in 1789.
        He was a career politician who served in Parliament, and was appointed First Lord of the Royal  Council of Trade and Foreign Plantations from 1763 to 1767. He also served as the British Secretary of State for the American Colonies from 1768-72, and Secretary of State for the Southern Colonies(1779-82) during the American Revolution.
       Hill was an associate and political ally of Richard Grenville, the Second Earl Temple, and his younger brother, Prime Minister George Grenville (1763-65). The Prime Minister sponsored his appointment to the Council of Trade.
       As British Secretary of State, in turn, Hill approved land grants to the Grenville brothers in Brevard County and the Jupiter (Grenville) Inlet plantation. Hillsborough's own land grant in South Florida was undeveloped and reverted to Spain during the Second Spanish Colonial Period in 1783.
        It was a British civil engineer named Charles Blacker Vignoles (1793-1875) who is credited with naming South Florida's Hillsboro River in honor of the Earl of Hillsborough. When Florida became a U.S. territory in 1821, the town of St. Augustine hired Vignoles as the city engineer.*
       Vignoles published a book in 1823 entitled "Observations on the Floridas" in which a stream called Hillsboro River appeared on a map for the first time. The name was gradually accepted during the 19th century.
        His 1823 map shows a river with many twists and turns flowing from northwest to southeast before ending at the coast. Vignoles compiled and drew his "Map of Florida" from "various actual surveys and observations," according to his book.

Natural History of the Hillsboro River
        Prior to the year 1911, the Hillsboro River was a freshwater stream originating in the marshlands of western Boca Raton. It meandered through what is today Deerfield Beach and Boca Raton until emptying into the coastal channel now known as the Intracoastal Waterway.
        Early settlers reported the banks of the river were covered with dense vines and saw palmettos. It was shaded by wild fig trees, cabbage palms and stands of pine trees. It was a shallow stream which varied in depth depending on the season.
        The 1891 edition of  "The Handbook of Florida" provides a description of the Hillsboro River and connecting waterways as it would have been seen by early pioneers. The text was published just 20 years before the river was dredged and became a canal.
        "From Lake Worth Inlet south for 30 miles to Hillsboro Inlet the beach is unbroken," the handbook reports. "About halfway, however, is the Orange House of Refuge (at Delray Beach) where shelter, food and water may be obtained."
        "Five miles south of this the headwaters of the Hillsboro River unite a few hundred yards from the beach, forming a little lake about three feet deep," the report continues. "One-half mile further is Lake Wyman, four or five feet deep, and with a connecting channel navigable for small boats to Lake Boca Ratone or the Hillsboro River."
        Pioneers living along the south bank of the river in a community then known as "Hillsboro" were amazed by the abundance of wildlife. The numerous deer viewed near the river became the inspiration for Broward County's northernmost community - Deerfield Beach.
        It was this source of game for hunting, and a reliable source of potable water, that attracted native Americans to Hillsboro River centuries before the arrival of Juan Ponce de Leon and Spanish colonists in Florida. The inhabitants living near the Hillsboro River when Ponce de Leon's three naos sailed offshore in April 1513 were members of the Tequesta (or Tekesta) tribe.
        The Tequesta were a hunter-gatherer society utilizing both plant and animal resources from the sea and rivers leading into the Everglades. Archaeologists have discovered a Tequesta village site near the Boca Raton Inlet which used resources found in nearby Hillsboro River.
        The so-called "Boca Raton Inlet Complex" consisted of three middens made of shell and black earth, and a sand burial mound. By analyzing artifacts from the mound, experts believe the village was occupied from about the year 750 A.D. until the 18th century.
       Many inexact colonial maps printed from the 16th to the 18th centuries gave the Boca Raton Inlet and adjacent waterways the generic name of Rio Seco (Dry River). The name generally applies to Lake Boca Raton, the Spanish River to the north and the Hillsboro River to the south. Boca Raton Inlet, located at the mouth of Lake Boca, was often closed by sandbars during the colonial period.
        These water sources marked the northern border of the Tequesta. The coastal tribe extended south to the Florida Keys. The tribe is named for its main village of Tekesta, located near Biscayne Bay. North of Highland Beach was the domain of their neighbors, the Jeaga Indians of central and northern Palm Beach County.
        Both tribes were weakened by introduced diseases from Europe and Africa, and destroyed by slave raiders during Queen Anne's War, 1702-13. The few survivors were shipped to the safety of Cuba by Spain.
       During the 18th century, members of the Lower Creek tribe entered Florida, merged with remnant bands of Indians after Queen Anne's War, to create the new Seminole nation. By the time of the Second Seminole War (1835-42), the tribe was using camps along the Hillsboro River for hunting and fishing.
        On Nov. 5, 1841, Captain Richard A. Wade embarked with a force of 60 men in 12 dugout canoes from Fort Lauderdale. His destination was the Hillsboro Inlet and the river system along the future Palm Beach-Broward border.
        The expedition's journal states, "We proceeded by inland passage to the northward, coming out in the bay at Hillsborough Inlet, and in such a manner canoes were concealed from view of an Indian, whom I there discovered fishing on the northern point of the inlet."
        The frightened Indian was captured and coerced to lead the soldiers to his encampment, about 15 miles to the north on the Hillsboro River. The camp was surrounded and assaulted, resulting in the capture of 20 Seminoles and the deaths of eight, killed while trying to escape.
        The final military action in the Second Seminole War was along the Hillsboro River. Navy Lt. John McLaughlin sailed two shallow-draft boats assigned to the "Mosquito Fleet," the "Flirt" and "Wave," to the mouth of the river in May 1842.
        Military records report he "gave chase" to two Indians up the Hillsboro River to the head of Snake Creek where "fields of  sugar cane, corn and bananas were in cultivation."
        President John Tyler ended the war with a cease-fire on May 10, 1842. Tyler's Department of War estimated about 240 Seminoles remained in South Florida, of which only 80 were capable of bearing arms.
        It was agriculture that lured settlers to both shores of the Hillsboro River in the late 19th century. Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway crossed the river in 1895, opening new markets for farmers and merchants.
       The first wooden plank bridge was built across the Hillsboro River in 1905, linking settlers of the future communities of Boca Raton and Deerfield. It was about this time that some residents and politicians began to view the river and the wetlands that nourished it as an impediment to growth.

The Dredging of the Hillsboro Canal
        When the Florida Legislature approved the creation of Palm  Beach County in 1909, it was nearly twice its current size. It included northern Broward County, Martin County and the southern third of Okeechobee County.
        It was an era when business and agricultural interests were pressuring lawmakers in Tallahassee to drain the Everglades and open more of the rich soil beneath for farming. In response, the Everglades Drainage District was created in 1905.
        The guiding document for this project was the State of Florida's "Report on the Drainage of the Everglades, Florida," drafted in 1909, the year Palm Beach County was established, by engineer J.O. Wright. After its publication, Wright was selected to head the Drainage District.
        The plan was to dredge a series of water control canals linking Lake Okeechobee to the coastal New, Hillsboro, and St. Lucie rivers, as well as Lake Worth. The outflow canals would direct water from Lake Okeechobee and western farm lands to the coast and help prevent seasonal flooding.
        The Hillsboro Canal was selected as one of the Drainage District's primary projects. Work on the 45-mile canal began in 1911 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It became fully operational with new locks by 1917.
        The Florida Legislature created the Palm Beach Drainage and Highway District (Laws of Florida No. 7976) in 1919 and granted it the powers to "construct roadways, canals, ditches, drains, dikes, reservoirs and other works of reclamation, improvement, convenience and benefits for land embraced in said district."
        The new Hillsboro Canal was "embraced" within the special district's range lines. The Florida Legislature appointed J.L. Holmberg, J.B. Jefferies of Miami, and T.T. Reese of West Palm Beach to the original Board of Supervisors. Today, the South Florida Water Management District maintains the canal.
        The Hillsboro River was straightened and became the G-08 canal. The wetlands in western Boca Raton that served as its watershed were drained and replaced by a flow originating in Lake Okeechobee. Farmers were soon growing pole beans, bell peppers and tomatoes west of Boca Raton.
        The Hillsboro Canal begins at the Lake Okeechobee S-2 water control station in South Bay. It follows a southeast path to the south border of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, then parallel to the Loxahatchee Road, until turning due east to the coast at U.S. 441.
        When the new Broward County was created in April 1915, the Hillsboro Canal became the dividing line between the two counties. Water control station S-39A directs part of Hillsboro's water into Broward's Conservation Area No. 2 via the L-36 canal.
        The remainder of the flow continues east to control station G-56, west of Military Trail, which manages water releases to the Intracoastal Waterway. As the Hillsboro Canal nears U.S. One, its course twists south, then north before the main channel enters the Intracoastal after passing Deerfield Island Park.
         Beginning in 2001, canal water also was diverted from the Loxahatchee Refuge to a new Wetland Stormwater Treatment Area (STA-2), and then released into Conservation Area No. 2.
        The Hillsboro Canal varies in width from 70 to 160 feet. Its average depth is eight feet. It is noted for the steep coral rock banks along its course. The easternmost 10 miles are navigable by pleasure and fishing boats, but requires dredging to remove silt.
       The Florida East Coast Canal (Intracoastal Waterway) from Jacksonville to Biscayne Bay was completed in 1912, a year after work began on the Hillsboro Canal. The two waterways are connected, and for several years Glades farmers hauled their produce by barge down the Hillsboro Canal to coastal markets along the Intracoastal or for transport on the FEC Railway.
        Today, the Hillsboro Canal is flanked by farms, housing tracts and parks. Recreational fishing is its main public use, as it was back in the days when it was still a wild river.
        Wills Hill's 96-acre Hillsborough Castle and Gardens is today the official residence of the British Royal Family during visits to Northern Ireland. It was acquired from Hill's 20th century heirs in 1922. It is a working government palace and home of the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
(c.) Davidsson, 2017.
*NOTE: "Hillsboro" is the second in a trilogy of articles about the county's ghost rivers which no longer exist. See additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.

Friday, October 27, 2017

'Democrat River': Belle Glade's Everglades Gateway

By Bob Davidsson
        The late 19th century was the last great age of exploration. It was an era when newspaper publishers not only reported sensational adventures in faraway lands, but sponsored expeditions to Africa, the Arctic and other unexplored regions to beat the competition.
       The best known of these journalistic expeditions was the dispatching of Henry Morton Stanley by the New York Herald to find and "rescue" missing missionary-explorer Dr. David Livingston from the unknown depths of central Africa in 1871.
        Not to be outdone by their northern rival publications, the editors of the newly merged New Orleans Times-Democrat newspaper (1881-1914) decided to launch two expeditions to the mysterious and poorly charted inland sea known as Lake Okeechobee. It was hoped journal reports from the expeditions would increase national readership, while new outlets to the sea would be discovered for future economic development.
      Times-Democrat correspondents kept journals of the expeditions. Their articles were printed in installments in the newspaper. A summary editorial entitled "North and South Through the Everglades in 1883" was published in the Jan. 6, 1884 edition of the newspaper.
      The editorial summarized, "These articles in the Times-Democrat introduce the whole country to Florida, and a general desire we felt to know more about this country and particularly about the Everglades."
        The Lake Okeechobee expeditions were led by Major A.P. Williams. The journalist-explorers sailed from New Orleans to the cattle town of Punta Rassa on Florida's west coast. Both expeditions then paddled up the Caloosahatchee River to Lake Okeechobee.
        The first expedition sailed north and explored the Kissimmee River to its source. It was followed by a second journey to the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee in November 1883. The explorers searched for a water gateway that would lead them through the Everglades to Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
        Their waterway of choice was christened  the "Democrat River" in honor of their newspaper. The river led not to the sea, but into the heart of the Everglades.

Life Along the Democrat River, 700 to 1883 A.D.
        For more than 1,000 years, from 700 A.D. until Queen Anne's War in 1702, the Democrat River flowed through a complex of native American village mounds and burial middens, located just west of Belle Glade.
        The main 10-foot high habitation mound of the Belle Glade complex, measuring 300 feet by 450 feet in width, was located between the two main branches of the Democrat River. Opposite the main mound, 100 yards north of the eastern river channel, was a smaller circular midden used for tribal burials.
        The Belle Glade mounds were first excavated in the 1930s by a federal archaeological team sponsored by the WPA program. Two smaller sites called the Vinegar Bend and Democrat River mounds were later discovered and examined.
        The habitation mounds provided refuge for villagers during seasonal flooding and hurricane storm surges on Lake Okeechobee. The Democrat River served as a natural buffer that channeled overflow from the lake into the Everglades.
        When the 1928 hurricane hit Lake Okeechobee, there were no barrier marshes remaining to absorb the surging water. Mud dikes along the shoreline collapsed, sending a 10-foot wall of water into the farming communities. Thirty lucky residents survived by clinging to the top of the ancient Indian mound. About 3,000 of their neighbors drowned.
         Europeans called the native inhabitants along the Democrat River the Maymi Indians. They were in fact the easternmost branch of the Calusa mound building culture, living along the southern and western coasts of Lake Okeechobee. Their neighbors to the east, the Santaluces tribe, extended north of Canal Point along the eastern shore of the big lake.
        The Democrat River provided easy access to Lake Okeechobee for their dugout canoes. It also offered a route for food resources found in the Everglades to the south.
        By the time of  the Times-Democrat expedition, the original Maymi inhabitants were long gone, the victims of introduced diseases and slave raids from South Carolina. The Seminole tribe did not establish a permanent village along the river.
        In their journal, expedition members made no mention of Indian mounds in the area. By the year 1883, the mounds would have been covered by thick vegetation and could have been mistaken for natural hillocks.

The Democrat River and Everglades Expedition
        The second Times-Democrat expedition was once again led by Major Williams. The 12 explorers included two retired U.S. Army officers, a newspaper correspondent, and Louisiana and Florida boatmen of white, black and mixed-race origins.
        The expedition was provisioned by two bateaus of French-Canadian (Cajun) design with retractable sails used for voyages on the lake. Small "skiffs" and canoes, with names like the "Susie B" and the "Daisy W," completed the small flotilla.
        After leaving their main camp near the Caloosahatchee River portage site, the expedition sailed southeast along the lake shore, where they discovered many small outlets from Lake Okeechobee. They were explored and called "dead rivers" due to their short lengths and dead ends.
        When they entered a channel near Rita Island, the Times-Democrat journal recorded, "The river at its mouth is 100 yards wide, the depth of which being about eight feet. To say that our little party was overjoyed would poorly express it. We do not go 100 yards before we hear exclamations from members of our party in praise of the beautiful scenery which greeted the eye on every side."
        Soon their joy would turn to frustration. The journal states, "After going about a mile, we find impenetrable swamp which surrounds us. After going (another) half a mile, we find we are no longer in any stream but hindered by dark, sluggish water. The roots of trees form a barrier."
        "The river on which we encamped last night we have named the Rita River," the journal continues, "and the one on which we are now encamped and will use as a means of reaching the Everglades we name in honor of the journal we represent, the Times-Democrat River."
        The expedition reached the Democrat River on Nov. 10. After several failed attempts to find a navigable river south of Lake Okeechobee, Major Williams decided to follow the course of the Democrat River because it was found to be "larger than the others."
        The journal entry reported, "It was determined to ascent it as far as possible and from its source to start into the swamp."
        The explorers paddled up both branches of the Democrat River. The smaller branch flowed east for several miles before "dispersing into sawgrass". The larger western river branch led the flotilla south through a pond apple forest.
        Using its skiffs and canoes, the expedition followed the southern river channel to its end. Once again, the explorers faced a sea of sawgrass. They encountered the seemingly endless Everglades River of Grass (Pay-ho-kee).
        The expedition pushed and pulled their boats southwest through the Everglades for nearly 90 miles. November was the beginning of the dry season, so fires were set by the boat crews to remove thick barriers of vegetation.
        Several days into their ordeal, their provision bateau, the "Queen Anne," began leaking badly after it was dragged across sharp limestone rocks. It was soon abandoned. Eventually, the tired explorers reached the Shark River on Florida's southwest coast and drifted with the tide to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Aftermath of the Expedition
        In its 1884 editorial journal summary, the Times-Democrat staff concluded, "It has set at rest all questions about the Everglades, which has found to be much different from what was imagined. The sawgrass extends 100 miles instead of ten."
        "As to the question of building a telegraph line through this country - a matter to which Western Union has been anxious to solve - Major Williams reports that this is impossible and not to be thought of."
        "As to the possibility of draining the Everglades," the Times-Democrat editorial continues, "Major Williams reports adversely. He can see no hope or possibility of redeeming the greater portion of the region, which must remain a swamp forever."
         The findings of the Times-Democrat expedition were soon proven wrong. After the turn of 20th century, immigrant farmers rushed to western Palm Beach County to grow beans, corn, peppers, tomatoes and sugarcane in the rich black muck of the Everglades.
        The pioneer farmers saw little practical use for the freshwater estuary known as the Democrat River. The marshes were drained and the river became an agricultural drainage ditch. After the surrounding communities of Chosen and Hillsboro (Belle Glade) were established, there was no need for the canal. The former Democrat River estuary became places of commerce, housing  and agricultural land.
        In its rather self-serving conclusion, the Times-Democrat journal report stated, "Such is the story of our expedition. It has accomplished  all that it was organized to do. It was the first party of white men to go through the Everglades, and it solved all the problems of that mysterious region."
        The Times-Democrat ceased publication on April 5, 1914. It merged with the rival New Orleans Picayune and became the "Times-Picayune". Under this front page mast, the newspaper continues publication today.
(c.) Davidsson. 2017.
NOTE: "Democrat River" is the first of a trilogy of articles about the county's ghost rivers which no longer exist. Read additional articles archived in Older Posts.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Changing Geographic Face of Palm Beach County

By Bob Davidsson
        The borders of Palm Beach County have been fluid and ever-changing during the past 500 years of its geographical history. They ebb and flow, expand and contract, like the tides of the Atlantic Ocean that today forms the 40-mile eastern boundary of the county.
      The Atlantic connects the northern and southern waterways that form natural boundary landmarks at the Jupiter and Boca Raton Inlets. To the west, Lake Okeechobee and its southward flowing Everglades River of Grass has long been the western historical border for the Palm Beaches.
       At the time of European discovery of Florida in 1513, the land that is today called Palm Beach County was divided into four tribal areas of settlement by the native American Jeaga, Tequesta, Santaluces and Maymi Indians. Jeaga villages and mound sites were centered along the Rio Hobe (Jupiter Inlet and the Loxahatchee estuary) and extended north along Jupiter Island, and south on both shores of the Rio Jeaga (Lake Worth Lagoon) and the freshwater chain of lakes to the west.
        The Tequesta (Tekesta) were their coastal neighbors to the south. Their villages were centered near sources of fresh water at the Spanish and Hillsboro rivers, south of Highland Beach. The Santaluces tribe, and its Maymi neighbors to the southwest, shared the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee.
        The interior of Palm Beach County was an area of sawgrass, hammocks and swamps used jointly by the four tribes for hunting and gathering, but remained an unsettled wilderness. The Seminole tribe, which entered Palm Beach County in the 18th century, called the county's core - "The Hungry Land".
        Spanish administrators in St. Augustine divided the colony of Florida into "provincias"  (provinces) during the 16th century. They corresponded with territories controlled by native tribes. Small outposts, with military garrisons and Jesuit priests, were established in the provinces of Tekesta, Carlos (Calusa) and Ais during the brief period of South Florida settlement from 1565-72.
        The Province of Ais extended from Cape Canaveral to Jupiter Inlet. During the winter of 1565-66, a small military fort called "Santa Lucia" was hurriedly built north of the inlet. Captain Juan Velez de Medrano, its commander, also held the royal title of "Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Ais".
        The governor's Jeaga, Santaluces and Ais "subjects" revolted and went to war. The Santa Lucia outpost was besieged for nearly six months. The starving Spanish garrison mutinied, captured a supply ship and fled the Province of Ais in March 1566. Governor Velez sailed out of the Jupiter Inlet in chains.
        The Spanish learned their lesson well. Horror stories about the fate of Santa Lucia spread to Cuba and Spain, and no further efforts were made to establish a colony in the Palm Beaches.

'The British Are Coming' and Going
        Near the end of the "French and Indian War (1754-63)," the British captured the city of Havana, Cuba, from Spain. The Spanish valued the city so highly that they traded their entire colony of Florida to Great Britain to get it back during peace negotiations.
        The British ruled Florida for 20 years, from 1763 until the end of American Revolution in 1783, when it reverted to America's ally, Spain. Florida was divided into to two English colonies, with the panhandle forming West Florida, and the peninsula becoming East Florida.
        On Nov. 18, 1765, East Florida Gov. James Grant met with 50 chieftains of the Lower Creek (soon to be Seminole) nation for a two-day "Indian Congress" at Fort Picolata on the St. Johns River. The resulting "Treaty of Picolata" established the "Indian Boundary" extending from the west bank of the St. Johns River south to the east shore of Lake Okeechobee and ending at Cape Sable.
        The treaty opened eastern coastal areas to British settlement. The territory west of the "Indian Boundary" remained exclusively under native American control.
        The uninhabited Palm Beaches fell under the jurisdiction of East Florida, with its administrative capital of St. Augustine. To promote European settlement, large land grants were sold to wealthy British peers and merchant adventurers.
        Two wealthy land speculators were the brothers Grenville. Sir Richard Grenville, the eldest, held the title of the second Lord Temple. Younger brother George was a former British Prime Minister (of Stamp Act fame), a Tory Party politician and member of Parliament.
        The Grenville brothers purchased huge tracts of land along the St. Johns and Halifax rivers, using the Mosquito (Ponce de Leon) Inlet as a port. Lord Temple served as the front man, with his politician brother acting as a silent partner. Part of their land grant was used by their merchant partners to promote Greek and Minorcan immigration to Florida in the 1760s at the New Smyrna settlement.
        A brief side venture of the Grenville brothers was a land grant at Jupiter Inlet. In the late 1760s, a preliminary surveying party was sent to the north shore of the inlet to examine and explore the region as a future plantation site. The project was still-born when George Grenville died in November 1770, at the age of 58. His legacy was the name "Grenville Inlet" which appeared on English maps for the remainder of the British Colonial Period.
        The Grenville Land Grant was awarded to St. Augustine clerk and civil servant Eusebio Gomez for his service to the colony during the second Spanish Colonial Period (1783- 1821). The Jupiter Island grant would remain in the disputed control of his family for most of 19th century.

Welcome to Mosquito County
        After Florida was purchased from Spain for the bargain price of $5 million, a new U.S. territory was established in 1821. Similar to the division of East and West Florida during the period of British rule, the new territory was divided into two counties - Escambia in the panhandle, and St. Johns County for the remainder of the peninsula.
        The unsettled Palm Beaches remained part of St. Johns County, with St. Augustine as the county seat, until Dec. 29, 1824 when it became part of the newly created "Mosquito County".
         "Los Musquitos" was a common name given to the southeastern coastal region of Florida during the second Spanish Colonial Period. The Spanish name reappeared as Mosquito County from 1824-44.
        The Palm Beaches formed the southern border of Mosquito County for 20 years. The first county seat was "John Burch's House" near Ormond Beach. Later it was moved to New Smyrna from 1835-43.
        The 1830 U.S. Census reported a total of 733 resident living in Mosquito County. However, the 1840 Census, taken at the height of the Second Seminole War, noted no white inhabitants living outside of New Smyrna, with the exception of civilians within the military posts of Fort Jupiter and Fort Pierce.
        Concerned that a name like Mosquito County would discourage future settlement, the Florida Legislature passed a bill in 1841 to rebrand the region as "Leigh Reed County," in honor of one of its members. The governor opposed such political hubris and refused to sign the bill. Its name remained Mosquito County for three more years.

Within St. Lucia, Brevard and Dade Counties
        "St. Lucia County" was created on March 14, 1844, the same year Mosquito County disappeared from Florida maps. It was named for the 16th century outpost of Santa Lucia and the nearby St. Lucia (St. Lucie) River.
        St. Lucia predated modern St. Lucie County by 60 years and was three times its size, extending from Brevard County to southeastern Palm Beach County. Its first county seat was the rural community of "Susanna," located near the army post of Fort Pierce. It later moved to Titusville.
        On Jan. 6, 1855, St. Lucia joined Mosquito on the short list of ghost counties that disappeared without a trace from 19th century maps. St. Lucia was renamed Brevard County, and its borders advanced south to the Dade County line.
        The Palm Beaches were part of Brevard County during the Civil War. The Jupiter Lighthouse became the region's first permanent building a few years prior to the conflict. Although the lighthouse was deactivated during the war, Jupiter Inlet, like many other waterways in Brevard County, was used by Confederate blockade-running ships during most of the war.
        The county boundaries of southeastern Florida were realigned again by the Florida Legislature in 1874. Dade County advanced northward to the St Lucie Inlet, while the geographical jurisdiction of Brevard County was reduced.
        The Palm Beaches became part of this greater Dade County. It contained the future Broward, Palm Beach, Martin and Okeechobee counties. The huge size of the county, the second largest in Florida, created regional tensions in an era of poor transportation and communication services between its scattered coastal communities of settlers.
        A referendum was held Feb. 19, 1889 to determine the future county seat of Dade County. Northern settlers won the election and for the next 10 years the county seat was relocated from from Miami-Lemon City to Juno.

The Birth of Palm Beach County
        A year after the arrival of Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway, the county seat of Dade County returned to Miami in 1899. The old regional north-south resentment returned as population growth and economic power in the Palm Beaches outpaced Miami.
       About 60 percent of tax revenue came from the northern half of the county, but infrastructure and government services did not keep pace. A committee of leading citizens met in West Palm Beach to consider the creation of a separate county.
        A lobbying team was sent to Tallahassee during the 1907 session of the Florida Legislature. A bill for "Division of Dade County" passed the Florida Senate, but failed in House of Representatives by a 39-21 vote.
        The Palm Beaches used its political power to elect a Legislative delegation that favored county division. The "Division of Dade County" bill passed both houses of the Florida Legislature, and was signed into law on April 30,1909. Palm Beach County was born on July 1, 1909, with West Palm Beach as the county seat.
        In addition to the Palm Beaches, the new county included the northern half of Broward County, Martin County and the southern third of Okeechobee County. Palm Beach County had a population of just 5,300, according to 1910 U.S. Census.
        As the population of South Florida grew, the Legislature approved petitions for creation of three new counties at the expense of Palm Beach County. Broward County was established on April 30, 1915 out of sections of Dade and Palm Beach counties.
        The Legislature approved the creation of Okeechobee County on May 8, 1917. It was carved out of lands formerly part of St. Lucie, Osceola and Palm Beach counties. Palm Beach County lost the northern coastal section of Lake Okeechobee.
        Martin County, named for a former governor, was established on May 30, 1925. With the creation of Broward and Martin counties, the Jupiter Inlet estuaries and the Hillsboro Canal formed Palm Beach County's northern and southern borders.

Palm Beach County Loses 'The Wedge'
        One final adjustment to the boundaries of Palm Beach County was the result of a political decision made by the Board of County Commissioners in 2009. "The Wedge" was an isolated 2,000-acre tract of county land south of the Hillsboro Canal, and served by Broward County's Loxahatchee Road.
        Residential development of "The Wedge" required new roads and services by Palm Beach County. The Commission majority opted to give up the land to Broward County with the approval of the Florida Legislature. The City of Parkland annexed most of "The Wedge" in 2015.
        The current boundaries of Palm Beach County are described and codified in geographical detail in the 2017 edition of the Florida Statutes (Chapter 7.50). The descriptions of the county's submerged lands (F.S. 258.39) and coastal reefs (F.S. 403.93345) also are recorded in the Statutes.
        As proven by its past, the future size and shape of Palm Beach County will be revised as needed  by the will of its citizens, its local elected officials and lawmakers in the Florida Legislature.
(c.) Davidsson. 2017.
NOTE: See additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Life and Times of Palm Beach's 'Alligator Joe'

By Bob Davidsson
        The highlight of the 1907 winter social season on the isle of Palm Beach was not a grand ball at Henry Flagler's decade-old Royal Poinciana Hotel, nor the annual motor yacht races on Lake Worth. No, the season's big event, attracting hundreds of Palm Beachers and visiting socialites to the oceanfront, was a wrestling match between burly, 300-pound "Alligator Joe" Frazier and a 12-foot Florida saltwater crocodile.
        Newspapers from West Palm Beach to New York City published eyewitness accounts of the "Man vs. Reptile" showdown in Flagler's upscale resort community.
        The March 3, 1907 New York Times reported, "He (Alligator Joe) towed a crocodile weighing 200 pounds well out into the Atlantic Ocean. Frazier released it, then made a quick jump landing stomach down on the creature's back."
        "Over and over they went," the narrative continues, "like boys wrestling. Gradually, (Joe) worked the reptile to a steep bank. A rope was thrown to him. Keeping the crocodile underwater, he tied the cord around its long snout in two places."
        "It was dragged ashore," the article concludes. "The reptile toward the end looked totally fagged, but (Alligator Joe) Frazier showed no exhaustion."
        A life-long reptile show promoter and entertainer, Alligator Joe (born Warren Frazee) knew there was little chance of losing life or limbs from the encounter with the huge reptile. Unlike its aggressive African, Australian and Central American cousins, the Florida crocodile was a relatively docile opponent.
        Alligator Joe learned this fact months before, when he promoted and staged a match between a Florida crocodile and an American alligator before a raucous crowd of farmers and Flagler's railroad workers on the Card Sound Road south of Miami. The alligator quickly mauled its Everglades reptilian neighbor.
        Alligator Joe was the owner-operator of the "Florida Alligator Farm". It was located one mile south of the Royal Poinciana Hotel, on the west end of what became Worth Avenue where it meets the Lake Worth Lagoon. Bicycle-powered wicker carts were used to transport wealthy visitors to "Alligator Joe's," as it was commonly called, along a pathway known as the "Jungle Trail Road".
        He opened his reptile park as a tourist attraction in the year 1900, offering guests twice weekly gator wrestling performances during the winter seasons. In addition to hundreds of "gators and crocs," the reptile farm featured turtles, manatees and native birds.
        Alligator Joe was a showman who excelled in self-promotion. During his performances, he created the false image of a "half-breed - half Indian, half Mexican and half cavalier." He perfected the role of a frontier hunter (which in truth he was), complete with a feigned Seminole accent.
        To complete the stage persona, he wore a bushy walrus mustache, a cowboy field hat, khaki clothing, and often a carried a resolver at his side to protect fearful guests from his reptiles. In truth, no one ever reported the showman using the handgun in defense.
        Alligator Joe was the exact opposite of Palm Beach's well-bred and educated resident socialites, and that was his public appeal.

The Haves and Have-Nots of Early Palm Beach
        Throughout its 106-year history, the Town of Palm Beach has always been an island of dreams - a place of the haves and have-not, the wealthy and the working poor, the servants and the served, or as they were known in 1907, the home of the Old Guard and their fawning want-to-be Monkey Set.
        The Old Guard included the resort community's founder, Henry Flagler, and wealthy landholding scions such as the Binghams, the Munyons and the Bradleys. Flagler built the Royal Poinciana Hotel and the Palm Beach Inn (the Breakers) on the ocean, then connected his resorts by rail and sea to the Florida East Coast Railway and the Palm Beach-Nassau Cruise Line in the 1890s.
        While Flagler had the vision, and paid talented architects and engineers to design his hotels and mansion, it was mainly African-American labor in the neighboring Palm Beach community of "Styx" that poured the concrete and swept the floors in his architectural monuments.
        An estimated 2,000 resident-renters lived in the shantytown community of Styx from the 1890s until their eviction in 1912. They were the island community's have-nots. Styx was located literally "in the sticks," north of the Royal Poinciana Hotel near what is today Sunset and Sunrise Avenues along North County Road.
        Lacking the basic public services of electricity, plumbing and waste disposal, entering Styx was like crossing from Mount Olympus into Hades. The brothers John and Colonel E.R. Bradley purchased the Styx property in 1910, and in 1912 ordered the remaining renters and squatters to leave their land within two months.
        Most of the African-American residents moved to northwest West Palm Beach, or to the new planned black subdivision of  Pleasant City, established in 1905 north of Lake Mangonia. What remained of Styx was cleared and burned to create the new island subdivision of Floral Park.
        In January 1911, the City of West Palm Beach petitioned its legislative delegation to pass a bill in the Florida Legislature allowing the annexation of the wealthy island community of Palm Beach. In response, the power brokers in the unincorporated township called for a referendum to establish Palm Beach County's second city.
        A total of 35 white male voters went to the polls and created the Town of Palm Beach on April 17, 1911. Under Florida law, women could not vote in 1911, and the black residents of Styx were not given an opportunity to cast their ballots at the Palm Beach Hotel. The first mayor and town council reflected the race and goals of the voters.
        Within the Palm Beach social caste system, Alligator Joe was a "have-not" who aspired to become a member of the "Monkey Set" through hard work and the limited upward mobility of that bygone age.

The Life Story of Warren 'Alligator Joe' Frazee
        Warren was born the second son of Randolph and Anna B. Frazee, March 1, 1873, in Jacksonville, FL. Warren and his brother James were raised in the Mayport section of the city, where his father worked as a steamboat watchman, bartender and farmer to support his family.
        A defining moment in his young life took place in 1887 when 13-year-old Warren visited a "Sub-Tropical Exposition" in Jacksonville. A huge reptile known as "The Alligator Joe (also Joe or Old Joe)" arrived from Polk County and was penned in Jacksonville's Waterworks Park until its death in 1904.
        Warren became a trapper and hunter of reptiles. By the time of his arrival in the Palm Beaches, he had assumed the moniker of "Alligator Joe" Frazier, and in 1897 began offering wealthy visitors hunting adventures in the Everglades.
        The Feb. 18, 1898 edition of the Miami News reported, "In 1898, he took Sir Edward and Lady Colbrooke of England on a hunt for alligators. He successfully bagged one more than 11 feet long and was paid $25 for his service. The animal was taken to a taxidermist where it was stuffed, mounted and shipped to England."
        The same year, the Everglades entrepreneur gathered 2,900 alligator eggs and shipped them to northern markets. He also acted as an informal agent for local Seminole Indians, gathering 600  alligator hides from the tribe and reselling them at E.L. Brady & Co. in downtown Miami.
        During the summer off-seasons, Alligator Joe collected a menagerie of reptiles, with his featured manatee, and shipped them north by rail as a traveling live exhibit of Florida wildlife for gawking crowds whom had never seen such creatures. Occasionally, he hired Seminoles for his gator wrestling shows.
        One of his stops was Dreamland Park on Coney Island, N.Y., where he created a sub-tropical version of the Florida Everglades on the island. Other cities on his summer alligator show circuit included Chicago, Boston, Denver and Kansas City. In 1903, he shipped a pair of Florida manatees to the New York Zoological Society for display in the city's aquarium.
        To meet the demand for his various reptile ventures, the entertainer established a second farm on leased land along the Miami River, west of the City of Miami in 1905. It was called  "Alligator Joe's Crocodile and Alligator Farm". At his new enterprise, he raised gators for his shows, and sold reptile hatchlings as pets nationwide.
        A star attraction at his new farm was a huge 18-foot alligator named "Jumbo Joe," in honor of the gator farm's owner.
        While in Miami, Alligator Joe married  Della Hamilton, a native resident of Dade County, on May 9, 1906. They honeymooned during one of his reptile road shows. The marriage only lasted three years. They were divorced in 1909.
        However, the same year, the 35-year-old divorcee met and married 19-year-old Cleopatra "Cleo" Croft of Kansas. The wedding took place at the Kansas City "Electric Park Fair" where Alligator Joe and his traveling reptile show were performing.
        The 1910 U.S. Census recorded Warren Frazee as the head-of-household, residing in Precinct 3 of Palm Beach township. His household consisted of his second wife, Cleo; his British-born widowed mother-in-law, Carlotta "Lotta" Croft, 39; and his 64-year-old widowed father, Randolph.
        After Alligator Joe's mother, Anna, died in 1909, his father moved from Jacksonville to his home in Palm Beach. He worked at his son's alligator farm in Palm Beach.

Alligator Joe's Farm Becomes the Everglades Club
        By the year 1913, smelly frontier gator farms no longer suited the civic image the Town of Palm Beach and City of Miami wished to present to the outside world. Alligator Joe lost the lease to his Miami River reptile farm in 1911. It was developed as the Spring Garden development in 1913.
       On Feb. 20, 1915, the Pan-American Pacific Exposition opened in San Francisco. Alligator Joe transported 4,500 gators and crocodiles, as well as a manatee, pelicans and a blue herons by rail. He  set up what would become his final exhibit at the winter event.
        He contracted a high fever in the cold, wet San Francisco climate, and was admitted to the city's "German Hospital" on May 27, 1915. Four days later he died at age 43. Frazee was cremated three days after his death. A prior autopsy revealed he suffered from pleurisy, pneumonia, tonsillitis and fatty degeneration of the heart.
        After his death, his traveling exhibit made one final stop in San Diego before it was liquidated in a San Fransico Superior Court. The court estimated the value of his menagerie at $5,295. Alligator Joe's prized manatee was donated to the California Academy of Science, where its skin and skeleton went on display.
        Warren Frazee's Palm Beach reptile farm site was bought by Paris Singer, the millionaire son of sewing machine inventor Isaac Singer. Paris hired his friend, architect Addison Mizner, to design the Touchstone Convalescent Club to care for World War I disabled veterans.
        Construction began in July 1918. By the time it was completed in 1919, the war was over. The convalescent center failed to attract enough patients to turn a profit.
        Singer converted the landmark structure into a private "Everglades Club," which would become internationally famous and infamous for its exclusive membership during the 20th century.
(c.) Davidsson, 2017.
NOTE: See additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Palm Beaches during the Spanish-American War: 1898

By Bob Davidsson
        Guarding the intersection of Okeechobee Blvd. and Parker Avenue, shaded under a row of palms at the northwest corner of Howard Park in West Palm Beach, stands an eight-foot statue, commonly called "The Hiker." It stands as a memorial to the men and women who served in the armed forces or as volunteers during the Spanish-American War.
        The bronze monument, tarnished by age and the South Florida climate, depicts a foot soldier marching to battle. He wears the Army fatigues of the 1890s infantry, with knee-high boots, a supply satchel at his hip, and a Rough Rider campaign hat resting on his head. In his arms he carries a Springfield rifle used by many volunteers during the war.
        A "Hiker" is the name used by soldiers of the U.S. Army infantry to describe themselves during the Spanish-American War.
        The West Palm Beach monument is one of 50 copies of a statue designed and sculpted by artist Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson (1876-1932). The Spanish-American War memorial was cast by the Gorham Manufacturing Company, and dedicated in Howard Park on Aug. 12, 1949.
        A placard placed on the memorial reads: "This monument is presented by Public Subscription to United Spanish War Veterans of Florida to commemorate the valor and patriotism of the men who served in the War with Spain, Philippines Insurrection and China Relief Expedition (Boxer Rebellion), 1898-1902."
        It is a proper setting for a memorial. There are 48 Spanish-American War veterans buried in the city's Woodlawn Cemetery. Two additional veterans rest in the Boca Raton Cemetery. Most were men who enlisted in state volunteer regiments. Just 15 were U.S. Army and Navy veterans.
        Four of the veterans buried at Woodlawn were members of the 1st Florida Volunteer Infantry, according to the Spanish-American War Centennial research site.
        The Spanish-American War began with a declaration against Spain April 25, 1898, following a mysterious explosion and sinking of the battleship "U.S.S. Maine" in Havana, Cuba. Spain was engaged in crushing the latest in a series of revolts in its colony of Cuba. The brutality of these conflicts was widely reported in the American press, contributing to America's decision to go to war.
        When war was declared, the Palm Beaches were still part of Dade County. It required less than one day of sailing for a warship under full steam to travel from Havana to the fledgling cities of Juno and West Palm Beach. While there were no battles fought on Florida's southeast coast, residents of the scattered coastal villages of Dade County lived in fear of bombardment or possible landing of troops from passing Spanish warships.
        This wartime anxiety was well deserved. The anchorage of Palm Beach was used by at least three American gun-running vessels in the years prior to the Spanish-American War. The filibustering captains transported rifles, ammunition and Cuban rebel fighters to isolated rivers and harbors along the northern coast of Cuba.

Florida Filibusters and Gun-runners to Cuba
        During the 1890s, the Palm Beaches did not have a port-of-call for ocean shipping. The Port of Palm Beach did not exist. The Jupiter and Boca Raton inlets were too shallow and treacherous for ocean vessels. Several attempts to dig a navigable Lake Worth inlet failed during the 19th century.
        Railroad tycoon Henry Flagler had a plan. He would build an anchorage, consisting of a docking pier and breakwater, extending from the island of Palm Beach eastward more than 1,000 feet out to sea. It would be directly linked to the Palm Beach spur of his new Florida East Coast Railway.
        On Sept, 25, 1895, Captain J.D. Ross received the contract from Flagler to build the platform later known as the "Breakers Pier". It was located offshore of the Palm Beach Inn which soon became the site of the Breakers Hotel.
       His ocean "port" became the terminus of Flagler's short-lived "Palm Beach-Nassau Steamship Line," established on Oct. 19, 1895. The steamer "Northampton" began passenger service to the Bahamas on Jan. 18, 1896. A U.S. Customs House opened the same day to keep a record of vessels using the new port.
        A second steamer under contract with Flagler acquired a more sinister reputation. The "Biscayne," formerly named the "J.N. Sweeny," was used as a passenger ferry to transport workers and customers of Florida East Coast Railway as it advanced down the southeast coast of Florida.
        Initially based in Lake Worth, the "Biscayne" carried passengers from Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale in 1896, then from Fort Lauderdale to Miami as the rail service moved south. When no longer needed by the railroad as a transport, the "Biscayne" began a new career as a smuggling vessel.
        The steamship was seized twice while attempting to smuggle arms to rebellious Cubans in their fight for independence from Spain. In June 1897, the New York Times published three articles about American gun-runners. One headline screamed, "The 'Dauntless' and 'Biscayne' May Be Libeled and Their Officers Placed Under Arrest."
        The gun-runner "Dauntless" set sail from Palm Beach in October 1896, carrying four rail carloads of ammunition and medical supplies for the rebels in Cuba. A special train from Jacksonville met the "Dauntless" at the Breakers Pier where for four hours Cuban fighters and munitions were transferred to the steamer.
        The vessel was shadowed from its home port of Jacksonville by the U.S. revenue cutters "Boutwell" and "Winona". Eight hours after the "Dauntless" left Palm Beach, the pursuit was joined by U.S. Navy ships based in Key West.
        The "Dauntless" completed a safe voyage and landing on the coast of Pinar del Rio, Cuba. However, the steamer's luck ran out while carrying its fourth illegal cargo off the southeast coast of Florida.
        The "Dauntless" was overtaken by the cruiser "U.S.S. Raleigh". The "Raleigh" fired on the gun-runner when it attempted to escape. The captured vessel was turned over to the U.S. Marshal's Service.
        The "Dauntless" was one of four gun-runners based in the St. Johns River near Jacksonville. They became known as the infamous "Cuban Fleet" of American filibusters. Its sister ships were the "Commodore," "Kate Spencer" and the "Three Friends".
        The "Three Friends" was a seagoing tug built in 1895 and owned by Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, a future Florida governor; his brother, Montcalm Broward; and their friend, George DeCottes. The future Democratic governor and U.S. Senator for Florida later claimed to have made eight runs to Cuba beginning 1896 as the captain of the "Three Friends".
        A "filibuster" is defined as an American civilian who seeks to overthrow a foreign government without the consent of U.S. Congress and the President. Broward used his fame as a filibuster to gain political offices in Jacksonville and the State of Florida after the end of the Spanish-American War.
        On its maiden filibuster voyage in 1896, the "Three Friends" loaded Winchester (Model 1890) rifles, 500 pounds of dynamite, 500 machetes, and one million primer caps for ammunition. The cargo was labeled as "groceries".
        Captain Broward sailed to the Ballast Point docks in Key West, where he picked up pilot Herbert Peck to safely guide the gun-runner to Cuba. The "Three Friends" was paid $10,000 in advance per gun-running mission, with a $1,000 bonus after each voyage.
        On Dec. 13, 1896, the "Three Friends met the gun-runner "Commodore" outside the three-mile territorial waters limit of Florida. A cargo of 3,500 rifles, ammunition and a Hotchkiss gun (a light cannon) were transferred to the tug. The "Three Friends" eluded the "U.S.S. Raleigh," on patrol off the coast of Key West, and once again landed on the north coast of Cuba.
        A Spanish patrol boat spotted the "Three Friends" and opened fire on the Cuban rebels unloading the vessel. The filibusters responded by firing their Hotchkiss gun at the patrol boat to keep it at bay until the last of its cargo was safely deposited on shore.
        Upon its return to Jacksonville on Dec. 26, U.S. Customs authorities briefly impounded the "Three Friends" for violation of federal neutrality laws. Spain pressed the charges, and warned that if the tug returned to Spanish waters in Cuba, the crew would be treated as pirates. The "Three Friends" continued its gun-running missions for more than a year.
        There are two documented reports of the "Three Friends" making stops in the Palm Beaches. A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 1897 survey of the Palm Beach anchorage states, "An inquiry of the deputy collector of Customs as to commerce of Palm Beach develops the following trade between the dates of January and November 1896: "U.S.S. "Raleigh," the tug "Martha Hale," the tug "Three Friends," and several yachts of which no records had to be kept."
        While returning from its final gun-running adventure in the winter of 1898, the "Three Friends" anchored off the coast of Manalapan to assist the beached Norwegian sailing barque "Lofthus". The tug was unable to free the shipwrecked vessel from the coastal reef, and resumed its voyage to Jacksonville.
        During the Spanish-American War, the "Three Friends" was chartered by the New York World newspaper and used as a dispatch courier to relay news stories from correspondents Stephen Crane, Richard Harding Davis and Ralph Paine from Santiago, Cuba, to the nearest newswire service in Key West.

Palm Beachers Prepare for War with Spain
        With a long history of gun-running from eastern Florida to Cuba, the scattered, undefended coastal communities had good reason to fear retaliation from Spain following the declarations of war. Fortunately, Spain was on the defensive during the short 10-month war with battles fought by land and sea in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.
        In April 1898, Captain Enoch Root formed a militia regiment in West Palm Beach. A total of 140 local residents signed up as volunteers for the defense of the Palm Beaches. Responding to a call to arms in The Tropical Sun newspaper editorial, many households on the island of Palm Beach armed themselves with Springfield rifles to protect their homes.
        The Jan. 24, 1899 edition of the Lake Worth Daily News reported, "The signal tower near the (Palm Beach) Inn is being painted. This tower belongs to the Flagler property, but it was used last spring by the government as a signal tower when there was a threat to the possibility of a Spanish descent on the American coast."
        Residents living in the "Celestial Railroad" villages of Juno and Jupiter were surprised to see the American battleship "U.S.S. Oregon" anchored off the Jupiter Inlet on May 24, 1898. The battleship had just completed an epic 14,000-mile voyage from San Francisco, around Cape Horn, to the coast of Florida to join the war against Spain.
        According to the New York Times, once local residents overcame their initial fear, they signaled the "Oregon" and relayed news of its arrival to Washington, D.C. The "Oregon" sailed south to Key West, then joined the American fleet blockading Santiago, Cuba.
        Several U.S. Navy ships used Flagler's Palm Beach anchorage as a port-of-call during and after the Spanish-American War. This provided a temporary but welcomed boom to local businesses. Apparently, wartime censorship did not exist in 1898, because local papers gave detailed descriptions of transport cargos and troop movements.
        The Jan. 20, 1899 Lake Worth Daily News reported, "The U.S. Navy's converted yacht "Yankton" appeared off the pier for three hours on the way from Newport to Santiago, Cuba. The paymaster and crew came ashore to get newspapers and notify the Department (of War). Besides Captain Dyer, the yacht carried 100 men and seven guns. The party had dinner at the Poinciana."
        Eleven days later, the newspaper reported, "The U.S. transport "Chester" stopped at Palm Beach several hours on Sunday, and some of her officers came ashore to send dispatches. The "Chester" was bound for Havana and had on aboard a Michigan regiment of volunteers, and a few other soldiers, making 1,100 in all."
        At the southern end of Dade County, "Camp Miami" opened as a military staging area June 20, 1898, but was abandoned just six weeks later due to poor sanitary conditions. During its short life, 7,000 volunteers from Alabama, Louisiana and Texas passed through the camp en route to the war.
        Henry Flagler was a supporter of the camp. The use of his railroad to transport troops was good for business. His Miami "Royal Palm Hotel" served as an officers quarters during the war. As the war progressed, Spanish prisoners also were shipped to the Port of Miami, then distributed to camps across the country.
        Admiral George Dewey, the hero of the naval Battle of Manila Bay, attempted dock at the Breakers Pier after returning to America. Sadly, the "U.S.S. Mayflower", his flagship, could not anchor due to heavy surf. Using naval flag signals, the admiral of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet apologized and said "The sea is too rough to make a landing."
        After the end of the Spanish-American War, Flagler decided relocate his "Palm Beach-Nassau Steamship Line to Miami. By then, he had a new vision of linking the City of Miami to Key West via an "Overseas Railroad".
       His Breakers Pier was severely damaged by the 1928 hurricane, and soon after dismantled. Today, sections of the pier can still be seen when exploring the Breakers Reef, offshore of Palm Beach.
        During the 1903-04 academic year, a 30-foot, doubled-ended lifeboat was used to transport children living along the Loxahatchee River to the old Jupiter School. The boat was christened the "Maine" in honor of the battleship that sank in Havana Harbor.
        Several early pioneers claimed the lifeboat once belonged to the ill-fated battleship prior to its sinking. Whether fact or fiction, the "Maine" served the community as a school ferry, and as such became part of the early history of the Town of Jupiter.
       The gun-runner "Three Friends" resumed an honest career as a working tug boat in the Port of Jacksonville for more than 50 years after the end of the Spanish-American War. Old age and disrepair resulted in the "Three Friends" sinking into the silt of the St. Johns River in the late 1950s.     
       The Broward family and local historians were raising funds needed to save the tug as floating memorial to a bygone age in the history of Florida. They missed their opportunity by a matter of weeks.
        The year 1898 marks a turning point in the history of the United States. As a result of the Spanish-American War, the U.S. acquired Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines and the Navy base of Guantanamo, Cuba. The same year, the U.S. annexed the Hawaiian Islands. America became an empire.
(c.) Davidsson. 2017.
NOTE:  A related guest editorial by the author entitled "The Palm Beaches in the Age of Empire" is published in the June 15, 2017 edition of the Jupiter Courier. See additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Local Shipwreck Site One of 12 'Museums in the Sea'

By Bob Davidsson
        From Pensacola to Key West and north to Jacksonville, hundreds of shipwrecks rest in the coastal waters of Florida, but only 12 have been designated and honored as official state undersea  "Museums in the Sea," with one site located offshore of Palm Beach County.
        The wreck of the 19th century Norwegian sailing barque "Lofthus" rests in 15 to 20 feet of water, about 175 yards off the shoreline of Manalapan. Divers can still view a debris field, measuring 300 feet by 50 feet, with deck beams, mast and iron plates exposed above the sand of the sea floor.
        Beginning in 1987, the Florida Department of State's Bureau of Archaeological Research began selecting shipwreck sites of significant historical value as undersea parks to manage and protect for future generations. So far, 12 shipwrecks have been selected, including the "Lofthus".
        The "Lofthus" is registered by the Florida Division of Historic Resources as "State Underwater Archaeological Preserve #8." The 12 undersea preserves are promoted as the state's "Museums in the Sea." The "Lofthus" was designated as an historic site in 2004, when a plaque was attached to its anchor.
        To become an undersea museum, the selection process requires "the shipwrecks are the recorders of a moment in time" and a "microcosm of history vital to understanding the people who used Florida's waters before us."

Ship Listed on National Register of Historic Places
        In addition to becoming a State of Florida underwater preserve, the National Park Service certified the shipwreck in the National Register of Historic Places on Jan. 6, 2004.
        After evaluating the site, National Park Service (NPS) staff reported, "The shipwreck is one of the few examples of iron-hulled sailing vessels that plied the waters of Florida, and the world, in the late 19th century. 'Lofthus' represents an element of the tramp sailing commerce that skirted, and occasionally wrecked upon, the shores of Florida."
        The vessel history states, "The 'Lofthus' represents a late 19th century collection of  wrecked vessels that accumulated on the shallow coasts of the state. These shipwrecks became targets for the wrecking and salvage industry in southern Florida, and today are important and integral elements of  extant turn-of-the-century maritime cultural resources."
        For most of its maritime life, the "Lofthus" sailed under a British flag as the merchant ship "Cashmere." About one year before its demise on the coast of Palm Beach County, it was purchased and renamed by a Norwegian firm.
        "Norwegian shippers were major buyers and operators of old sailing vessels, both of wood and metal," the NPS vessel history states. "Norway lacked the capital, banking and resources to build large vessels of their own, but the country did have an abundance of skilled maritime manpower to operate ships."
        "Their ships, including the 'Lofthus,' hauled bulk goods across the oceans of the world," the vessel history concludes.

Maritime History of the 'Cashmere' and 'Lofthus'
        The vessel's 30-year sailing history began with its christening and launching as the "Cashmere" Oct. 5, 1868 at builder T.R. Oswald's shipyard near Liverpool, England. The "Cashmere" was owned by Liverpool Shipping Company, and managed by Henry Fernie  & Sons for the East Indian trade route.
        The merchant ship had an iron-riveted hull measuring 222.8 feet in length, with a beam of 36.7 feet and a depth of 22.7 feet. It was rated as a 1,277-ton vessel with two decks and a cemented bulkhead, according to its Lloyds insurers report.
        By the late 1860's, most iron-hulled ships were converted to steam power. However, in an effort to reduce fuel and engine costs, the owners designed the "Cashmere" to sail as a three-masted barque.
         The east Asian trade route plied by the "Cashmere" included India, the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and Hong Kong. This included sailing past the islands of Java and Sumatra. During the 19th century, the islands were one of the last bastions of piracy.
        The Sultanate of Ache, located along the northern coast of Sumatra, was known as the main base used by fast-sailing pirate ships to board lightly armed merchant vessels that ventured in their waters. The shipping of all nations was targeted by the corsairs.
        Following the capture of an American ship, the United States dispatched its "First and Second Sumatran Expeditions" in 1832 and 1838 to suppress the piracy. Three American Navy frigates, and their Marine landing parties, briefly curtailed but did not end the scourge.
        Dutch colonial navy units fought a prolonged campaign against the Sumatran pirates from 1873 to 1904, when the threat to coastal shipping finally ended. The "Cashmere" sailed in these dangerous waters for more than 20 years.
        To discourage pirates, the crew of the "Cashmere" painted 24 black gun ports along both sides of the ship, giving the vessel the illusion of an armed British brig-of-war. The trick worked. The "Cashmere" was never boarded while passing the Dutch East Indies.
        In 1897 the "Cashmere" was sold to Norwegian J.A. Henchien, representing the "Barque Lofthus Actierederi," of Lillestrand, Norway. The ship was renamed the "Lofthus" and transferred from the East Indian to American trade zone.
        Less than a year after its purchase, the ill-fated "Lofthus" sailed from Pensacola, bound for Buenos Aires, Argentina, with a cargo of cut lumber. While passing through the Florida Straits, the ship was rocked by a coastal storm Feb. 4, 1898 and driven northeast onto a beach in central Palm Beach County.
        Captain Fromberg and his Norwegian crew of 16 were unable to free the heavily-laden vessel from the pounding surf. A seagoing tug, the "Three Friends," recently returned from a gun-running mission to Cuba, also tried and failed to free the stranded "Lofthus".
        The beached ship was soon declared a total loss. Local salvors offered to purchase its cargo of 800,000 feet of lumber at an agreed price of $1,000. Captain Fromberg abandoned the ship to its fate and gave the ship's dog and cat to a local family.
        In September 1898, the salvors blasted a hole in the iron-riveted hull of the "Lofthus" to gain access to its cargo. This action hastened the ship's destruction, and its sinking into the sea, where it has rested for the past 120 years.
(c.) Davidsson 2017.
NOTE: See additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Local Church Has Its Roots in Arctic 'Saami' Ministry

By Bob Davidsson
        There is a place of worship in the Palm Beaches with a unique legacy dating back to the 19th century "Laestadian" religious revivalist movement that originated among the native Finnic Saami (Lapp) people of the northern Arctic provinces of Sweden, Norway and Finland - the "Lake Worth Apostolic Lutheran Church."
        Finns have lived in the greater Lantana-Lake Worth area of Palm Beach County since the 1920s. After World War II, the area hosted the second largest population of a worldwide diaspora consisting of first and second-generation families, Finnish pensioners and retirees, and seasonal residents.
        In Lake Worth's Bryant Park, there are two monuments placed by members of the Finnish community. The "Memorial to Finnish Immigrants" consists of two bronze geese soaring over a marble base with a map of Finland etched on its face. The migratory birds symbolize the journey of Finns and all immigrants to Lake Worth. It was donated by Thor and Saimi Soderholm, a local Swede-Finn couple, and dedicated in 1985.
        A second monument, often overlooked by park visitors, is a granite block once part of the Finnish Mannerheim Line and used as a crude barricade to stop invading Russian tanks. The monument is a memorial to veterans and war dead of all nations. Many retirees in Lake Worth were veterans of the Winter War (1939-40) and Continuation War (1941-44) against the Soviet Union, and the Lapland War (1944-45) against Nazi Germany.
        The population of Finnish emigrants and their descendants peaked at about 25,700 in South Florida during Census year 2000, then it slowly declined due to natural mortality, assimilation and changing lifestyles. The local Finnish community established three churches which have helped preserve their language, traditions and religious beliefs.
         The "St Andrew's Lutheran Church," located on South E. Street in Lake Worth, was founded in 1953 as part of the Finnish "Suomi Synod". It joined the Lutheran Church of America (LCA) in 1963, and today is a part of the nationwide Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). The church began offering services in both Finnish and English in 1960.*
        The current "All Nations Church," located on High Ridge Road in Lake Worth, was established in 1971 as the "Finnish Pentecostal Church of Lake Worth" to serve the local Finnish community. It was not until 2009 that church services were offered in English in addition to Finnish. In an effort to broaden its outreach, it became the "All Nation's Church" in 2011.
        The "Lake Worth Apostolic Lutheran Church," was built by its parishioners on Kirk Road in suburban Lake Worth. It is one of 57 autonomous Apostolic Lutheran churches in the U.S., serving congregations with a total membership of 9,000, and the only one located in Florida.
        The Apostolic Lutheran Church of America dates back to the year 1872, and is one of several religious branches of the Laestadian revival movement founded by a 19th century Swedish Lutheran Church reformer, scientific botanist and explorer named Lars Levi Laestadius.

Laestadius and His Mission to the Saami People
        The Saami (often called Lapps by the Swedes and Finns or Kvens by Norwegians) are the native inhabitants of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. They are nomadic reindeer herders with a hunter-gatherer society which until recently retained its traditions unchanged for more than 4,000 years.
        The Saami speak six dialects of the Finno-Ugrian (Uralic) language related but not identical to modern Finnish. By contrast, their more sedentary Swedish and Norwegian neighbors to the south speak languages rooted in a northern Germanic (Old Norse) lexicon.
        Historically, relations between the two distinct populations have ranged from friendship and beneficial trade in the best of times, to ongoing land disputes and cultural genocide at its worst. It was at a time of widespread poverty, alcoholism and forced cultural assimilation that Lars Laestadius began his mission among the Saami.
        Lars was born Jan. 10, 1800 in the northernmost Swedish county of Norrbotten. He was the son of a ne'er-do-well hunter and mine operator named Carl Laestadius and his Saami wife, Anna Magdalena. Despite the family's poverty, he was able to attend Uppsala University in 1820 through the financial assistance of an older brother.
        He majored in theology at Uppsala, and upon graduation was ordained as a Lutheran minister in 1825. He was posted as a regional minister of the State Church of Sweden in his native province of Swedish Lapland.
        He soon married a local Saami woman, Brita Cajsa Alstadius, and together they raised 12 children. Laestadius lived and worked in the Pajala parish of Swedish Lapland from 1849 until his death in 1861.
        For most of his adult life, Laestadius would self-identify as a member of the Saami community. He could speak two regional Saami dialects, as well as Finnish and Swedish. Later in life, he would use a Finnish text for his sermons to reach his scattered followers.
        The minister's favorite pastime was botany. He was an assistant in Uppsala University's Botany Department, and is credited with the discovery and identification of three plants in northern Scandinavia which are named in his honor.
        His notoriety as a botanist and linguist among the Saami communities resulted in an invitation from the French Admiralty to join the "La Recherch√© Expedition of 1838-40" and explore the islands and Arctic coastline of Scandinavia. He was awarded the French "Legion of Merit" for his service.
        It was during this adventure that Laestadius began writing his "Fragments of Lappish Mythology," describing traditional Saami religious beliefs at time when the Swedish government and high church officials were discouraging the practice of Saami shamanism. For nearly 150 years, the priceless manuscript was lost. Fortunately, the document was rediscovered in France and belatedly published in 1997.
        As a missionary, Laestadius searched for the key to spreading Christian doctrine in a manner acceptable to the religious traditions and culture of the Saami people. His prayers were answered when he met a poor Saami woman named Milla Clementsdotter, later known to his Laestadian followers as "Mary of Lapland".
        Laestadius was moved and inspired by what he called "her spiritual journey through life to the living faith." He would later write that the encounter led to his own religious experience when he "saw the path that leads to eternal life."
        His "spiritual awakening" became the basis of the Lutheran "Laestadian Movement". The liturgy is based on Lutheran doctrine with an emphasis on forgiveness and a life journey of faith leading to a personal "salvation experience" shared with the congregation.
        Laestadius spread his revival theology among the scattered Saami communities by training lay clergy to live and travel with the nomadic herders. His clergy were not college educated, but rather selected for ordination "by a call by God to preach the word."
        Within his lifetime, the Laestadian Movement spread beyond the frozen tundra and taiga of Lapland to communities in Finland, Sweden and Norway. Wisely, both the State Church of Sweden and Lutheran Church of Finland would eventually accept Laestadianism as an apostolic branch of the Lutheran Church.
        Laestadius was not expelled from the State Church of Sweden, but was required to provide traditional Lutheran services at his parish, in addition to apostolic sermons to his followers. After he died in 1861, the movement continued under the leadership of one his followers, John Raattamas.

The 'Great Laestadian Migration' to America (and Florida)
        Between 1864 and 1895, thousands of Laestadians immigrated from Finland, northern Sweden and Norway to America. They wanted the freedom of worship without the dictates of a centralized state church. They also sought to escape the hopeless poverty of northern Scandinavia in the late 19th century.
        Without the central authority of a state-sponsored American Lutheran Church, the Laestadian Movement splintered then reformed in the U.S. Laestadian congregations were formed in mining and agricultural communities in Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, Oregon and Washington.
        After World War II, descendants of the Laestadian Movement came to Palm Beach County, where using their traditional architectural style, they built their current unadorned rectangular apostolic church with whitewashed walls suited to meet their spiritual needs.
        Today, there are an estimated 200,000 followers of Laestadianism worldwide. Within the borders of the four nations that make up "Sapmi" (Lapland) where the movement began, there are between 80,000 and 135,000 native Saami inhabitants.
        The informal Laestadian greeting, dating back to the time its founder, is "Jumalan terve" - God's welcome.
*NOTE: The author served as the pastor's assistant and acolyte during the dedication of the new St. Andrew's Lutheran Church in 1965. See additional articles below and archived in Older Posts
(c.) Davidsson. 2017.