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.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Historic WPB Laboratory Battled Statewide Epidemics

By Bob Davidsson
        At its June 4 meeting, the West Palm Beach Commission designated the 1921 neoclassical building at 415 5th Street, formerly the Florida State Board of Health (SBH) Laboratory, as a landmark on the city's Register of Historic Places.
         An historic marker fronting the building, currently housing the First Bank of the Palm Beaches, reads; "With the construction of the Board of Health Laboratory in 1921, Palm Beach County secured its first state building. Still considered an area of the country that was just being settled, establishing an outpost for public health was an essential component of community upbuilding for West Palm Beach."
        Florida was still a rural state in 1920 with a population of just 968,470. Established in 1909, the total population of Palm Beach County, which included portions of Broward and Martin counties at that time, was just 18,654.
        The State Board of Health was established by an act of the Florida Legislature on Feb. 29, 1889. The understaffed SBH faced major budget cuts in 1920 by populist Governor Sidney J. Catts, who was elected to office in 1916 as head of the "Prohibition Party" ticket.
        It took intense lobbying efforts by the Palm Beach Post and its editor, Joe Earman, and a series of devastating outbreaks of Spanish flu, bubonic plague and dengue fever in the state, to convince the parsimonious governor of the need for a new research laboratory.
         The two-story SBH lab in West Palm Beach was designed by Pensacola architect Walker D. Willis as a prototype model reproduced several times across the State of Florida. The architect envisioned its neoclassical design "as a symbol of civilization" in the largely rural Sunshine State.
        The laboratory features a prominent portico with four fluted Doric columns at its entrance. The pediments display images of Florida set in stone.
        "Constructed by E.H. Barto in 100 days at a cost of $34,700," the historic marker reads, "this landmark structure retains much of its original Bedford Limestone fenestration, St. Louis brick fa├žade and decorative classical interior. The well-preserved interior includes extensive promenade mosaic tile, Dade Pine floors, and a wrought iron and marble central staircase."
        The SBH laboratory in West Palm Beach was one of three early diagnostic and treatment centers for communicable diseases in Florida. Together with its sister labs in Pensacola and Jacksonville, the local medical research center controlled the spread of diseases such as influenza, diphtheria and tuberculosis.
        The medical labs were hard-pressed to meet the public health needs of the state in the early 20th century. Outbreaks of malaria were endemic in the Suwannee River valley. Dengue fever ravaged Dade County in 1921, eventually spreading to Tampa Bay.
        In the year 1920, an unidentified ship anchored in Pensacola's harbor carrying rats infested with the bubonic plague virus. The vermin with their disease carrying fleas disembarked from the ship, spreading the "pestis" virus to rodents throughout the city.
        Ten residents contracted the disease and seven died before the pestilence was brought under control. The outbreak highlighted the first systematic use of state public health services to control an epidemic.

Spanish Flu Epidemic in Palm Beach County, 1918-19
        The one catastrophe that galvanized public opinion in support of statewide SBH laboratories to fight communicable diseases in Florida was the deadly arrival of the so-called "Spanish flu" in 1918.
        While the exact geographic origin of the influenza strain is still debated, its impact was felt worldwide. The scourge killed 50 million people, including between 500,000 and 650,000 in the United States.
        Close communal living conditions necessary during World War I quickly spread the flu virus from the frontline trenches to staging areas, hospitals and military bases in Europe and America. It is believed the first cases in the U.S. were at Fort Riley, Kansas, from where the virus soon infected the general population.*
       An estimated 4,000 residents succumbed to the Spanish flu in the thinly populated State of Florida. The first report of the epidemic reaching Florida was Sept. 27, 1918 in Key West. The disease was reported in Pensacola less than one week later. Florida's new rail systems carried the pestilence throughout the state.
       By the second week of October 1918, there 158 flu-related deaths in Florida. The number of  confirmed Spanish flu cases in the state reached 12,944 by January 1919. Drastic steps were taken to control the epidemic in West Palm Beach and across the state.
        On Oct. 9, 1918, an ordinance was passed by the City of West Palm Beach to close all public meetings, schools, theaters, churches and public gatherings during the proclaimed emergency.
        The Palm Beach Post reported, "It was stipulated in the ordinance that there shall be no loitering in billiard halls, that barber shops shall be conducted in a strictly sanitary manner, and soda fountains shall serve drinks only in paper containers."
         The draconian city ordinance assessed first-time violators a $100 fine or 30 days in jail. It was not an unusual sight to see residents covering their faces with masks or handkerchiefs as they shopped downtown during the 1918-19 epidemic.
        The Spanish flu targeted younger victims who lacked partial immunity from earlier flu outbreaks in the 1890's. The flu arrived in two waves. The first outbreak in 1918 was more virulent and was commonly called "the three-day fever". Many flu patients died by contracting secondary pneumonia in an age when antibiotics were not available.
        A milder second wave of Spanish flu mutated and spread across the country in 1919. By the end of the year, the pandemic was becoming a horrible memory.

Public Health Becomes a Statewide Concern
        The SBH laboratory in West Palm Beach filled a much needed gap in medical diagnostic services in the early history of Palm Beach County. It wasn't until 1948 that Palm Beach County approved funding for a public health unit.
       Today, the county-supported Health Department has a budget of $47 million annually and is staffed by more than 800 professionals.
        The original SBH labs created in the 1920's have evolved into the Florida Department of Health, Bureau of Public Health Laboratories. The Jacksonville-based agency provides diagnostic screening, monitoring, research and emergency public health laboratory services to county health departments.
(c.) Davidsson 2018.
*NOTE: The author's great aunt died in the Spanish flu epidemic. See additional articles archived below and in Older Posts.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Many County Roads Honor the Famous or the Obscure

By Bob Davidsson 
        Since Palm Beach County was established in 1909, the State of Florida has designated 33 roads and bridges as memorials to famous residents, the not-so-famous, and people whose names are long forgotten with the passage of time.  
         It is not just highways and bridges that are so honored by our state lawmakers. Two trails, an expressway, a turnpike, causeway, plaza and even a cable barrier system have been deemed worthy of memorial recognition by the State of Florida in Palm Beach County.
        Commuters driving to work on I-95 may be interested to learn their overburdened travel route is actually the "Dwight David Eisenhower Veterans Memorial Highway." By an act of the Florida Legislature (86-309), the section of I-95 (SR 9) from Miami to the Georgia line was so designated in October 1986.
        "Ike" isn't the only president honored. The Florida Turnpike also became the "Ronald Reagan Turnpike" from SR 821 north to its intersection with I-75 at Wildwood. The Florida Legislature passed Session Law 98-435 in 1998.
        The turnpike's Palm Beach Plaza was dedicated as the "Charles B. Costar Service Plaza" in 1999. Costar was a businessmen who lobbied for the creation of a highway toll system to finance the building of the Florida Turnpike.
        The Florida Turnpike's cable barrier in Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Miami-Dade counties was designated as the "Alexander Alden Ware Memorial Cable Barrier System" in 2005. It is named for a child who drowned when the family's car flipped into a canal.
        These memorial names attached to our county streets, highways and bridges are voted on and approved by the state senators and representatives we send to Tallahassee. They are introduced as  house and senate bills, or as concurrent resolutions approved and placed in the Laws of Florida.
        The Florida Legislature has the authority to designate transportation facilities "for honorary or memorial purposes." Beginning in 1922, and with few exceptions, honorary designations "were accomplished as they are today, through an act of the Legislature," according to the Florida Senate's Committee on Transportation's 2011 Interim Report.
        After session laws are enacted, it is up to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to print and place signage for the memorial bridges or designated sections of Florida's state roads. Memorials passed before the year 1969 were the responsibility of the State Road Board, the oversight agency for the State Road Department, first established in 1915.
        FDOT classifies a transportation memorial by its designated name, county, state route number, U.S. route number, local street description, type of facility, dedication source and effective date.
        Memorial designations often overlap on the same section of road. The "Kenneth C. Mock Highway (SR 80) extends from the Henry County line to the Atlantic Ocean. However, it overlaps with the "Lawton Chiles Trail" between South Bay and West Palm Beach.
        Kenneth Mock was an engineer from Pahokee who spearheaded efforts to expand SR 80 to a four-lane highway in Palm Beach County. Former two-term Governor and U.S. Senator Lawton Chiles is known for walking across the State of Florida in his political campaigns. The "Lawton Chiles Trail" is the route "Walkin' Lawton" followed along the state's roads.
       The Dixie Highway (U.S. 1) has earned three patriotic memorial titles in Palm Beach County. It became the "Blue Star Memorial Highway" in 1957, the "Constitution Highway" in 1987, and received the additional designation as the "POW-MIA Blue Star Memorial Highway" in 1991.
        In May 1947, the Florida Legislature proclaimed sections of SR 80 from Henry County to West Palm Beach, and U.S. 1 south of Southern Blvd. to the Broward County line, as the "United Spanish War Veterans Memorial Highway" to honor surviving Florida volunteers who served in the Spanish-American War and Philippines conflict.
        Some memorial highways are named for deceased local politicians. The "Ben Sunday Memorial Highway" (SR 806), extending from the west Delray city limits to the Florida Turnpike, is named for a Palm Beach County commissioner who served in the 1950s.
        The "Charles Minor Expressway" was designated in 1961 as the section of U.S. 27 and SR80 between the Hendry County line and South Bay. Minor was a member of the Florida House of  Representatives and Hendry County Commission.
        The main north-south highway in western Palm Beach County, U.S. 27 (SR 25) has acquired many common names during its 70-year history. Within Palm Beach County, it also became the "Tom and Marian Lewis Memorial Highway". The Legislature honored the former state lawmaker and his wife in 1995.
        The section of Alternate A1A from Donald Ross Road north to U.S. 1 in Jupiter was proclaimed the "Glynn Mayo Highway" in 1992. He was the Town of Jupiter's first police chief and served for 28 years.
        There also are highways honoring sporting organizations in Palm Beach County. The "Moroso Memorial Highway" is a section of SR 710 named in 1999 to honor the Palm Beach International Raceway and its former owner, Dick Moroso.
        The arrival of the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) in northern Palm Beach County was recognized by the Florida Legislature by selecting a portion of SR 786 in Palm Beach Gardens as the "PGA Boulevard". The designation became law on June 24, 1965.
        Palm Beach County's barrier island highway, SR A1A, has acquired its share of memorials. The earliest designation was the "Atlantic Beach Boulevard," so named in 1927 as the coastal highway from St. Augustine south to Miami. "North Ocean Boulevard," from Pelican Lane to Sea Road on the Palm Beach barrier island was officially cited in April 1992.
        The little known but much traveled "Coast to Coast Highway" was designated in 1992. It extends from Siesta Key on Florida's west coast to U.S. 1 in Riviera Beach and includes SR 710 in Palm Beach County.
        The Florida Legislature remembered historic Mar-a-lago and its Post cereals heiress by naming the link between SR A1A and Southern Boulevard as the "Marjorie M. Post Memorial Causeway" in 1972.

Memorial Bridges in Palm Beach County
        Below is the current list of eight memorial bridges in Palm Beach County designated by the Florida Legislature with their effective dates of dedication:
  • Carlin White Bridge. (Name dedicated in 2007). Across the Loxahatchee River near Jupiter Inlet. He was a Jupiter pioneer who died in 2014 at age 107.
  • Haven M. Ashe Bridge. (1965.) Across the Boca Raton Inlet on A1A. He was a Boca Raton pioneer and bridge tender who worked for Florida's State Road Department.
  • Jack L. Saunders Bridge. (1980) Spans the Intracoastal Waterway on Linton Blvd., Delray Beach. He was a Delray Beach pioneer and former mayor.
  • Jerry Thomas Memorial Bridge. (1981) Also known as the Blue Heron Bridge. It spans the Intracoastal Waterway in Riviera Beach. He was a past president of the Florida Senate and candidate for governor.
  • L.E. Buie Memorial Bridge. (2004) It is the skypass bridge on U.S. 1 passing over the Port of Palm Beach. She was a resident of West Palm Beach since 1925 and a lifelong civil rights advocate.
  • Richard E. "Pete" Damon Bridge. (2005) Bridge crosses the Loxahatchee River along Alternate A1A in Jupiter. He was a bridge tender on the Alternate A1A Bridge for 20 years.
  • Riviera Memorial Bridge. (1945) Bridge crosses Lake Worth along SR A1A on Singer Island.
  • Robert A, Harris Bridge. (1970) Bridge crosses the Intracoastal Waterway at the City of Lake Worth. He was the director of the Lake Worth Chamber of Commerce from 1961-69.
        Finally, the oldest highway in Palm Beach County is "Military Trail". It was originally hacked out of pinewood forests and scrub along the Atlantic Coastal Ridge in 1838 by Major William Lauderdale and his Mounted Tennessee Volunteers, with the assistance of a U.S. Army unit led by Lt. Robert Anderson.
        The trail connected Fort Jupiter with Fort Dallas near the current City of Miami. During the Second Seminole War it was known as "Lauderdale's Route" but was later commonly called the generic "Military Trail".
       Ironically, the historic route was not recognized by the Florida Legislature until March 1972. The section of the former wagon trail from SR 808 to PGA Boulevard is now a state memorial highway.
(c.) Davidsson. 2018.    
NOTE: See additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.

Friday, May 4, 2018

U.S. 27: County's Highway of Sugar, Blood and Hope

By Bob Davidsson
        Highway U.S. 27, the westernmost federal north-south route in Palm Beach County, is a roadway with many acquired names, leading its drivers on journey through the unique transportation history of Florida.
        During its 84-year history, U.S. 27 (also designated SR 25) earned the nicknames of  the "Backbone of Florida," the "Sugarland Highway," "Bloody 27" and the "Claude Pepper Memorial Highway."
        For two generations, until the completion of Florida's interstate highway grid and the opening of the Florida Turnpike as the Sunshine State Parkway, U.S. 27 was the main 1,373-mile gateway for trucking and the tourism industry connecting the Midwest to destinations within the Sunshine State.
        U.S. 27 begins in Fort Wayne, Ind., and meanders south through Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia. The highway first entered Florida in 1934 at the sleepy village of Havana in Gadsden County, located a few miles northwest of Tallahassee.
        By 1947, U.S. 27 was extended 481 miles to its final destination in Miami, where it links with highway U.S. 1 at North 36th Street, just south of "Little Havana". As a result of the common names at its Florida entry point and terminus, U.S. 27 acquired yet another moniker - the "Havana to Little Havana Highway."
       Due to the importance of the highway for tourism in the mid-20th century, and its use as the backbone of the state's transportation system, promoters began referring to U.S. 27 as the "Backbone of Florida." The name is an appropriate geographic description since it crosses the heartland of state in central Florida.
        U.S. 27 passes along the western shore of Lake Okeechobee in Glades and Hendry counties, where it briefly merges with SR 80 as it enters Palm Beach County near the City of South Bay. The federal highway parts company with SR 80 east of South Bay and heads due south through miles of sugarcane fields.
        A sugarcane crop valued at about $1.5 billion annually is transported on U.S. 27 in Palm Beach and Hendry counties. Many growers in the agricultural industry began calling it the "Sugarland Highway" due to its economic importance to the region.
        After entering the sugar harvesting center of Okeelanta in central Palm Beach County, U.S. 27 veers southeast toward Broward County. When it crosses the county line, the highway enters the Everglades and Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area wetlands.
       As it departs the conservation area, the U.S. 27 skirts the western edge of endless miles of generic urban sprawl in southern Broward and Miami-Dade counties before turning east near Miami's international airport to its intersection with U.S. 1.
        Shortly after the death of former U.S. Senator and Congressman Claude Pepper, the Florida Legislature voted to honor the veteran Miami lawmaker by designating U.S. 27 as the "Claude Pepper Memorial Highway" on May 12, 1999.
        The session law (CS/HB 75) states, "U.S. Highway 27 in the State of Florida is hereby designated 'Claude Pepper Memorial Highway'. The Department (of Transportation) is authorized to determine appropriate intervals along U.S. 27 for the location of markers so as to inform the public of the designation."
        The Legislature also designated the entire length of U.S. 27 as the "Purple Heart Highway," with an effective date of July 1, 2010.
        Because U.S. 27 was the first roadway to be four-laned along most of its route in Florida, it also earned the unofficial title of  "Florida's First Superhighway". However, over the decades one section of the so-called "Superhighway" earned a more deadly reputation in Palm Beach County as "Bloody 27".

The Deadly Legacy of 'Bloody 27"
        At 5:55 a.m. March 17, 2015, Carolina Ortiz was driving her three teenage children to their school in Miami-Dade County. Six miles south of the City of South Bay, she encountered a detached truck trailer which had separated after departing from an Okeelanta sugar mill. It loomed out of the early morning darkness and fog in her lane of traffic.
        While attempting to avoid the obstacle, her Ford Focus was hit by a pickup truck and oncoming tracker-trailer. Mrs. Ortiz and her three children were killed.
        This sad narrative, and hundreds like it, have earned highway U.S. 27 the notorious nickname of "Bloody 27".
        Nature, agriculture and a heavily used trucking route have conspired to make this 22-mile stretch of highway in western Palm Beach County one of the most dangerous roads in America. Early morning fog, mixed with haze from burning sugarcane fields, and numerous access roads for farm vehicles have proven a deadly combination for motorists.
        The speed limits on U.S. 27 vary from 30 to 65 miles per hour. Recent studies conclude most accidents occurring on U.S. 27 are caused by drivers who are careless and inattentive when entering the highway. Statistics reveal right-of-way violations account for the vast majority of serious or fatal wrecks.
        Adding to this bad news was a 2017 Geotab study, released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), ranking U.S. 27 in Florida as the third deadliest highway in America. The findings recorded 529 fatal crashes with 614 deaths, or a fatality rate of 2.16 deaths per million vehicles.
        In April 2017 newspapers across the state and nation trumpeted the grim statistics in their headlines. Forbes magazine, for example, published an article featured U.S. 27 entitled "Death Tolling: The Most Dangerous Highways in America."
        The NHTSA study concluded that an estimated 10 percent of fatal accidents and 17 percent of all crashes were caused by "distracted driving".

U.S. 27: A New Highway of Hope
        The main line of the Florida Turnpike was completed in stages from Wildwood to Miami in July 1964. The turnpike merged with I-75 north of Wildwood in central Florida, with I-4, I-10 and I-95 added to the interstate network about a decade later.
        The completion of the interstate network ended the reign of  U.S. 27 as the state's main tourism access highway. U.S. 27 primarily became a road for local and regional transit, trucking and business. Trucks make up 42 percent of the vehicles using U.S. 27 in Palm Beach County.
        In a May 2015 report to the Florida Department of Transportation, the Florida Trucking Association stated, "As a connection to many regions of the state, and as an alternative to the heavily used  interstate system, U.S. 27 is vital to Florida's trucking industry."
        The trucking industry in Florida provided 333,680 jobs in 2016, or one out of every 22 in the state. Industry wages paid in Florida exceeded $15.3 billion. There were 37,270 trucking companies located in Florida during 2017, most of them locally operated. Four trucking lines are currently serving South Bay. (Source: ATRI)
        The Glades communities of South Bay, Belle Glade and Pahokee in Palm Beach County have long sought an economic boost to supplement agriculture, sports fishing and Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST) tourism. An enhanced and expanded U.S. 27 may provide the answer.
        A "U.S. 27 Highway Corridor  Project" outline was introduced April 21, 2017 by the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council (TCRPC). Among its objectives, the plan calls for upgrading and widening U.S. 27 to six lanes for the 72-mile section between South Bay and Miami.
        A corresponding "rail bypass line" would be built to handle 15 to 22 freight trains daily, providing an alternative for haulers from the Florida East Coast railway which is committed to increasing passenger service with Brightline.
        While unveiling of the project before the Port of Palm Beach Commission, TCRPC Executive Director Michael Busha said, "I believe it unlocks the potential the Glades have been looking for..."
        In essence, the $1.25 billion plan would transform the Glades communities into an intermodal  transit hub for business and agriculture between Miami and the Palm Beaches. However, as with many visionary projects, the main barrier is funding.
        Whatever the future holds for U.S. 27, the highway with many names will continue to be the backbone of the state's transportation history.
*NOTE: Read additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.
(c.) Davidsson. 2018.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

County History Unearthed in Shellrock Mining Pits

By Bob Davidsson
        Unless your home in Palm Beach County was built on the Florida Atlantic Coast Ridge, odds are its subdivision rests over landfill material excavated from one of South Florida's shellrock mining pits.
        Long lines of railroad cars filled limestone aggregate are often observed passing through the Palm Beaches daily as they make their trek from the Lake Belt mines, an 89-square mile area between the Everglades and suburban areas of Miami-Dade County, to four rock distribution centers located in central and northern Florida coastal cities.
        In its promotions, the Florida East Coast (FEC) Railway reports, "We move hundreds of thousands of aggregate carloads" to the service areas along its rail.
        Limestone aggregates are used to produce cement, concrete and asphalt needed to build roads, bridges, runways, homes and public facilities. Limestone, shell and dolomite are types of marine sediment deposits formed in Florida over millions of years.
        Limestone and its aggregates is South Florida's leading mining product. About 153 million tons of rock are mined per year for Florida construction projects or for export, according to industry estimates.
        The Florida Department of Transportation, a major user of shellrock aggregates, has established specifications for its use (Section 913A). It states, "Materials used for shellrock base shall be defined as naturally occurring heterogeneous deposits of limestone with embedded layers or lenses of loose and cemented shell, to include cemented sands (Calcific sandstone)."
        "This material shall be mined and processed in a manner that will result in a reasonably homogeneous finished product," the FDOT rule states. "Approval of mined aggregate sources shall be in accordance with Section 6-3.3."
        Shellrock formations vary from unconcentrated sand to loosely compressed shells. It includes "coquina" (Spanish word for small shell) formations found in Florida coastal areas from St Johns County south to the Florida Keys.
        Limestone excavating, commonly called "rock mining" in Florida, began in the year 1672 when King Charles II of Spain authorized the construction of the "Castillo de San Marcos" fortress in St. Augustine. Locally mined Anastasia Island coquina was cut into blocks and used to build the fortress walls and internal barracks.
        Today, the "Castillo" remains the oldest European masonry fortification in the United States.
        During the First Spanish Colonial Period (1513-1763), coquina also was the building material used for Fort Matanzas (Torre de Matanzas), guarding the southern gateway to St. Augustine in 1742, and the St. Marks garrison outpost in 1753.
        One of earliest companies involved in a "rock and sand hauling" business in Palm Beach County was the Rinker Materials Corp., founded by Marshall E. "Doc" Rinker (1904-1996) as the "Rinker Rock and Sand Company" in 1926.
        Rinker provided construction services throughout Florida, including Disney World and Epcot. The West Palm Beach-based company was valued at $515 million when it was sold to CSR Ltd. in 1988. The company was the largest producer of ready-mix concrete in Florida at the time of its sale. CEMEX acquired the Rinker Group in 2007.
        The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is the oversight agency responsible for evaluating ecological impacts and the restoration of mining sites. According to the DEP, there are currently six licensed mining sites in unincorporated Palm Beach County:
  • Palm Beach Aggregates mine and expansion sites located west of the Acreage near S.R 7.
  • Stewart Mining Industries - Palm Beach County Mines, northwest of the Palm Beach Aggregates.
  • Fine Stone Mine - Gilbert Pit, south of the Martin-Palm Beach County line near Lake Okeechobee.
  • U.S. Sugar Corp. - Lake Harbor Quarry in western Palm Beach County, south of Lake Okeechobee.
  • Bergeron Sand, Rock and Aggregate's Florida Rock Quarry in western Palm Beach County.
  • CEMEX Construction Materials - South Bay Quarry, located west of the Loxahatchee Refuge.
        Palm Beach Aggregates (PBA), the largest active mining operation, broke ground in 1993. The 3,000-acre site in Loxahatchee mines about 100 acres annually for fill material used in construction.
        PBA mining operations include the 2,200-acre C-51 Reservoir which stores 61,000 acre feet of water available for use as a water supply, storm water storage and flood control. Broward County and five municipalities have expressed interest in the mining reservoir as a future water source.

The History of Okeeheelee's 'Shellrock Pits'
        The name origin of Okeeheelee Park supposedly derives from the Miccosukee word "Okee-hee-the," which translates to "pretty waters, quiet waters, or good waters" depending on what information source is used.
        In truth, when the original 90-acre rock mining site was acquired by the State of Florida in 1973 for $7 million, then traded to Palm Beach County in a land swap, the waters were neither pretty, quiet nor good. The lakes were deserted shellrock pits flooded by seasonal rain.
        There is no record of native American villages at Okeeheelee. Historically, the site consisted pineland scrub forest, not pretty waters.
        The rock pits at Okeeheelee were strip mines used by construction companies during the high noon of mining in Palm Beach County during the 1950s and 1960s, a period when county production rivaled Dade's "Lake Belt".
        According to the 1968 "Mineral Producers in Florida' report, there were nine limestone and crushed rock mines in Palm Beach County operated by Belle Glade Rock Company, Douglas Shell Pit near Haverhill, Gorham Construction Company on Skees Road, MacArthur Gardens Construction Company in Palm Beach Gardens, Rubin Construction Company west of Florida Turnpike in West Palm Beach, the Chasten Powell site near Lantana Road, P.C. Smith Company, Inc. of West Palm Beach, and the W.R. Grace Company's Boca Raton vermiculite plant.
        The rock mine at Okeeheelee was owned by the Cleary Brothers Construction Company of West Palm Beach. The Cleary Brothers - President and CEO James E., Vice President John B. and Treasurer-Secretary Dennis - incorporated their architectural and construction engineering firm March 8, 1937.
        In its Florida articles of incorporation, Cleary Brothers detailed the company's mission: "To conduct and carry on the business of building and contracts for the purpose of building, erecting, altering, repairing in connection with all classes of buildings...and the laying out and construction of roads, avenues, docks, slips, sewers, bridges, walls, canals, railroads, airports, power plants and generally all classes of buildings."
        The Okeeheelee rock aggregate provided the raw material for an impressive list of Florida projects completed by Cleary Brothers Construction throughout Florida. In Palm Beach County, the Cleary Brothers were contracted to build the East Camino Real Bridge in 1939, the 540-foot Boca Raton Inlet Bridge in 1963, and a replacement span for the first Flagler Memorial Bridge in 1965.
        During World War II, Cleary Brothers were contracted for projects at Morrison Field in West Palm Beach, and the Homestead Air Force Base in 1942. Other state contracts included the 180-foot Sebastian Inlet Bridge in 1965, the St. Lucie Canal locks for the Lake Okeechobee Cross-State Canal project n 1968, and the conversion of several Flagler railroad spans into the Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys.
        The Cleary Brothers rock mine also provided landfill material for the 3,860-acre Lyons Farm site in Broward County. Coral Ridge Properties converted the infilled farmland to the planned community of Coral Springs, incorporated on July 10, 1963.
        Today, Okeeheelee is a 1,702-acre regional park operated by Palm Beach County. Where there were once rock mining pits, the county provides a water skiing course, 14 athletic fields, eight tennis courts, a golf course and a dog park. A nature center with trails opened in 1992.

Prehistoric 'Monsters' Emerge from Rock Mining Pit
        In 1969 a dragline operator digging a drainage canal at the P.C. Smith Shellrock Company quarry, known as the "West Palm Beach Site," made an unusual discovery. Florida Atlantic University was contacted by the mine operator and told  they had a "bag of bones" collected at the mine site.
        The "bag of bones" turned out to be the fossils of several species of extinct giant mammals that once roamed Palm Beach County. Archaeologist Howard Converse was tasked with identifying and removing the bones from the rock pit in March 1969. He was assisted by local college students and volunteers.
        The West Palm Beach Site was a commercial shell quarry located seven miles west of  the city's downtown in what is today the Golden Lakes community.
        The rock miners had accidently unearthed an ancient riverbed which had attracted the prehistoric animals to the site 20,000 years ago during the late Pleistocene Epoch. During their two-month excavation, the scientific team recovered 600 identified  specimens, currently housed in the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.
        The fossil remains include bison, giant capybara, dire wolves, and three species of ancient cousins of the elephant - the Colombian mammoth, American mastodon and gomphothere, an extinct species of tapir.
        Perhaps the best preserved fossilized artifact found in Palm Beach County was the partial skeleton of a 12,000-year-old mastodon nicknamed "Suzie".  It was displayed for many years at the South Florida Science Center.
                                                                      * * *
        South Florida's rock mines have long been the targets of conservationists and other critics who question their impacts on the Florida Aquifer and future water supply. Without the use of the rock mining industry's aggregates, however, the infrastructure of our county - roads, housing, masonry buildings, airports - would not exist.
        Rocking mining was and remains an important part of our history.
(c.) Davidsson. 2018.
NOTE: Read additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.        

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Palm Beach County's Ancient 'Transit Networks'

By Bob Davidsson
        Centuries before the paving of I-95 and the Dixie Highway, or the building of Henry Flagler's FEC Railway, and even before the clearing of the Military Trail in 1838, Palm Beach County had an ancient transportation network used by its four native American nations.
        The original inhabitants of Florida did not live in isolated villages. The peninsula's natural waterways served as trade routes providing interconnectivity between tribes from the mouth of the St. John's River south to the Florida Keys.
        Evidence of inter-tribal commerce is apparent from the excavated burial mounds and village middens scattered throughout the county, from Lake Okeechobee northeast to the Jupiter Inlet and south to the Hillsboro River.
        Pottery shards and artifacts produced by the distant Timuqua Indians of northeast Florida are found in local mounds. So are artifacts from the Calusa Mound Building culture of southwest Florida, as well as beads and metal trade items from Spain's lonely outpost of St. Augustine during the First Spanish Colonial Period (1513-1763).
        The native inhabitants of Palm Beach County - the Jeaga, Tequesta, Santaluces and Maymi nations - established permanent villages about 3,000 years ago. Their place of origin is unknown.
        Spanish and English captives observed the tribes were able to communicate and perhaps shared a common root language unrelated to their Timuquan and Muskogean-speaking neighbors to the north. One recent theory is the South Florida tribes were late arrivals on the peninsula from beyond the sea.
        In theory, these seafarers followed in the wake of the Taino and Carib tribes in their journey from the north coast of South America, slowly island-hopping their way up the Caribbean island chain to Cuba and the Bahamas, until reaching their final destination in Florida.
        Recent genetic research conducted by a team led by University of Copenhagen scientists revealed a DNA sampling from the remains of a Lucayan-Taino inhabitant of Eleuthera island in the Bahamas was traced back to the Arawakan culture of northern South America. Future DNA testing of South Florida's native American inhabitants may one day solve the mystery of their place of origin too.
        The Florida Straits were not a barrier to these ancient nautical travelers. During most of the Spanish Colonial Period, Tequesta and Calusa sailors made the 106-mile voyage from the Florida Keys to Cuba in large dugout canoes to obtain trade goods in Havana.
        Whatever the origins of Palm Beach County's original inhabitants, upon arrival they adapted well to their new environment and fully utilized its natural resources and waterways.

Ancient Trade Routes and Waterways
        The opening of Florida's Intracoastal Waterway in 1912 was hailed in Tallahassee as a milestone in the history of Florida. The protected inland waterway provided vessels with an unimpeded passage from Miami to Jacksonville by dredging canals between existing coastal lagoons.
        Florida's original inhabitants used the same network of lagoons for trade and communications between tribes. From north to south the system of lagoons are the Tolomato in Duval County, the Matanzas River of St. Johns County, the Halifax River of Volusia County, and Brevard County's Mosquito Lagoon, Indian River Bay and the 120-mile Indian River Itself.
        The Indian River merges with the St. Lucie at Sewell's Point, with one branch continuing south into Martin County, where after passing through a shallow maze of mangroves, it met the Jupiter Narrows west of Jupiter Island at Hobe Sound.
       South of the Jupiter Inlet, the ancient Loxahatchee River portage was dredged to form a canal linked to Little Lake Worth and the 20-mile Lake Worth Lagoon. A second canal was dredged in the early 20th century to connect Lake Worth to the Spanish River, Lake Boca and the mouth of the Hillsboro River.
        Completing the coastal waterway were the Hillsboro Inlet and New River estuaries in Broward, connected by the Stranahan River to the northern end of Biscayne Bay near the Dade County line. This southern coastal route connected Tequesta villages located in modern Dade, Broward and southern Palm Beach counties.
        In the year 1575, Florida Lieutenant Governor Juan Lopez de Velasco reported, "The River Ais (Indian River) is at 27 degrees north. It is a small one that only boats (barcos) can enter. And from it up to Cape Canaveral the coast runs north-south until the cove of the same cape, which takes a turn to the northeast. The coast is clear and anchorable, although there is no port along its length."
        The Ais nation were masters of the Indian River (Rio de Ais), controlling the coastal trade routes from Cape Canaveral south to the St. Lucie River. Shipwrecked captive Jonathan Dickinson reported the "Cacique of Ais" was the head of his village and "commander of the northern part of this coast."
        The Spanish named Indian River Bay "Laguna de Ais" on their charts. The Mosquito Lagoon was called "Laguna de Surruque," - the name for the northern branch of Ais tribe on Cape Canaveral. The portage haulover connecting the two bays was known as  "Potopotoya" in the native Ais dialect.
        The caciques of Ais, located in their main village of "Jece," described as hidden among the mangroves on the Indian River barrier island, negotiated treaties and trade agreements with the eastern branch of the Timuqua tribe, located north of Ponce de Leon (Mosquito) Inlet.
       The Ais leaders also formed alliances with the linguistically related Mayaca tribe to the west, and with their smaller Santaluces and Jeaga neighbors to the south through marriage agreements.
        The primary vessels used in trade by the coastal tribes were dugout canoes made from local slash pines and other conifers. Native craftsmen stripped the bark from the logs and carved indented passenger compartments in the center using stone tools and fire. Iron axes from the Spanish were rare but highly valued for this work.
        Some of the larger canoes were seaworthy and could hold up to 30 persons. To haul freight or for ceremonial displays of power, the coastal tribes would lash two canoes to create a catamaran with a raised center platform.
        In his 1697 journal, Dickinson described one such vessel during a visit of the Cacique of Ais to obtain tribute from the Jeaga Indians at their main village of Hobe (Hoe-bay), located on the south shore of Jupiter Inlet.
        "We all drew down to waterside to receive him," the shipwrecked merchant wrote. "We perceived he came in state, having two canoes lashed together with poles athwart from the one to the other, making a platform, which being covered with a mat, on it stood a chest which was belonging to us. Upon the chest he sat cross-legged, being newly painted in red, his men with poles setting the canoes unto the shore."
         The Jupiter Inlet and the Loxahatchee River estuary appeared on early Spanish maps as the "Rio Jobe." Jeaga villages were located on both shores of the inlet, as well as Jupiter Island to the north and Singer Island to the south.
        The Spanish also were aware of the long body of water south of the Jupiter Inlet today named Lake Worth in honor of William Jenkins Worth, the U.S. Army commander who brought the Second Seminole War to  close. It appeared on Spanish 17th century navigation charts as the "Rio Jeaga," or occasionally as the "Laguna de Gega," located "five leagues south of the Rio Jobe".
        In his 1575 "Memoirs," Hernando de Escalante Fontenada, a hostage of the Calusa tribe, identified Palm Beach as "Jeaga Island". He recounted the ill-fated expedition of  Lucas Vasquez d'Allyon (1475-1526) to establish a colony in the Carolinas. Fontenada's information source were Indians from the "Island of Yeaga" who had encountered Allyon's fleet of six ships.
        One of Allyon's ship captains was Pedro de Quexo, an Hispaniola slave merchant who prowled the southeast coast of Florida from Cape Canaveral to the Florida Keys during the 1520s. This early slave trade left a legacy of hostility between the coastal tribes and Spain which would cost the lives of hundreds of shipwrecked seaman.
        No friend of the coastal tribes, Spanish Governor Pedro Menendez Marques gave the following testimony in 1573: "This witness knows that Cacique Jega, who is on the coast of the Bahamas Channel, slew 25 Spanish men and one woman with child, and these same Indians captured a mother with two daughters, young maidens, and a little boy and one sailor, which this witness saw in the power of the cacique they call Ais who is the father-in-law of said Jega."
        The discoverer of Florida, Juan Ponce de Leon, was himself forced to repel an attack by resident Jeaga Indians when he entered their Jupiter Inlet (Rio de la Cruz) in search of water for his ships.
        The captain of Ponce de Leon's flagship, the "Santa Maria de Consolacion," was an infamous Hispaniola slave trader named Juan Bono de Quejo, known to early Spanish missionaries as "Juan the Bad". Bono may have been aware of the Florida peninsula in advance of Ponce de Leon's 1513 voyage of discovery from his prior slave raids in the Bahamas.
        The inland waterway of Lake Worth was veiled from roving conquistadors, slavers and pirates by the barrier island made of Anastasia coquina limestone covered with sand and thick subtropical vegetation.
        After the besieged Spanish outpost of Santa Lucia, located north of  Jupiter Inlet, was abandoned in March 1566, there was no further effort to colonize the Palm Beaches. (See "Navidad at Fort Santa Lucia: 1565" archived in Older Posts.)
        The principal village of  "Jeaga," the namesake for the tribe, is known to archeologists as the Rivera Beach Mound Complex. A long fish-shaped mound 150 feet wide and 10 feet high was once located near the current site of the Port of Palm Beach.
        Directly opposite of the village of Jeaga on Singer Island was the so-called "Palm Beach Inlet Midden". Jeaga village sites dotted both shores of Lake Worth. The largest, located in the Town of Palm Beach, was the Guest Mound.
        The Guest Mound was 18 feet high and 100 feet in width. It featured a village on its summit visible from the sea. The site may be the village of "Abaioa" described by 16th century Spanish Royal Historian Antonio de Herrera in his history of Ponce de Leon's voyage of discovery in May  1513.
        Herrera reported, "They came upon and anchored behind a cape close to the village named Abaioa. All this coast, from Punta de Arrafices until this Cabo de Corrientes (Cape of Currents), runs north-south to the southeast, and the water is clear with a depth of six fathoms."
        The Jeaga villages along Lake Worth were part of a self-contained coastal riverine environment providing all the food sources and natural resources needed by the inhabitants. It was bordered by the ocean to the east and the Atlantic Coast Ridge to the west, which also marked the beginning of the Everglades.
        The mainland villages, such as the Littlefield Mound site in West Palm Beach, may have been used seasonally for hunting and fishing in the chain-of-lakes west of the ridge line. Before it was destroyed by 20th century development, the village site was 500 feet long and stood about six feet above the surrounding ground surface.
        The best example of seasonal use of village sites was the Boynton Inlet Mound, located by the ocean at the southern end of Lake Worth, and its corresponding western Boynton Mounds Complex, adjacent to the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.
        The Boynton Mounds site is the farthest inland of the Jeaga villages, nearly 20 miles west of its companion village on the coast. Its location within the Everglades had a dual purpose. Not only was the site used for seasonal hunting and gathering, but as a terminus on a trade route leading to Palm Beach County's ancient transportation hub at Big Mound City.

The Ancient 'Intermodal Transit Center' of the Palm Beaches
         Big Mound City is the largest native American earthwork in southeast Florida. The 143-acre site is 10 miles east of Canal Point within the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area. Due to its unique historical value, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
       The huge archaeological site consists 23 mounds, including the Big Gopher Mound. The largest mound is 220 feet in diameter and is elevated 25 feet above the surrounding marshes and pineland forest. Extending from the mound are causeways used during periods of flooding.
        Archaeologists surmise Big Mound City was originally part of the Belle Glade Mound culture and was occupied for about 800 years. During the Spanish Colonial Period, the city was within the territory of the Santaluces tribe (also referred to as the Guacata in early Spanish records).
        In his Memoirs, Fontenada wrote, "They (the Calusa) are masters of a large district of country, as far as a town they call Guacata, on the Lake of Mayaimi (Okeechobee), which is called Mayaimi because it is very large."
        Big Mound City was strategically placed where three ancient trade routes meet. From the west, the Calusa delegations traveled up the Caloosahatchee River to the Maymi villages along the western and southern shores of Lake Okeechobee, and then east to Big Mound City.
        The Ortona earthworks in Glades County were designed by the Maymi Indians and their ancestors to expedite trade from the west coast of Florida to Lake Okeechobee. It included one of the longest native American canal networks in the nation, used to bypass the rapids of the Caloosahatchee River.
       A second inland trade route was used by the Mayaca tribe which controlled both the headwaters of the St. John's River and the Kissimmee River in central Florida. The Mayaca paddled down the Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee, then followed the eastern shore of the lake to Big Mound City.
       The current township of Port Mayaca, located on the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee in Martin County, is near the last known village site of Mayaca nation in the 1740s.
       Big Mound City was sited on a section of land where the Everglades marshes of Lake Okeechobee met the higher pinewood flats. From this point, seasonal flood waters flowed east into the Hungryland and Loxahatchee sloughs, and drained into the Loxahatchee River basin.
        This was the route used by the Santaluces and Jeaga Indians to trade with tribes in central Florida and Gulf Coast. The Loxahatchee trade route connected the Jupiter Inlet to Big Mound City and Lake Okeechobee. This watery trail continued to be used by the Seminole tribe until the end of the 19th century.
        On early Palm Beach County maps, the Hungryland Slough is listed as the "West Prong of the Loxahatchee Marsh."  An Indian midden was recently discovered in a hammock island located in the southwest section of the slough. It is believed the midden was used as a camp site for ancient travelers poling their canoes between Big Mound City and the east coast.
        The Big Blue Mound, located within the City of Wellington's Big Blue Forest Preserve, served the same purpose for Jeaga traders traveling from coastal villages west to Big Mound City and Lake Okeechobee. The Jeaga used the same network of sloughs as their Santaluces neighbors to the north to reach the trading center.
        The transportation routes were used for trade between tribes, and also to pay tribute to more powerful neighbors. In his description of the Lake Okeechobee Indians, Fontenada wrote, "They are subjects of Carlos (chief of the Calusa tribe), and pay him tribute of all things I have before mentioned, food and roots, the skins of deer and other articles."
        Treasures recovered from Spanish shipwrecks by the coastal tribes also were distributed through the trade network. "These things Carlos divided with the caciques of Ais, Jeaga, Guacata, Mayajuaco and Mayaca," Fontaneda reported in his Memoirs, "and he took what pleased him, or the best part."  
       Big Mound City was abandoned shortly after 1650, the age-tested date of the most recent artifacts unearthed by archaeologists. Ironically, native American traders traveling to the city from Florida's interconnected waterways probably hastened the city's demise.
       The native nations of Florida had no immunity to diseases introduced from Europe. Beginning in the year 1519 disease epidemics swept the state. The viral and bacterial scourges included bubonic plague, measles, malaria, cholera, typhoid, pertussis, and the deadliest of all - smallpox.
        Unknowing traders carried the diseases from St. Augustine down the network of lagoons, infecting in turn the Ais, Santaluces, Jeaga and Tequesta tribes. A failed attempt by Ponce de Leon to colonized Charlotte Harbor in 1521, and again by Governor Pedro Menendez in the 1570s, also introduced  diseases to the southwest coast.
        The powerful Calusa tribe was decimated and adopted an isolationist policy, cutting its commercial and political ties with the interior of the state. Likewise, the Maymi and Santaluces villages near Lake Okeechobee suffered depopulation ranging from 25 to 50 percent.
        Florida's southeastern coastal tribes, from Cape Canaveral south to the Florida Keys, numbered about 48,800 in the year 1520, according to a 2004 U.S. Department of the Interior estimate. By the year 1700, less than 5,000 native Americans remained along the entire eastern coast of Spanish Florida.
       The great trade center of Big Mound City regressed into a state of steady decline due to the depopulation of its trading partners. By the beginning of Queen Anne's War (1702-13), Big Mound City was already a ghost town.
        The remaining tribal remnants in South Florida became the easy targets of British slave raids from South Carolina. Beginning in 1703, slave hunters used Florida's long-established commercial routes for their illicit trade.
(c.) Davidsson. 2018.
NOTE: See additional articles below and archived in Older Posts   

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Pioneer Creates 'Utopia' Along Lake Okeechobee

By Bob Davidsson
        'Utopia" is an imaginary place where everything is perfect in this literary land of idealism. One pioneer discovered his Utopia on the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee.
        The idea of a model society was the creation of English humanist Sir Thomas More (1478-1535). His Utopia is located on a fictional island somewhere off the coast of America.
        In the 500 years since "Utopia" was first published in 1516, many persons have attempted to form secular or religious "utopias" based upon More's communal philosophy. These include about 40 self-styled "utopian" communities established  in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries.
        Clifford Joseph Clements founded his Utopia on the northeast shore of Lake Okeechobee in the year 1897. He was born May 29, 1870 in Petersburg, VA. Clifford was the son of Joseph and Mary Clements, and was raised in Fauquier County.
        As a young single man seeking a new life and adventures, Clements traveled to the sparsely populated frontier of Lake Okeechobee in the 1890s. He supported himself as a hunter and guide.
        Clements found the marshes and pinewood forests near the lake were a hunter's paradise. He established a hunting retreat named Utopia on the shore of the big lake, between the Lettuce and Cypress creeks. Today, the deserted site  is located near the intersection of U.S. 441 and S.R. 15-A.
        In the year 1897, Dade County encompassed a vast area of southeast Florida extending from Cape Florida, north to the St. Lucie River, and west Lake Okeechobee's Eagle Bay. It included what is today Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin and southern Okeechobee counties.
        Clements was one of the first Euro-Americans to settle on east shore of the lake. His neighbors in the 1890s were the Cow Creek band of the Seminole nation.
        About 30 Seminole families, under the leadership of Chief Tallahassee and Captain Tom Tiger (Tustenugee), survived military campaigns and forced deportations by the U.S. Army during the Second and Third Seminole Wars. They settled along the upper Kissimmee River valley.
        Encroaching ranches and farms forced the Cow Creek band to move southeast between Lake Okeechobee and the east coast of Florida. Their totem clans established several family encampments. Inhabited areas included the high ground near Indiantown, the Hungryland Slough and Big Mound City in western Palm Beach County.
        Clements shared these hunting grounds with the Seminole tribe without incident. However, it was not hunting that sustained and attracted settlers to his Utopia, but a commercial fishery on Lake Okeechobee.

A Fishing Community on the Big Lake
        On April 25, 1900, Clements married Adeline Raulerson (1882-1959) at a ceremony held in  Osceola County. They raised two children in the fledgling community of Utopia.
        Adeline was a daughter of Okeechobee pioneers Peter and Louisiana Raulerson. The Raulersons became the first settlers along Taylor Creek. They arrived from Basinger about one year before Clements established Utopia.
        The site of the Raulerson's Taylor Creek community of Tantie became incorporated as Okeechobee City two decades later. Utopia was located about 10 miles southeast of Tantie. Both communities owed their early success to the commercial fishing industry and the timely coming of the railroad to ship their catches to northern markets.
        Commercial fishing began in the year 1898 at Taylor Creek. It soon became the center of the fishing industry along the northern and eastern shores of the lake.
        At the turn of the 20th century, overnight seine nets and trotlines were still legal and used to catch crappies (speck), bluegills and the mainstay of Okeechobee fishing - catfish. Distribution was limited to regional markets in South Florida due to lack of rapid transport.
       The coming the railroad in early 1915 was a needed boast to both the Okeechobee fishing industry and the local agriculture-based economy in general. In February 1911, the Florida East Coast (FEC) Railway began work on the Okeechobee Branch of its Kissimmee Valley Extension.
        The Okeechobee Branch was the last great extension of the late Henry Flagler's FEC Railway. The 122-mile rail line connected New Smyrna Beach on the east coast to Okeechobee City with the intent of opening new markets in the state's heartland. The railway would soon connect lake communities to coastal Palm Beach County by linking with the Atlantic Coast Line (Seaboard) Railroad.
        At the request of the local fishing industry, by June 1915 a railroad spur connected Taylor Creek to the FEC Railway. Ice houses and loading docks were built to preserve the aquatic harvest from Lake Okeechobee fishermen. Refrigerated rail cars transported their catches to northern markets.
        Lake Okeechobee is the major freshwater fishery in South Florida. Historically, an average of 4 million pounds of fish and turtles, valued at $6.3 million, were harvested annually, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.
        In the year 1909, greater Dade County was reduced by half with the creation of Palm Beach County. Utopia became Palm Beach County Precinct 8, when administration of the unincorporated community transferred from Miami to West Palm Beach.
        A total of 14 families were reported as residents of the county's Precinct 8 in the 1915 edition of R.L. Polk's West Palm Beach City Directory. Most early settlers lived in palmetto palm shacks near the lake.
       The two-story "Clements General Store" was built by the founder of Utopia to serve the growing community. It became the contracted post office in 1908, with Clements serving as its postmaster.
        The Palm Beach County School Board authorized the construction of a wooden schoolhouse for Utopia in 1912. Building materials were transported up the Caloosahatchee River from Fort Myers, then shipped across Lake Okeechobee to Utopia.
        Clements, the self-taught community leader, made sure students received a proper utopian education by also serving as the school's headmaster and teacher.
        Utopia became a Census Designated Place (CDP) in 1920. The Census revealed Utopia had population of 49 residents recorded under 11 family names. A total of 12 adults listed their occupation as fishermen. All residents surveyed in the 1920 Census reported their race as white.

The Most Unusual Election of 1917
        In the year 1917, residents living north of Lake Okeechobee successfully petitioned the Florida Legislature to create a new county out of portions of Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Osceola counties. The new county was born on Aug. 17, 1917, with Okeechobee City as its county seat.
        There was some disagreement as to whether the community of Utopia would remain within Palm Beach County (as Precinct 8) or join Okeechobee County as the new Precinct 5. Palm Beach County ordered a special election for Aug. 7, 1917 to determine the future of Utopia.
        Utopia was tied economically to the fishery warehouses and railroad connections in Okeechobee County. West Palm Beach was a half day journey in 1917. Okeechobee City was accessible by boat or carriage in less than two hours. The voters decided to join Okeechobee County.
        It may not have been a wise decision. The population slowly declined during the 1920s. The post office closed in 1921. The school was boarded up and abandoned in 1925. Then came the "Hurricane of 1928".
        The Sept. 16 Category 5 hurricane devastated lakeside villages with storm surge and flooding. While most of the estimated 2,800-plus deaths were caused by the collapse of dikes along the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee, the community of Utopia was not spared.
       About 30 lives were lost in Okeechobee County during the hurricane. Since Okeechobee City is located inland from the lake, most of these deaths were in shoreline fishing villages like Utopia.
        The tropical storm also was a disaster for the commercial fishery. Millions of fish were swept out of the lake by storm surge and flooding. Commercial fishing was disrupted until fish stocks could recover.
        The community of Utopia did not recover. Utopia was removed after 1930 as a Census Designated Place. The community does not appear on the U.S. Department of the Interior's 1932 Geological Survey map.
        The founder of Utopia, Clifford Clements, closed his store and moved to Pinellas County. He died Feb. 14, 1939 and was put to rest at Cycadia Cemetery in Tarpon Springs.
        His wife, Adeline, became the head of household and lived to May 25, 1959. She is buried in Okeechobee's Evergreen Cemetery. Near her gravesite is a Florida Historical Marker honoring her pioneer parents, Peter and Louisiana Raulerson.
        Today, many ghost towns founded with utopian dreams of paradise are scattered across America. Lake Okeechobee's Utopia became one of these memories from the past.
(c.) Davidsson. 2017. 
*NOTE: A print version of this article was published in the Dec. 28 edition of the Okeechobee News. Read also "God's 'Chosen' City on Lake Okeechobee" archived in Older Posts.    

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 1914.
        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. The agricultural community that was established a few miles east of the canal was known as "Hillsboro". In the year 1918, it was incorporated as the new City of Belle Glade.
        After discharging from Lake Okeechobee, canal water follows a southeast path to the southern border of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, then moves 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 of two articles about the county's ghost rivers which no longer exist. See additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.