A Rich Historical Heritage

The "Origins & History of the Palm Beaches" digital archive contains 40 original full-text articles profiling the history of Palm Beach County. The archive is a companion site to "Palm Beach County Issues & Views." Both sites are edited by Robert I. Davidsson, author of the book "Indian River: A History of the Ais Indians in Spanish Florida" and related articles about Florida's past. This archive is the winner of the Florida Historical Society's 2020 Hampton Dunn Digital Media Award.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Table of Contents and Introduction to Our History

TABLE OF CONTENTS - History of the Palm Beaches Articles

I. The First 'Palm Beachers'
  • The Jeaga Indians of 'Aboioa': 1513. (Article Posted  in Archive - July 2015)
  • Uncovering the History of the Santaluces Indians. (January 2015)
  • A History of the Tequesta Indians in Boca Raton. (June 2016)
  • Palm Beach County's Ancient Transit Networks. (February 2018)
II. Conquistadors, Pirates and Explorers
  • Navidad at Fort Santa Lucia: 1565-66. (December 2014)
  • Dutch Privateers Prowl the Treasure Coast: 1627-28. (August 2018)
  • The British Expedition to the Hobe River: 1772. (April 2018)
III. The Palm Beaches During the Seminole Wars
  • Cha-chi's Village Rests Beneath West Palm Beach. (December 2014)
  • Fort McRae: A Frontier Outpost on Lake Okeechobee. (December 2018)
  • Samuel Colt Tests New Repeating Rifles at Fort Jupiter. (January 2019)
  • The Last Campaign of Major William Lauderdale. (October 2016)
  • The U.S. Navy's Expedition to Lake Okeechobee: 1842. (April 2016)
  • Fort Jupiter During the Third Seminole War: 1855-58. (November 2018)
IV. The Civil War and the War with Spain
  • Civil War Blockade Runners at the Jupiter Inlet. (May 2015)
  • Palm Beaches Used as Confederacy's Last Hideout. (March 2015)
  • The Palm Beaches During the Spanish-American War: 1898. (May 2017)
V. Natural History and Geography of Palm Beach County
  • The Changing Geographic Face of Palm Beach County. (August. 2017)
  • A Long and Winding History of the Hillsboro River. (November 2017)
  • Democrat River: Belle Glade's Everglades Gateway. (October 2017)
  • County's History Unearthed in Shellrock Mining Pits. (April 2018)
VI. Early Settlers and Settlements in the Palm Beaches
  • Welcome to Historic Downtown 'Figulus': 1881-93. (February 2016)
  • Pioneer Creates 'Utopia' Along Lake Okeechobee. (December 2017)
  • The Short Life and Sudden End of God's 'Chosen' City. (July 2016)
  • The Life and Times of Palm Beaches' Alligator Joe. (July 2017)
  • Mango Grove Shaped Early History of Mangonia Park. (July 2018.)
  • Glades, Lake Worth Share 'Father of Sugar's' Legacy. (January 2019) 
VII. World War on the Shores of the Palm Beaches
  • 'Battle of the Atlantic' Comes to the Palm Beaches. (November 2015)
  • Wartime POW's, Spy Reports in Palm Beach County. (February 2017)
  • U.S.S. Jupiter Became America's First Aircraft Carrier. (August 2015)
VIII. Landmarks and Historic Sites
  • True Tale of Captain Gus and the Old Palm Beach Pier. (December 2016)
  • John Prince's Memorial: A County Park for the People. (January 2017)
  • Local Shipwreck Site One of 17 'Museums of the Sea'. (April 2017)
  • WPB Episcopal Church Becomes Historic Landmark. (November 2018)
  • Historic WPB Medical Lab Fought Disease Epidemics. (June 2018)
  • U.S. 27: County's Highway of Sugar, Blood and Hope. (May 2018)
  • Many County Roads Honor the Famous or the Obscure. (May 2018)
  • Local Church Has Its Roots in Arctic 'Saami' Ministry. (March 1917)
  • Summer of 'Rockreation' in Palm Beach County: 1970. (Sept. 2018)
IX. Hurricanes, Monsters and Myths
  • Inside the Eye of Hurricane Cleo: 1964. (March 2016)
  • Last Voyage of the SS Inchulva Off Delray Beach. (August 2016)
  • 'Muck Monster' Legend Becomes Part of Our History. (October 2016)
  • Close Encounters with Cryptid 'Skunk Apes': 1972-78, (October 2018)
  • Digging Up the Haunted History of the Palm Beaches. (September 2016)
X. Prologue (Below)
  • Palm Beachers Adjust to Life with Their Neighbor - Donald Trump. (Below)

INTRODUCTION: The Palm Beaches Yesterday and Today
        The "Palm Beaches" is a common regional name for the communities located within the geographical borders of Palm Beach County, FL.
         There are seven cities that share the name "Palm Beach," as well as the coastal barrier island. The exclusive Town of Palm Beach, incorporated in April 1911, claims original title to the moniker due to the opening of a post office by that name in January 1887. However, its larger neighbor across the Lake Worth Lagoon, West Palm Beach, was actually founded 17 years earlier in November 1894.
        The other communities sharing the name Palm Beach are South Palm Beach, founded in 1955, North Palm Beach (1956), Palm Beach Gardens (1959), Royal Palm Beach (1959) and Palm Beach Shores (1951). The Palm Beaches also includes a Palm Springs, incorporated in 1957.
        To accommodate cities not sharing the name Palm Beach, such as Boca Raton, Jupiter and Wellington, a public relations guru once created the title of the "Greater Palm Beaches" to encompass the entire county.
        Neither greater nor lesser, the rural Everglades communities of Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay, located along the southeast shore of Lake Okeechobee, have always had a identity separate from the coastal Palm Beaches. They share a history as rich and diverse as their more affluent neighbors along the Atlantic coast.
        Palm Beach County itself was established in 1909 and is considered a youthful geographic entity in the timeline of history. However, its native American inhabitants date back nearly 7,000 years.
        This history of the Palm Beaches will lead the reader from the time of the Jeaga, Santaluces and Tequesta Indians forward to the present day through a series of articles profiling little-known people, places and events that shaped the region's future.
        The historical trail is marked and outlined for you, the reader, to follow.
(c.) Davidsson. 2019. 

PROLOGUE: 'Palm Beachers Adjust to Life with Their Neighbor - Donald Trump'

        It is a Wednesday afternoon and local news stations make the announcement that President Donald Trump is planning a weekend visit to his "Winter White House" at the historic Mar-a-lago mansion in the Town of Palm Beach. It was schedule repeated throughout the trump presidency from November 2016 through Jan. 20, 2021.
        It was necessary for the White House to announce the President's travel plans in advance so Palm Beach County, the City of West Palm Beach and the Town of Palm Beach can prepare for road closures, traffic control and security prior to his arrival on Friday afternoon. After four years of presidential visits, local governments learned what to expect:
       * 12 p.m. Friday: Security checkpoints are set up by local law enforcement agencies on the east side of the Southern Boulevard Bridge in West Palm Beach, and just north and south of Mar-a-lago on State Road A1A in Palm Beach. The checkpoints are covered by canvass pavilions to protect the officers from the relentless South Florida sun during the three-day visit.
        During the President's visits, the Town of Palm Beach is essentially split in two. The only north-south highway, A1A, is closed to traffic in front of Mar-a-lago. Residents living in the southern third of the island city, and all service vehicles, must cross the bridge to the mainland, drive through West Palm Beach then cross the Lake Worth Lagoon a second time at the two northern bridges.
        There are no national news media satellite trucks stationed inside the Mar-a-lago security zone. Reporters broadcast their reports from Howard Park in West Palm Beach and other remote locations.
        * 4 p.m. Friday: Two small U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats, each armed with a 50-caliber machine gun in its bow, arrive from their Port of Palm Beach base and assume their stations in the lagoon along the bayside of Mar-a-lago. Offshore of the Winter White House, in the Atlantic ocean, a Coast Guard cutter is posted during presidential visits.
        Nautical sightseers hoping to catch a view of President Trump by sea are quickly escorted out of the area by the Coast Guard. Fishermen also are discouraged from dropping their lines too close to Mar-a-lago.
        * 4:30 p.m. Friday: A Palm Beach Sheriff's Office (PBSO) helicopter patrols the air space over Mar-a-lago in advance of the President's arrival. It circles the area for about 30 minutes then returns to the Palm Beach International (PBI) Airport.
        Prior to the arrival and departure of  "Air Force One," PBI is shut down. There are no commercial or general aviation flights allowed as the President's 747 jet nears the airport.
        After his arrival at Mar-a-lago, commercial fights are diverted northeast of the mansion and pass over downtown West Palm Beach until Air Force One departs on Sunday night. Military aircraft will intercept violators of the designated presidential air space in Palm Beach County.
        The election of Trump as President ended a 20-year legal battle between the owner of Mar-a-lago and Palm Beach County over the routing of commercial air traffic over his estate. The east-west takeoff and landing pattern has passed over Mar-a-lago since the days when PBI was the Morrison Army Air Corps Field during World War II.
        Trump filed a $100 million lawsuit against PBI and the county for damages caused by air traffic over his historic mansion. Ironically, since air traffic is not allowed over Mar-a-lago when the President is in residence, the lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed in 2016.
        A PBSO motorcycle officer stops at the bridge tender's station on the Southern Blvd. Bridge. The old bridge has been dismantled and is temporarily replaced by a "lift bridge" made of iron and steel until a permanent structure is built. Yachts and sailboats on the Lake Worth Lagoon must delay their passage under the bridge until after the President's arrival.
        * 5:30 p.m. Friday: Air Force One arrives at the PBI general aviation facility on the south side of the airport. News media and a small group of Trump supporters, screened by security, greet the President at the airport.
       A motorcade of more than 40 local law enforcement motorcycles and patrol cars, emergency medical vehicles and Secrete Service black SUVs, one of which will carry the President, are prepared in advance for his arrival. Although Mar-a-lago now has a designated pad for Marine helicopters, convoys are used during most visits.
        After four years of the Trump presidency, both protestors and supporters were well aware of the President's travel route. Barricades and local law enforcement are placed at locations where crowds gather to view the motorcade and make their opinions known through a variety of signs, chants and cat-calls.
        The three-mile journey between PBI and Mar-a-lago is a direct route east along Southern Blvd. (S.R. 98). The highway is closed to traffic. After crossing the Southern Blvd and Bingham Island bridges, the caravan will arrive on the island of Palm Beach and enter the gate of the walled Winter White House.
        Prior to their arrival at Mar-a-lago, the President's motorcade passes over the "Marjorie Merriweather Post Memorial Causeway" located between the two bridges. The Post cereal heiress built Mar-a-lago between 1924-27 at a cost of $90 million in today's dollars.
         Mrs. Post willed the estate to the federal government as an historic site prior to her death in 1973. However, due to the high cost of its maintenance, the mansion was returned to her family in 1981. After several failed attempts to sell the property, it was obtained by Trump for less than $8 million, including the many antiques found in the mansion.
        The future President renovated the property by creating a private club in 1995 to finance the upkeep of the estate, complete with a 20,000-square-foot ballroom for dining and entertainment events, a new waterfront pool and tennis courts.
        The President's motorcade arrives safely at Mar-a-lago. Above the Winter White House, he is greeted by hundreds of black turkey vultures, winter visitors from the north, that often circle the mansion in preparation of their nightly roost on the nearby Audubon Islands Sanctuary.
        For two days the President is free to party with friends at the Mar-a-lago Club's "Donald J. Trump Ballroom," entertain foreign heads of state, or play golf with Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus at the "Trump International Golf Club" located on leased county land four miles to the west on the mainland.
        * 5 p.m. Sunday: The security motorcade assembles at Mar-a-lago. The President is returning to the White House in Washington, D.C. The Coast Guard vessels return to their base. Palm Beach County prepares its bill for providing security.  For resident Palm Beachers, life will soon return to normal.
        UPDATE: President Trump changed his residency from New York to Florida in November 2019. Since Mar-a-lago was rezoned as a private club, neighbors are questioning whether the former President can use it as his permanent residency after Jan. 20 2021.
(c.) Davidsson. 2020.

*NOTE: Read full-text articles below and posted by dates in the Blog Archive.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Glades, Lake Worth Share 'Father of Sugar's' Legacy

By Bob Davidsson
        A pioneer once known as the "Father of the Sugar Industry" in western Palm Beach County also designed and promoted the town site for what became the City of Lake Worth.
        Frederick Edward "F.E." Bryant (1875-1946) emigrated from England in 1894 to study American agricultural techniques. He established a dairy farm in Colorado with his brother, Harold J. Bryant.
        While visiting South Florida in 1909, F.E. Bryant decided to stake his future in the development of agriculture in the Everglades. He established the Palm Beach Farms Corporation with his brother to farm the rich soil in Palm Beach County.
        To prevent the chronic flooding of agricultural and residential lands, Bryant became a founding member of the Lake Worth Drainage District (LWDD). The LWDD was created June 15, 1915, under the authority of the Florida Legislature's 1913 General Drainage laws, with the mission of "providing improvements for the purpose of making the area habitable for both settlement and agriculture."

The Bryants Design the Future of Lake Worth
        Following the death of her husband, Samuel, pioneer landowner and former African slave Fannie James sold her holdings in what became the downtown core area of the future City of Lake Worth to the Bryants' Palm Beach Farms Company.
        By the time Lake Worth was incorporated in June 1913, the Bryant brothers had already created the blueprint used for future growth. In the summer of 1912, the Bryants completed a platted survey of the town. It included 55 miles of streets and 7,000 residential lots ranging from 25 to 50 feet in width.
        The small city lots were purposely designed as part of a sales campaign by the Bryant brothers and partner William Greenwood. In 1910, F.E. Bryant purchased large tracts of farmland in the Glades. He sold these sections of land  to investors with small town plots in Lake Worth offered as a bonus incentive.
        The five-acre rural farm tracts sold for $250, including the 25-foot city lot incentives. The Bryant and Greenwood company promoted their development plan nationwide, and sponsored a land auction in 1912. Some of the rural tracts purchased by out-of-state investors were in submerged marshland, which in an unexpected way spurred growth in Lake Worth as new residents were forced to live in their city lots.
        A platted strip of land along the Lake Worth Lagoon was left undeveloped for a future park. It was named Bryant Park in honor of the early developers who promoted the City of Lake Worth.
        Today, Bryant Park extends about six blocks along the shore of the Intracoastal Waterway, south of Lake Avenue. The waterfront park features a covered band shell with seating, one-mile heart trail, public boat ramps, fishing pier, picnic pavilion and playground.

Bryant Creates the Community of Azucar (Sugar)
        During World War I, America experienced a shortage of sugar and was dependent on foreign sources. F.E. Bryant lobbied the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build an experimental sugarcane field station at Canal Point. It continues to serve the agricultural community today.
        Bryant and partner G.T. Anderson formed the Florida Sugar and Food Products Company in 1921. The same year, Bryant built the county's first sugar mill east of Pahokee.
        The farming entrepreneur named this first sugar plantation "Azucar" - the Spanish word for sugar. Bryant envisioned a model farming community for the mainly black sugarcane workers.
        He funded the Beulah Land School (founded in 1909) at Azucar through a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Foundation for the children of the African-American farm workers. The school was renamed Azucar in 1914, and became the Bryant School for grades one through eight in 1941. It closed its doors in 1966.
        Bryant merged his Florida Sugar and Food Products Company with the Southern Sugar Company to raise capital for his agricultural projects during the 1920s. The Southern Sugar Company, in turn, was purchased by automobile tire magnate and General Motors executive Charles Mott during the Great Depression, resulting in the creation of U.S. Sugar in April 1931.
        Bryant served as the superintendent of the Eastern Division of U.S. Sugar, and as a company vice president until his death in 1946.
        In 1934, Bryant built a white two-story mansion at Azucar that became known as the "Bryant House". It was used by family members and visiting guests of U.S. Sugar while they were in the Glades.
        After his death, the Bryant House changed ownership. His former mansion was badly damaged during Hurricane Wilma in 2005. The property was taken over by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2011. The remaining ruins of the Bryant mansion were demolished on June 27, 2016.
        F.E. Bryant also resided  with his wife, Minnie (born 1880), in the Town of Palm Beach during the 1930s and 1940s, setting a precedent for future sugar tycoons. His residence was located at 434 Sea Spray Ave. in Palm Beach.
        Bryant died Dec. 6, 1946 at the age of 72. U.S. Sugar renamed the unincorporated community of Azucar as "Bryant" in his honor, and placed a memorial plaque at the site.
        The memorial reads, "Mr. Bryant established Azucar and began the development of sugar production in the Everglades."
        "His foresight and courage, vision and fortitude, were largely responsible for successful development of the upper Glades," the plaque states. "His qualities as a leader and humanitarian will always be remembered by those who knew him."
        The "Bryant Sugar House" mill opened in the rural community in 1962. At that time, it was the largest sugarcane processing plant in the world. The Bryant mill closed in 2007.
        Today, the community of Bryant is one of many ghost towns in the Glades. A drive along Old Connor Road (off U.S. 98) will lead you to the skeletal remains of the sugar mill and overgrown streets that once served the homes of the sugarcane workers.       
(c.) Davidsson, 2019.
*NOTE:  Article also reprinted with permission in the Feb. 6, 2019 edition of "Okeechobee News". See additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Samuel Colt Tests Repeating Rifles at Ft. Jupiter: 1838

By Bob Davidsson
        On March 11, 1838, firearms inventor and innovator Samuel Colt (1814-62) arrived at Fort Jupiter and tested his new repeating rifle amid rave reviews by its Army officers and garrison.
        Gen. Thomas Sidney Jesup, the Army commander in Florida, and the field officers at Fort Jupiter who tested Colt's revolutionary rapid-fire rifle, believed the new firearm could have ended the prolonged Second Seminole War (1835-42) if a contract was approved by Congress to arm the troops with the innovative weapon.
        It didn't happen. Instead, the Indian war dragged on for four more years to an inconclusive ending, resulting in hundreds of needless deaths, mainly caused by diseases in the subtropical climate.
        The missed opportunity by Congress to arm its troops with a superior weapon is even more amazing due to the fact that Army field tests and supporting correspondence from Fort Jupiter was entered into the Congressional record for the first session of the 26th Congress.
        Colt's production of the first "Model Ring Level" revolving cylinder repeating rifle began in 1837 at his Patent Arms Manufacturing Company factory in Patterson, N.J. It was produced in tandem with the Colt-Patterson handgun, the first commercial pistol with a revolving cylinder. The design was patented on Feb. 25, 1836 and remained in production until 1842.
        The eight-shot revolving cylinder in Colt's repeating rifle allowed a trained soldier to fire 16 shots in 30 seconds, as compared to a maximum of two shots fired from the standard Army musket in use during the Seminole wars.
        In the winter of 1838, Colt petitioned the federal government for an Army contract to mass produce his patented rifle. A seven-member military review board in Washington, D.C.,  gave the firearm an unfavorable ruling in March for what it cited as a "lack of durability".

Samuel Colt's Field Tests at Fort Jupiter: 1838
        Undeterred, Colt requested a second review, and immediately set sail for the Jupiter Inlet to test his unconventional weapon in field conditions at the newly built Fort Jupiter. He arrived at Fort Jupiter, the temporary headquarters of General Jesup's army, on March 11 with 100 of his new Model Ring Level rifles and several Colt-Patterson revolvers.
        In the 19th century biography, "Armsmear: The Home, The Arms, The Armory of Samuel Colt: A Memorial," author Henry Bernard reported, "Colt passed a hard winter among the Florida swamps and Everglades, but made the acquaintance of many officers, some of whom were lifelong friends."
        The field tests for Colt's repeating rifles were conducted by Captains William Thompkins, John Graham and William Fulton of the Second Dragoons regiment at Fort Jupiter. The rifles were tested for force, accuracy, penetration, celerity of fire, exposure to the weather, and safety.
        The Colt rifle passed all six experiments. The panel of officers sent their findings to Congress in a review entitled "The Report of the Board of Officers of the Second Dragoons for the Trial of Samuel Colt's Repeating Rifle."
        The report concluded, "The board would express, as their opinion, that 100 or more of these rifles, as they now are, might be placed  in the hands of soldiers now to be found in the Second Regiment of Dragoons, who, when occasion offered, might be formed into one or more companies, that could be employed  on some emergency with greatest efficiency."
        "And it is firmly the opinion of the board," the three officers reported, "that when this firearm is once introduced, and its superiority over every other weapon known, it will be universally used."
       General Jesup, who was stationed with his army at Fort Jupiter during the winter of 1838, was so impressed with Colt's repeating rifle that he outfitted a company of the Second Dragoons with 50 of Colt's firearms - the first used by the U.S. Army in a field of battle.
        The general personally authorized the purchase for $125 per rifle, or a total agreed price of $6,250. Colt also sold several of his early model Colt-Patterson revolving handguns to officers for their personal use.
        Sgt. P.W. Henry of the Second Dragoons was one of the noncommissioned officers using the experimental rifle at Fort Jupiter. He reported to its inventor, "When passing through Indian country, I always felt myself safer with one of your rifles in my hands, then if I was attended by a body of 10 or 15 men armed with the common musket or carbine."
        A leading advocate for Colt's repeating rifle was Lt. Col. William Harney of the Second Dragoons. Harney served as the garrison commander at Fort Jupiter during its construction in 1838. In a February 1839 letter to Colt, he predicted, "It is my honest opinion that no other guns than those of your invention will be used in a few years."
        After a company of his Second Dragoons was armed with the repeating rifles, Col. Harney overoptimistically reported, "I honestly believed but for these arms, the Indians would now be luxuriating in the Everglades."
        The Seminoles held captive at Fort Jupiter, following the January 1838 Battle of Loxahatchee, observed the testing of Colt's Model Ring Level rifles. They called the new weapon "great medicine."
        Ironically, less than two years after the repeating rifle was tested, Col. Harney allowed 14 of the weapons to fall into the hands of  hostile Seminoles when his patrol was ambushed near the Caloosahatchee River while en route from Fort Brooke to Fort Myers.
        Col. Harney and his men were forced to flee, leaving behind the 14 Colt patent rifles obtained at Fort Jupiter, six carbines, one keg of powder and percussion caps. Fortunately for the U.S. Army, the Seminoles lacked a source of ammunition for the repeating rifles, and thus they were useless.

A Castaway, Bankruptcy and His Rise to Fame and Fortune
        Colt's return voyage from the Jupiter Inlet to Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1838 became a disaster for the inventor, his new invention, and his firearms company.
        In "Samuel Colt: A Memorial," biographer Henry Bernard states, "On the 10th of April 1838, while going from Fort Jupiter to St. Augustine, the vessel was delayed by head winds, and Colonel Colt with two other gentlemen and a crew of four, started from her in a small boat for the beach."
        "When about a mile from it," the memoir continues, "the boat swamped among the breakers. Thus he lost all his baggage, and was himself four hours in the water, until assistance came from the shore, narrowing escaping with his life."
        "He was at the same time so unfortunate as to lose his pocketbook, containing among other papers, a government draft belonging to the company, which occasioned much serious inconvenience and blame, a long time elapsing before it could be replaced," the narrative concludes.
        Colt spent the remainder of 1838 and 1839 in Washington, D.C., replacing lost documents and lobbying Congress to approve an order for his repeating rifle. In May 1840, a second board of U.S. Army officers voted unanimously in favor of an arms contract.
        However, before Congress could reach a decision, Colt's Patent Arms Manufacturing Company factory closed due to lack of funds. He was forced to declare bankruptcy. The New Jersey-based factory produced 1,456 revolving cylinder rifles and carbines, 462 shotguns and 2,300 revolver handguns between 1836-42, but without a government military contract, the company could not remain solvent.
        Due to his company's insolvency, the U.S. Commission on Military Affairs suspended further consideration of  Colt's patented repeating rifles. The inventor discontinued future designs for rotating cylinder rifles, and instead reorganized his "Patents Arms Company" for the manufacture of revolving handguns, which became known as "revolvers".
        The new Republic of Texas placed a major order for the second generation of Colt-Patterson revolvers, which were soon adopted by the Texas Rangers. During the Mexican War (1846-48), Gen. Zachary Taylor dispatched Ranger Captain Samuel Walker to meet with Colt to discuss design improvements.
        The resulting Colt-Walker revolver had greater range and fire power. It was used by the elite U.S. Mounted Rifles, consisting of Texas Rangers and volunteers, throughout the remainder of the war. The battle-tested Colt revolvers earned their place in the U.S. military arsenal.
        During the Civil War, the Colt Patent Arms Company filled military orders for both the Union and Confederacy. His revolvers became a standard weapon for officers and cavalry troopers in both armies.
        When Colt died of "inflammatory rheumatism" (complications from gout) on June 10, 1862, he was one of the wealthiest men in America. His company and "Armsmear" mansion were inherited by his son.
        Colt firearms continued to play an important role in U.S. history after his death. The Colt Single Action Army Revolver - popularly known as the "Peacemaker" - was introduced in 1873 and continued in production until 1892. It was widely used by lawmen and Army units along America's frontier, earning the title of  "The Gun That Won the West".
(c.) Davidsson. 2019.
*NOTE: This is the third in a trilogy of local articles about the Seminole Wars. See additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Fort McRae: A Frontier Outpost on Lake Okeechobee

By Bob Davidsson
        Fort McRae was a hastily built wooden frontier outpost on Lake Okeechobee serving the U.S. Army as a supply depot and reconnaissance reporting station during both the Second and Third Seminole Indian Wars.
        It was one of only two blockhouses built by the Army to observe movements by the Seminole tribe around the big lake. Fort McRae was established about five miles north of Port Mayaca in Martin County. Its sister outpost, Fort Center, was a stockade built 40 miles due west across the lake near the mouth of Fisheating Creek in Glades County.
        Based upon later 19th century reports, the ruins of Fort McRae were located on the Okeechobee Ridge, a natural barrier that formed the original shoreline of the lake. The ridge separated the lake from low marshlands to the east. A small stream entered Lake Okeechobee near the fort, according to 1838 military maps.
        A May 20, 1882, article published in Jacksonville's "Florida Dispatch" newspaper, entitled "Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee Canal," provided a detailed description of the topography of the land near the ruins of Fort McRae during the late 19th century.
        "On the east side of Lake Okeechobee is Fort McRae, the newspaper reported, "which is on the borders of the lake and inside the sawgrass, which is two miles wide. The country is low prairie, with cypress, pine and cabbage palmetto islands."
        "From Fort McRae, north to the mouth of the Kissimmee (River), there is a large body of hammock bays, that are immensely rich, covered with live oak, red bay, cypress and cabbage palmetto," the article concludes.
       The history element of the "Dupuis Natural Area Future Management Plan, 2008-13, describes Fort McRae as "little more than a rough cabbage palm trunk stockade designed to store supplies and house a small garrison to defend the supplies."
        In fact, there is much more to report about the history of Fort McRae and the people who built and served in the frontier outpost during two Indian wars.

Fort McRae in the Second Seminole War
        Fort McRae was built as a supply encampment during Gen. Thomas Sidney Jesup's failed winter campaign of 1837-8 to bring the Second Seminole War (1835-42) to a close. His military strategy was to trap hostile Seminoles in a pincer movement between his east coast and interior armies. The plan almost worked.
        As Jesup advanced south from Fort Pierce, down the Indian River to the Jupiter Inlet, a second force under the command of Col. Zachary Taylor moved south along the east bank of the Kissimmee River to the north shore of Lake Okeechobee. The Seminoles made their stand near a stream that would later be named Taylor Creek
        The ensuing Battle of Okeechobee was fought on Christmas Day, 1837. It was a pyrrhic victory for the U.S. Army. The federal troops and militia won the field of battle, but sustained higher casualties and allowed their hostile adversaries to escape along the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee.
        Col. Taylor pursued the Seminoles as far south as the ancient Big Mound City site in western Palm Beach County before halting his offensive. Along his march, he ordered the construction of the supply depot that was christened Fort McRae.
        For the past 180 years there has been uncertainty and confusion about the naming of the military post. Who exactly was "McRae"? Adding to the confusion were two other military bases in Florida sharing the same name.
        The best known Fort McRae (or McRee) guarded the entrance to Pensacola Bay during the Civil War. For a brief period, there also was a blockhouse named Fort McRae near the Turtle Mound site in Volusia County during the Second Seminole War.
        No military document has been found recording the dedication of Fort McRae. Based upon the Army's tradition of naming forts in honor of fallen war heroes, it is likely the outpost was named for Major Archibald McRae of the Second Brigade, Florida Volunteers.
       Captain McRae of Hamilton County enlisted with the Mounted Company, Second Regiment of the East Florida Volunteers on June 20, 1837. His enlistment document  stated he joined the state militia with two servants and three horses.
        McRae was promoted to the rank of major on July 20. His Florida Volunteers joined Col. Taylor Nov. 29 during his winter offensive. The militia officer was one of the casualties of this campaign.
        After the Battle of Okeechobee, the Seminoles retreated before Col. Taylor's force and eluded their pursuers in the Loxahatchee Slough. They joined several other bands west of the Jupiter Inlet in time to fight in the Battle of Loxahatchee against advance units of General Jesup's eastern army on Jan. 24, 1838.
        Once again the Seminoles were forced into a temporary refuge in the Loxahatchee Slough, with Col. Taylor to the west, General Jesup to the north, and a new "Military Trail" cleared to their east by Major William Lauderdale during his advance south to the New River.
        General Jesup offered the Seminoles enticements if they surrendered at the newly built Fort Jupiter. Medicine chief Sam Jones (Abaika) flatly refused, and slipped past the Army's tightening pincer with his followers into the sanctuary of the Everglades. However, 527 Indians, the majority women and children, surrendered at Fort Jupiter. They were transported to St. Augustine then deported to Oklahoma.
        In February 1838, Lt. W.G. Freeman, the officer in charge of the Seminole captives, was so concerned about the number of prisoners overflowing available facilities at Fort Jupiter that he sent 100 Indians under escort to Fort McRae. They were detained at the outpost until transports arrived to deport them.
        General Jesup's failure to end the conflict resulted in his reassignment in May 1838. He was replaced by none other than Zachary Taylor, who likewise failed to win the Seminole war after two years as the Army's commanding officer in Florida.
        Unlike Jesup, Taylor escaped the endless war with his reputation intact. He was hailed as the hero of the Battle of Okeechobee, received a promotion to the rank of general, and earned the endearing public moniker of "Old Rough and Ready." The Florida war was a stepping stone on the trail leading to his election as President of United States in 1848.
        As for Fort McRae, its usefulness as a supply base waned as the Army discontinued large military campaigns in favor of small raids by picked units. The post was abandoned and fell into disrepair before the end of the war in 1842.
        Capt. Martin Burke of the 3rd Artillery Regiment used the deserted outpost, which he described as the "old palmetto fortification" of Fort McRae, as a base of operations for three days during his September 1841 expedition to Lake Okeechobee.
        In February 1842, Navy Lt. John Rodgers led an expedition of 87 sailors and marines to the site of Fort McRae. Midshipman George Preble described the event in his "Diary of a Canoe Expedition into the Everglades."
        "At 4:30 p.m. (Feb. 22, 1842), left the Everglades," his diary states, "passed through a narrow belt of cypress swamp, hauled (the canoes) over a sandy ridge, and launched our canoes in the waters of Lake Okeechobee or Big Water."
        "We camped under what was once Fort Dulray (McRae)," the midshipman reported, "a cabbage tree log fortress. The lake spread before us, and to the west the sun went down, no land visible."
Fort McRae in the Third Seminole War, 1855-58
        The same year the Second Seminole War ended, Congress passed the "Armed Occupation Act of 1842" as an incentive to encourage settlers to move into the thinly populated Florida peninsula. The act granted 100 acres of unsettled land to any head of a family.
        Some of the grants were on land formerly occupied by the Seminole nation. The tribe was not consulted prior to the passage of the act. Many members of Congress and the Florida Legislature hoped new settlements would pressure the Seminoles to move to reservations in Oklahoma.
        In the months prior to the renewal of the Seminole war, the U.S. Army further pressured the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes by reactivating Forts McRae and Jupiter on the fringes of their Everglades sanctuary. The "Memoir of Lt. Col. John T. Greble," published by author Benson J. Lossim in 1870, describes the rebuilding of Fort McRae.
        The Memoir states, "Late in February (1855) Lt. Greble was ordered to Fort McRae, on the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee, where a blockhouse was being built. He left Fort Myers with 10 men."
        "The journey by land and water was wearisome," the Memoir continues. "They went up the Caloosahatchee to Fort Thompson, thence across the wet prairie to Fisheating Creek, and down the stream into and across Lake Okeechobee, a sheet of water covering about 1,200 square miles. They had a rough and perilous voyage across it, and found inhospitable camping grounds on its margin, for dreary swamps pressed close upon its border."
        "They reached Fort McRae in safety and were then joined by another party detached for similar duty. The blockhouse was soon built, and the eastern shore of the lake explored and mapped," the Memoir concludes, "and Lt. Greble and his party returned by the way they went, reaching Fort Myers on the fifteenth of March."
          The Greble Memoir is supported by a military record entitled "A Letter from Brevet Col. John Munroe to Col. Samuel Cooper and Col. Lorenzo Thomas, Fort Brooke, July 15, 1855." The report summarizes the second expedition sent to Fort McRae for its restoration.
        "After having established his command at Fort Deynaud." the report states, "Major Mays will detach an officer with a party of men to construct a blockhouse upon the Fisheating Creek, near the site of old Fort Centre. Another blockhouse will also be constructed upon the east side of Lake Okeechobee and as far south as practicable."
        "While these operations were being carried on south of the Caloosahatchee, the military record continues, "blockhouses had been constructed near the sites of old Forts McRae and Centre by a detachment under command of Captain Allen and Lt. Vincent, 2nd Artillery, the former completed early in April and the latter in February (1855), and both were garrisoned until the season was so far advanced as to render their temporary abandonment advisable."
         Military posts during the Seminole wars were abandoned and reoccupied based upon the season of the year and needs of military commanders. The campaign season was fall, winter and spring. Due to diseases spread by insects, garrisons were often reassigned during the summer months.
        Fort Denaud, located on the Caloosahatchee River, served as the supply base for the Lake Okeechobee outposts at Forts McRae and Center. Fort Brooke, built in 1824, was the main base of operations for west coast and interior regions of Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades during the Third Seminole War. Fort McRae was supplied by boats sent from Fort Denaud.
        The Army sent armed surveying expeditions into the Everglades sanctuaries of the Seminole tribe. One surveying unit raided a plantation owned by Chief Billy Bowlegs, which sparked the beginning of Third Seminole War in December 1855.
        During the war, Fort McRae was garrisoned by a company of the Florida Mounted Volunteers. As the war progressed, the U.S. Army relied heavily on Florida militia units to man its outposts. During the seven-year Second Seminole War, for example, 6,854 Florida volunteers were activated as U.S. militia units.
        The Army's plan of action was to confine the Seminoles to the Everglades in South Florida by building a chain of forts, spaced about 20 miles apart, between the Jupiter Inlet and the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. From east to west, garrisons were posted in Forts Jupiter, McRae,  Shackleford, Center, Thompson, Denaud,  Myers and Dulaney.
        Communications between its scattered Army outposts was key to the success of military operations during the Third Seminole War. The route used between Forts McRae and Jupiter is described in the April 1856 "Memoir to Accompany a Military Map of the Peninsula of Florida South of Tampa Bay," published for use by the U.S. Department of War.
        The 26-page report includes the following narrative: "The only continuous route between the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee and Fort Jupiter, that has so far been traversed and reported upon, leads nearly west from Fort McRae to the General Eustis Road and along that road to the fort."
        Gen. Abraham Eustis (1786 - 1843) served as an Army surveyor and military mapmaker in Florida. He supervised the construction of several Florida military roads later used during the Second and Third Seminole Wars.
        "The old bridge at the crossing of the Lochahatchee (Loxahatchee River) being now impractical, it is necessary to ford the stream at a place a mile above. The present site of Fort Jupiter being to the east of the new road leaves the old trail to the left and crosses the creek at a point three miles south of Fort Jupiter."
        "The crossing is easy, and the remainder of the distance is over good country," the 1856 Memoir concludes.
        The U.S. Department of War declared the Third Seminole War at an end on May 8, 1858, following the surrender and deportation of Seminole leader Billy Bowlegs (Holata Micco) to Oklahoma aboard the steam ship "Grey Cloud".
         The Army's network of forts, including Fort McRae, were abandoned to the elements. The wooden blockhouses became the domain of termites, with their ruins erased by wildfires and the ravages of time.
(c.) Davidsson, 2018.
 *NOTE: See related article about "Fort Jupiter" below, and additional articles archived in Older Posts.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Fort Jupiter During the Third Seminole War, 1855-58

By Bob Davidsson
        Unrelenting heat, an overextended supply line, swarms of mosquitoes and sand flies, debilitating "Jupiter Fever," and the constant threat of Indian raids made garrison duty at Fort Jupiter one of the least popular Army postings during the Third Seminole War, 1855-58.
        The Army post was the second to bear the name Fort Jupiter. The original Fort Jupiter was established in 1838 following two pitched battles near the Loxahatchee River between U.S. Army and Navy units against the Seminole tribe in the Second Seminole War, 1835-42.
         When the "Old Fort Jupiter"  was decommissioned at the end of the seven-year conflict in 1842, the Jupiter Inlet was without a military presence until Congress approved funding for a lighthouse in 1853. Lt. George G. Meade, an Army engineer, designed the brick and mortar tower and selected the site where construction began a year later.
         Work on the Jupiter Lighthouse was interrupted by renewed warfare between the United States and the Seminole nation on Dec. 20,1855. The direct cause of the Third Seminole War was a foolish raid on an Indian plantation by an Army surveying party deep in the Seminole's Everglades sanctuary.

The Building of 'New Fort Jupiter'
        In the months prior to the renewed hostilities, New York native Major Joseph A. Haskin and the First Artillery Regiment were stationed in Key West. Haskin received orders to sail to the Indian River Inlet with Company D and assume command of Fort Capron.
         Haskin was an 1839 West Point graduate. During the Mexican War, he was cited for bravery after losing his left arm in battle. Despite his disability, Haskin continued his military career until 1870, serving as the general officer in charge of artillery fortifications outside of Washington, D.C. during the Civil War.
        On Jan. 14, 1855, Major Haskin received a letter from Lt. Ambrose Powell "A.P." Hill reporting his observations about the best site for the construction of a second Fort Jupiter. Lt. Hill was sent from Fort Capron on a scouting mission to survey the inland water route to the Jupiter Inlet and report on the status of the old fort.
        He reported "Old Fort Jupiter" was "bare of timber and further away from the Jupiter bar (inlet) than the new post, which is a half a mile nearer, has a convenience of timber, good soil for gardening, loading and unloading of boats, and preferable to Old Fort Jupiter or any other location in the vicinity."
       After completing his mission, Lt. Hill was employed as an engineer-surveyor by the U.S. Coastal Survey from 1855-60. He joined the Confederate army a year later and served as one of General Robert E. Lee's division commanders during several of his campaigns.
        Major Haskin received orders from Col. Thomas Haines, assistant adjutant at the Headquarters of Troops in Fort Brooke, to sail south with Company D of the First Artillery and establish the new outpost. Its purpose was to observe the activities of Indians and provide protection to civilians during the construction of the Jupiter Lighthouse.
        The Feb. 2, 1855 orders for Major Haskin stated, "In accordance with instructions from the War Department, the Colonel Commander directs you to move with your command to Old Fort Jupiter, or such other point in the vicinity as you deem advisable."
        "It is hoped that after you arrive at Fort Jupiter," the letter concludes, "more frequent and expeditious communications may be established  with you via Fort Myers and Lake Okeechobee."
        An advance force of three officers an 38 enlisted men arrived at the Jupiter Inlet in February 1855 to begin construction of a stockade at the site recommended by Lt. Hill. Within eight months the garrison was at full strength, and a small contingent marched across the state to supplement the Army units at Fort Myers.
        A field artillery company in the 19th century consisted of 100 officers and enlisted men when under full authorized strength. The actual muster rolls were often less than the maximum. A company was commanded by a captain or "brevet major" in the case of Major Haskin.
        During most of the 1850s, Jupiter Inlet was sealed by sandbars and closed to shipping. Both Major Haskin and lighthouse workers had to use an inland water route to reach their destination.
        The route used by the Fort Jupiter garrison was to sail and paddle south of Fort Capron along the Indian River to the mouth of the St. Lucie River. They then had to navigate a torturous tangle of mangroves in a shallow estuary known as "the Narrows" until reaching Hobe Sound.
        In April 1856, Capt. A .A. Humphries and Lt. J. C. Ives of the U.S. Army Topographical Engineers published a 26-page "Memoir to Accompany a Military Map of the Peninsula of Florida South of Tampa Bay" for use by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis and the U.S. War Department during the Third Seminole War.
        The document contains a descriptive profile of the Jupiter Inlet and the military paths and waterways connecting Fort Jupiter to other outposts in southern Florida and west of Lake Okeechobee. The Memoir includes the route used by Major Haskin and the U.S. Army to supply Fort Jupiter.
        "The Sound (Hobe Sound) is sufficiently exposed to the wind to admit the use of sails," the Memoir states, "and is in most places easily navigated by vessels of four feet draught. It extends for eight miles to Jupiter River, from the mouth of which it is about two and half miles to the site of Fort Jupiter."
        "The total distance from Fort Capron to Fort Jupiter is 40 miles," the Memoir continues. "The Mackinac boats sometimes employed upon this route are said to be unsuitable for the transportation of troops and supplies between the two posts; having to lay by during high winds and under most favorable circumstances requiring four days to complete the trip."
        "The kind of vessel recommended, as likely most serviceable, is  a small sloop, not drawing over three feet in water fully loaded, and most after the pattern of the old surf boats used during the Mexican War at Vera Cruz," the Memoir concludes.

Life at the Second Fort Jupiter.
         Both the new Fort Jupiter and future Jupiter Lighthouse were built within the 9,088-acre Jupiter Military Reservation. The military zone was established during the Second Seminole War, and was located northwest of the inlet.
        The 1856 Military Memoir states, "Half a mile distant from the old fort, upon an eastern point made by the creek and river, is the new post, now called Fort Jupiter. Here the pine land is still more elevated and continues for five miles back; the timber coming down to the water's edge, and water itself being of sufficient depth for small boats, close to shore."
        "Abundance of wood, suitable for building purposes, can be conveniently obtained," the Memoir continues. "The soil is fertile. There is an excellent anchorage and a good place for loading and unloading boats, making the site at the present fort preferable  to that of the old one or any other location in the vicinity."
        A post office was established at the fort, and a mail carrier was assigned to carry correspondence between Forts Capron and Jupiter, and south to Cape Florida.
        The commencement of the Third Seminole War delayed work on the Jupiter Lighthouse for three years. Lt. Meade, the chief engineer for Florida's lighthouse projects, was so concerned about the safety of his civilian workers that he petitioned the Key West Navy Base commander for arms and ammunition on Jan. 7, 1856.
        Just 12 days later, Meade informed the U.S. Light House Board of his decision to store supplies for the Jupiter Lighthouse on Key Biscayne and "postpone for the present the commencement of the work." He then boarded a ship in Key West and departed Florida, never to return to the Jupiter Inlet.
        Seven years in the future, Meade would command the U.S. Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Gettysburg, and while serving under Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, continued to lead the army during the final two years of the Civil War.
       The garrison at Fort Jupiter patrolled the waterways in boats between Fort Capron to the north, and south to Fort Dallas near Miami, searching the lakes and rivers along these routes for Seminole encampments.
        The closing of the Jupiter Inlet by sandbars in the 1850s disrupted the natural tidal flows and flushing of its estuaries. As a result, some of the waterways near the fort became stagnant. Health conditions at the outpost were poor. The problem was analyzed and reported in the 1856 Memoir.
        "The closing of the inlet causes the locality - at other times salubrious - to be an unhealthy one," the Memoir states, "the water on the inside of the bar thus becoming fresh, and inducing a rapid growth of vegetable matter, which decaying taints the atmosphere and engenders disease."
        The disease cited in the Military Memoir was called "Jupiter Fever". The ailment encompassed a number of infectious diseases spread not by "the atmosphere," but by a plague of mosquitoes and sand flies at the fort. "Jupiter Fever" may have been an outbreak of malaria or possibly yellow fever.
        At one point it was reported 60 of the 68 soldiers in the garrison were listed on sick call. A visiting Army surgeon in May 1855 also reported two cases of "scorbutus" (scurvy) at Fort Jupiter caused by poor diet.
        Due to the unhealthy conditions at Fort Jupiter, its officers and enlisted men were often rotated between Fort Jupiter and Fort Capron, where there were better medical facilities and fewer insect carriers of disease.

Efforts to Open the Jupiter Inlet
        One solution to the unhealthy conditions at Fort Jupiter was to reopen the Jupiter Inlet. The garrison attempted  to dig a channel twice without success.
        The 1856 Military Memoir reported, "Objections exist to it (Fort Jupiter) now as a military position, from the fact that the inlet is closed, and the post rendered inaccessible from the sea to the smallest coasting vessels."
        According to the Memoir, the inlet stayed open until 1847, when it closed. During the year 1853 it briefly opened itself, but "remained in that condition only a short time."
        "In 1855, Major Haskin, First Artillery, in command of the post endeavored again to clear the channel," the Memoir reports. "Sand hills of considerable size which had accumulated were cut through, and the attempt would have doubtless been successful but for the low condition of water during an unusually dry year."
        "A small amount of labor expended under favorable circumstances would in all probability  effortlessly open the inlet," the Military Memoir concludes, "and render the harbor one of the best upon the eastern coast. At times it has admitted vessels drawing eight feet, and the entrance is protected from north winds by a ridge of rocks."
        In his history of the "First Regiment of Artillery," William L. Haskin, the son of Fort Jupiter's first commander, wrote the following commentary: "The Florida war brought little glory to any unit taking part in it. The climate was an enemy more successful than the Seminoles, and its victims counted not by single files, but by platoons if not battalions."
        In February 1858, Lt. Charles H. Webb of Company E, First Artillery, took command at Fort Jupiter during the final months of the Third Seminole War. The conflict was declared over by the U.S. Department of War on May 8, 1858, following the deportation of tribal leader Billy Bowlegs (Holata Micco) to Oklahoma on the steamer "Gray Cloud".
        It is estimated less than 300 Seminole and Miccosukee Indians remained in the Everglades. Fort Jupiter was permanently evacuated a short time after the war's end.
(c.) Davidsson, 2018.
*NOTE: This article also was published in the Nov. 29 edition of the Jupiter Courier and the Gannett/USA Today Treasure Coast Network. See additional articles archived below and in Olders Posts.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

WPB Episcopal Church Becomes Historic Landmark

By Bob Davidsson
        For more than 100 years, the St. Patrick's Episcopal Church has served the spiritual needs of its congregation in the predominately African-American Northwest Historic District of West Palm Beach.
        By an ordinance unanimously passed by the West Palm Beach City Commission on Oct. 22, the church itself became a municipal landmark by its inclusion on the city's Local Register of Historic Places. The city's staff recommendation states, "For the last 90 years, the church has served the community as a beacon of religious and community support."
        "St. Patrick's Episcopal Church derives its significance from its architectural style, its function as a religious organization with targeted community engagement, and its importance to the Northwest District," the city's staff report concludes.

Bahamian Community in the Palm Beaches
         Bahamian settlers and their descendants have been an important element in the history of the St. Patrick's Episcopal Church from its beginning.
        In the late 19th century, Bahamian fishermen sailed to the Palm Beaches where they helped establish the region's early fishing industry. Camps were set up on Singer Island for use by the estimated 12 to 25 fishermen.
        The community was known as "Inlet City," which became an early name for a section of what is today Palm Beach Shores. The Bahamian fishermen were joined by local squatters at the impromptu settlement.
        A sharp decline in agricultural production in the Bahamas in the 1890s hastened an influx of Bahamian migration extending from the Palm Beaches south to the Florida Keys. White Bahamians, primarily from Eleuthera Island, settled in the Keys and Key West. Many black Bahamians migrated to the fledgling communities along Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway.
        By the turn of the 20th century, between 75 and 100 Bahamian families formed settlements on both shores of the Lake Worth Lagoon. These included the Coconut Grove, Inlet Cove, Acrehome Park and Santry communities in the then unincorporated area north of West Palm Beach.
        An early nick name for Riviera Beach, incorporated in 1922, was "Conch Town". Bahamian migrants in South Florida were commonly  called "Conchs" by other native Floridians. In the Florida Keys, the name became a symbol of self-identification and pride. However, in the Palm Beaches, it was considered pejorative and most residents self-identified as Bahamians.
        By the year 1922, an estimated 75 Bahamian families, both black and white, resided in "Conch Town," where they were employed in the thriving commercial fishing industry. Fish processing and distribution began in Riviera Beach in 1919, via the new FEC Railway, to destinations as far north as New York City. The Richardson's market, R.R. Recou & Sons and Riviera Fish Company were established in the 1920s.
         Bahamian migration to the Palm Beaches continued through the boom years of the 1920s, then declined during the Great Depression. The Bahamian ties to the history of the Palm Beaches were acknowledged by Riviera Beach in 2012 when it become an official sister city of Freeport on Grand Bahamas Island.
        As former subjects of Great Britain, many of the Bahamian settlers were members of Anglican and Episcopal parishes. They brought their religious traditions with them to the Palm Beaches.

St. Patrick's Episcopal Church Established
        The black Episcopalian congregation originally met on the island of Palm Beach as part of the Missionary District of South Florida. It was affiliated with the Bethesda-by-the-Sea Church, established in 1889. Due to segregation policies in the early 1900s, separate services were held for African-American members of the Episcopal church.
        The congregation's first church in West Palm Beach was built in 1921 and served the parish for seven years. The original church building was destroyed by the Hurricane of 1928.
        A new "Gothic Revival" style church was designed by the local architectural firm of Harvey & Clarke of West Palm Beach. It was built at its current location of 418 Sapodilla Avenue in 1929.
        St. Patrick Episcopal Church was one of 11 historical buildings designed by Henry Stephen Harvey and L. Philip Clarke in West Palm Beach. It would become the final project completed by the architectural firm before the company was dissolved during the Great Depression.
        Other local historic landmark buildings designed by Harvey & Clarke during the 1920s included the Pine Ridge Hospital, the West Palm Beach Train Station on Tamarind, the former Pennsylvania Hotel, the Comeau Building and the Alfred Comeau house.
        As an historic landmark, the city staff report stated the church is "associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of the city's history."
        St. Patrick's Episcopal Church is part of the worldwide Episcopalian Church and Anglican Communion. The Anglican/Catholic parish celebrates a high mass on Sundays, with the Rev. Canon Winston B. Joseph, rector, and the Rev. Hal O. Hurley currently officiating.
        In addition to meeting the spiritual needs of its congregation, for many years St. Patrick's has sponsored a Seniors Activities Center, and provides a Community Youth Program and weekly "Soup Kitchen" for those in need.
(c.) Davidsson. 2018.
NOTE: See additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Close Encounters with Cryptid 'Skunk Apes': 1972-78

By Bob Davidsson
        During the 1970s, more than a dozen sightings of the elusive "Skunk Ape," the Everglades version of the Himalayan "Yeti" and Oregon's "Sasquatch" (Bigfoot), were reported in suburban Palm Beach County.
        Why the legendary creature was observed in such large numbers during the decade of the 1970s is a mystery. However, not unlike the rash of reported UFO encounters in the 1960s, one Skunk Ape sighting tends to fuel the overactive imaginations of other observers.
        Another factor contributing to the upswing of Skunk Ape encounters was the widespread news coverage of the sightings by the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and especially in Lantana's National Enquirer and Weekly World News tabloids.
        The decade also was a period of rapid population growth in Palm Beach County, with developers creating many communities west of Military Trail and in the new Village of Wellington. Loss of natural habitat confines wildlife to smaller green spaces and increases human contacts.
        The Everglades Skunk Ape has many nicknames - Swamp Cabbage Man, Swampsquatch, and the Florida Bigfoot. Eyewitnesses claim the creature measures six to eight feet in height and weighs an estimated 500 pounds. It has a shaggy coat of fur ranging from rust color to dark brown.
        Unlike Florida's black bears, the Skunk Ape walks upright on two legs. Observers say it could move rapidly when frightened or pursued. As its name implies, the Skunk Ape is best known for its rank odor. Eyewitnesses describe the stench as a cross between a skunk and aged road kill.
        The Skunk Ape is classified as a "cryptid". A cryptid is "an animal where its existence or survival to the present day is disputed or unsubstantiated by the scientific community," according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
        As such, the Skunk Ape joins the company of  such cryptid celebrities as the Loch Ness Monster, the Florida Keys Devil Men and the recently observed  Lake Worth Lagoon Muck Monster.
        Eyewitnesses who have encountered a Skunk Ape disagree with the scientific experts. So do "crypto zoologists" - alternative pseudoscientists and adventurers whose aim it is to prove the existence of entities from the folklore records and evidence reported about the Skunk Ape.

Strange Cryptid Encounters in Palm Beach County
      In 1977 a bill was introduced in the Florida Legislature that would make it illegal to "take, possess, harm or molest anthropoids or humanoid animals." It failed to pass.
      Reports of Skunk Ape sightings were so common statewide in the 1970s that even our Florida lawmakers took notice. Palm Beach County had more than its share of alleged close encounters with the Everglades creature.
        For example, in 1972 a Skunk Ape sighting was reported in the Meadowbrook subdivision of West Palm Beach,. The same year a Pahokee resident said he and his dog fled from a "hairy eight-foot monster" in western Palm Beach County.
        In June 1974, farmer Buddy Sterrett reported a Skunk Ape picked up one his 110-pound hogs and attacked it. He said," It had the smell that would make the hair on the back of your head stand up."
        Thee months later, security guard Cary Kantor said he shot at a Skunk Ape in the Wellington construction site where he was posted. "It smelled like it had taken a bath in rotten eggs," he reported. In the autumn of 1974, a Greenacres family reported seeing strange footprints outside of their home left by the Skunk Ape.
        Two workers reported seeing a "seven-foot tall hairy creature" in 1977 as it was drinking from a lake at a suburban Delray Beach golf course. They notified the Palm Beach County Animal Control of their sighting. No report was filed.
        In 1978 a Lantana resident said he spotted a creature at 5 a.m. in his back yard. He was alerted by the barking of his dogs. The same year two Boca Raton youths reported to police "a creature resembling the notorious Skunk Ape" stalking in the woods by the Hillsboro Canal.
        The prestigious "Smithsonian" journal published a feature article in March 2014 entitled "On the Trail of Florida's Bigfoot." The story highlighted the "Skunk Ape Research Center," established in 1999 by Dave Shealy, an eyewitness and true believer in the Skunk Ape, near the tiny Everglades community of Ochopee.
         His collection of artifacts includes alleged photographs of the Skunk Ape, which many cryptid critics believe look more like a fugitive orangutan than an Everglades monster. Whether fact or fiction, the legend lives on in Florida today.

Key Largo: An Island Paradise for Cryptids
       Without question the most famous and widely investigated Skunk Ape encounter was the month-long ordeal experienced by the Charles Stoeckman family of Key Largo. Among those investigating the bazaar series of encounters were the Monroe County Sheriffs Office, the Florida Marine Patrol, a team from the Florida Technical Institute, photographers from the National Enquirer, and interested news media from Palm Beach County to Key West.
        The island of Key Largo forms the southeastern tip of the so-called Bermuda Triangle, which may help explain preternatural sightings of the "Devil Men," seen floating over Florida Bay prior to electrical storms, or visions of the Virgin Mary in a grotto near the St. Justin Martyr Catholic Church.
        One enthusiastic resident in 1978 even claimed to have discovered the lost city of Atlantis just offshore of Key Largo. However, upon close inspection at low tide, his "Atlantis" turned out to be an ancient reef of consisting of fossilized brain coral.*
        Charles Stoeckman, his wife, and three children lived in a home at mile marker 94.5 Oceanside on Key Largo. On July 14, 1977 Stoeckman and his son saw what he said was an eight or nine-foot tall Skunk Ape while they were collecting rare bottles in the mangroves near his home.
        "It had a huge head and shoulders," he later reported, "long fur all over, and he stank like a dirty wet dog. The noise he made was a high-pitched wailing."
        Stoeckman cleared 30 feet of brush from around his home to discourage a return visit by the Skunk Ape. It didn't work. The Skunk Ape returned for several night visits. Mrs. Stoeckman and her children fled to Homestead after seeing the creature outside her window.
        Responding to terrorized pleas for help were Monroe County Sheriffs Deputy Bill Haase and Sgt. Randall Chinn from the Plantation Key Substation. Florida Marine Patrol Capt. Jack Gillen also inspected the Stoeckman property. No trace of the Skunk Ape was found.
       Charles Stoeckman remained at his home for about a month, armed with a shotgun. He later joined his family in south Dade County.
        A short time after the Stoeckman encounter, four Tavernier residents formed a Skunk Ape posse. Armed with flash lights, lanterns, a camera and snake bite medication they began what a local newspaper called a "Skunk Ape Safari". The posse met at Harry Harris Park in Tavernier and followed the shoreline north to the Dove Creek Estates.
        As with all Skunk Ape adventures, the Everglades monster eluded its pursuers.
(c.) Davidsson. 2018.
*NOTE: This article also was published in the Oct.31, 2018 edition of the Okeechobee News. The author of this article was a reporter for the Florida Keys Keynoter from 1977-80. See additional articles below and archived in Older Posts.