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West Palm Beach ferry’s evolution: Work, war, fun

A 2007 column mentioned the World War II-era ferry between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach. We learned “Captain Jack” De Los DeTar operated the service into the 1960s and that DeTar’s sister and her son operated a dinner boat in the Fort Lauderdale area. We sought them without luck.

Bruce Colyer in Fort Lauderdale, now 75, is the son. A friend recently sent him the 2007 article. Bruce filled in several blanks for us:

In the early 1900s, Henry Flagler had a ferry that ran workers from West Palm Beach to build his Palm Beach hotels.

Flagler sold it to a man named De Berry who ran it until one night in 1941, when he slipped off a dock, hit his head and drowned.

The widow had no interest in the ferry and turned it over to the assistant, “Captain Jack,” who had lost his left hand in a welding accident in Kansas and had come to Palm Beach County when his father, a doctor, retired to the area.

Jack lobbied his sister, struggling opera singer Lucile DeTar Colyer, and her son Bruce to move down from Larchmont, N.Y. Bruce was all of 6.

“The first morning he woke me,” Colyer recalled recently. “He put a Coke box there, and said, ‘stand on that and start steering.’ ”

It was September 1941. When war broke out a few months later, the ferry had a windfall running soldiers, 6 a.m. to midnight, at a nickel a head.

After the war, the young teen had an idea. He and his mother bought Little Munyon’s Island, near North Palm Beach. They debuted the 100-passenger Paddle Wheel Queen; it plied the Intracoastal and docked at the island, where guests enjoyed a cookout and a floor show.

That led to a 400-passenger Queen, which eventually sought a larger market in Fort Lauderdale. “The first cruising supper club in Florida” ran from 1966 to 1988.

The Colyers still ran the West Palm to Palm Beach ferry, but only until 1966; it fell victim to the motor car and the bridges across the waterway.

From the 1890s to roughly the 1960s, a ferry service operated between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach. For just a nickel or a dime, one could travel from one side of the Intracoastal Waterway to the other. Over the years, ferries docked at various sites on both sides of the Intracoastal, including where Palm Harbor Marina is today in West Palm Beach and a site just south of the Flagler Memorial Bridge in Palm Beach. The ferries grew in popularity with more than one boat offering service. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)

See more photos of the West Palm Beach-Palm Beach ferries here.


Posted in Eliot Kleinberg December 2, 2010 at 9:35 am.

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