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Riding out 1928 storm in Boynton High

With the 1928 hurricane more than 83 years past, the number of survivors is now a few. A decade ago, I was doing a talk in Boynton Beach and said the storm’s eye likely went no farther south than Lake Worth.

A hand shot up. Not true, a woman said. We were in the eye.

It was Lorraine Lewerenz Vicki, who died in November. She survived Palm Beach County’s most profound disaster at the old Boynton Beach High, the same one the city is trying to save. Here’s an excerpt from Black Cloud, my book on the storm:

In Boynton Beach, 13-year-old Eunice Lewerenz watched the plaster come down from the ceiling of the new high school. It had been built a year earlier.

Her father Walter had labored in a woodworking mill until lungs weakened by tuberculosis made it too hard. His doctor told him he needed a change of climate. In the fall of 1928, there were five children: Eunice, Aileen, Harriett, Lorraine and Walter Jr.

Walter decided his home wasn’t safe. The obvious alternative: the brand new high school.

They went first to the room used for manual training, now called shop class. It was on the west side and they believed it would be safer than the home economics room on the east side.

Suddenly the ceiling started to come down. The second-floor auditorium came with it. Eunice and her family were in a corner and weren’t hurt, but one boy was.

They raced over to the home of ornamental nursery owner Alfred C. Shepard, just across the street. Inside were Shepard, his wife, and three children. The home had French doors, and Shepard feared they would blow in. Someone placed a chair under the door handle and sat in it.

Then came the eye. Walter ran to his home. The yard was full of dead chickens. He gathered them up and returned to the Shepard home. He was gone less than a half hour. The wind picked up again. Later, the problems of freshly dead chickens and hungry refugees soon solved each other.

The school survived and was repaired, but the storm destroyed Town Hall, the Hotel Cassandra and the First Methodist Church.

The old Boynton Beach High School, shown here in 1956, was built in 1927 as Old Mangrove High School. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg February 9, 2012 at 1:33 pm.

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Boynton Beach named after Michigander

Ginger Pedersen recently reminded us of a milestone Friday: 100 years since the death of Nathan S. Boynton. Ginger’s the granddaughter of John D. “Pete” Pedersen, founder of Africa USA (1953-1961), the Boca Raton “animals run wild” theme park.

She’s started an Africa USA homage web page, as well  as a local history page, Palm Beach Past.

Drat! Competition. We don’t mind.

Her story:

“Boynton began his military career in 1862, rising to the rank of major during his service in the Civil War. After the war, Boynton returned to Michigan and resided in Marine City. There he became postmaster, tax assessor and eventually supervisor of the town. He also served in the Michigan state legislature. Major Boynton also invented several pieces of firefighter equipment including the Boynton fire escape, the Boynton hook and ladder truck and a system for ladder rope trussing. He also founded the Knights of the Maccabees, a fraternal society that had more than 200,000 members nationwide at its peak.

“As he approached his 60s, a desire for new frontiers and warmer weather brought him south to Florida with his fellow Michigander, William S. Linton. They traveled to the area in 1894, guided by Capt. Frederick Voss, sailing down the Florida East Coast Canal. Boynton purchased 500 acres in the area along the ocean and on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway. In 1896, construction began on Boynton’s oceanfront hotel, primarily by Michigan families who had moved to the area. ‘The Boynton’ opened in 1897, with a main building and small cottages. The hotel expanded several times, and remained popular with guests each winter season. A.E. Parker, who had married Boynton’s daughter Annie, served as hotel manager for several years. Major Boynton spent each winter in his town until the year before his death in 1911 at the age of 74. The Boynton Hotel continued on to 1925, when it was torn down so that a larger, more modern structure could be built. The 1926 hurricane and subsequent land bust put an end to those plans.

“The families who had come to build the hotel stayed and began to farm the areas along the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway. The town continued its growth westward with citrus groves and dairies, which eventually became the manicured suburbs seen today. Today’s Boynton Beach has more than 68,000 residents and is the third-largest city in Palm Beach County.”

This May 1927 photo of Ocean Avenue in Boynton Beach looks west at the Florida East Coast Railway crossing. The building on the right still exists. The city was named after Maj. Nathan S. Boynton, who distinguished himself in the Civil War. He traveled to the area from Michigan in the 1890s and purchased 500 acres, where he later built a hotel. (Photo courtesy of the Boynton Beach Historical Society)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg May 26, 2011 at 8:53 am.

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This week in history: Major Boynton dies

On May 27, 1911, Boynton Beach founder and namesake Nathan Smith Boynton died in Port Huron, Mich. Boynton was a retired Civil War major when he visited Florida with fellow Michiganian William S. Linton, who founded Delray Beach. In 1895 Boynton bought oceanfront land in the area and built the Boynton Hotel, which was torn down in 1925.

Major Nathan Smith Boynton (Photo courtesy of Port Huron [Mich.] Museum Collection)

The Boynton Hotel and Cottages in the early 1900s (Photo courtesy of the Florida Photographic Collection)

Boynton Beach Hotel (Photo courtesy of Boynton Beach Historical Society)

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Posted in Flashback blog May 23, 2011 at 6:00 am.

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Topfer’s Pit Bar-B-Q


Until 1982, Donna Psaropoulos, also known as Dolphin Donna, served up barbecue, key lime pie and Brunswick stew at Topfer’s Pit Bar-B-Q on South Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach. Topfer’s was reborn as Toppers Bar-B-Q in Boynton Beach in 1990, and then as Dolphin Donna’s in Lake Park in 1993.

A reader is hoping to find the recipe for Topfer’s barbecue sauce. Can anyone help?


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Posted in Flashback blog March 23, 2011 at 10:54 am.


Boynton Beach Christmas parade “the biggest one in the state of Florida”

Boynton Beach City Manager Frank Kohl declared the city’s 1976 Christmas parade the biggest ever, with more than 135 entrants, including 26 marching bands and 45 floats, 500 balloons, and 24 aerial bombs.


Enjoy scenes from the Boynton Beach parade through the years, below, and read more about the Boynton Beach Christmas parades in 1981, 1984, 1986, 1987 and 1988 from the Historic Archive of The Palm Beach Post.

Hank Thomas and granddaughter Nicole wave to the crowd in 1986. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

Charles Edwards of the North Shore High School band, in the 1986 Boynton Beach Christmas parade. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

Young Shane Farrell may be having second thoughts about being hoisted into Santa’s sleigh by Tony Huntley at the 1984 parade. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

Mark Goodspeed (left) and Mike Connolly enjoy the 1984 parade from the hood of a car in front of Connolly’s father’s bar on Boynton Beach Boulevard. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

The Amana Temple Oriental Band marches in the 1984 parade. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

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Posted in Flashback blog December 1, 2010 at 12:31 pm.

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