On October 26, 1947, twenty-four Latvian and Estonian refugees landed at the Port of Palm Beach in a 55-foot boat. The six children, five women and 13 men were “suprisingly healthy and clean” after the 56-day voyage through two hurricanes and an electrical storm that one of the crew said was “something like I have never seen.” The Svea Malmon was the fifth such boat to land in Florida since 1946. After the first Estonian refugee boats braved the Atlantic crossing in order to escape Russian tyranny, President Truman issued a statement directing that “all avenues be explored” to allow the refugees to become citizens, saying also “this is the type of pioneering spirit that built this Nation.”
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Readers: Heidi Aspen Rhoades of Boca Raton asks the name origin of Old Germantown Road in Delray Beach.
The road winds from Congress Avenue and meets Linton Boulevard nearly at Military Trail.
It’s on virtually everything sold by Office Depot; the office supply giant’s headquarters, until their recent move to adjacent Boca Raton, was on Old Germantown Road.
We know there’s a Germantown in Memphis, Tenn., and of course many communities across the country had German immigrant communities.
And we know of the Lantana area’s longtime Finnish community and the short-lived Japanese farm colony in Boca Raton for which Yamato Road is named. But Germans?
We ran our question past Dottie Patterson, archivist for the Delray Beach Historical Society.
“This is sort of a guess. Perhaps somewhere there is a more official version,” she writes.
“When I was studying the 1910 (first) Delray census for a Delray Beach Library panel on diversity, I saw that the foreign country most often named by people of European descent as a country of origin for themselves or parents was Germany.
“Of course we already knew that there was a group of German pioneers in Delray. One of the early churches was the Lutheran Church — first called by the name in German –and a German school for the children, and the story that the only mule in town only took commands in German, etc.
“When taking some oral histories, people told me that families in town sometimes had a house out where the fields were also, and they stayed there during harvest and planting times.
“Therefore, I guessed that some of the German families had cottages in the area of Germantown Road. A large percentage of the people on the 1910 census listed their occupation as farming.”
Thanks as always, Dottie. Perhaps a reader can provide even more illumination!
Readers: Our April 30 column on the creation of Palm Beach County described Guy Metcalf as the county’s first schools superintendent. He held that post about 1917. Susan Harris, part of the J.C. Harris family, as in the downtown West Palm Beach store — in business since 1903 and on Clematis since 1913– called to correct us. Store founder J.C. Harris was the first superintendent of public instruction.
Photo: Special to Neighborhood Post
Early Delray had many farmers and many of them were German. This old photo shows a vegetable packing house in Delray Beach.
Saturday marks the centennial of a landmark event in the early history of the Treasure Coast: the May 3, 1908, fire that destroyed much of fledgling Jensen Beach.The town was founded by John Lawrence Jensen, a Danish immigrant who arrived in the 1880s to set up a pineapple growing concern.The settlement soon became the center of the pineapple industry.
The historic blaze broke out at the worst possible time: between 3 and 4 a.m. on a Sunday. It started at C.H. Munch and Co. One theory, unproven, blamed a cigar igniting sawdust in a spittoon.
“The dread cry of ‘fire’ rang out over Commercial Street,” says an anonymous memoir published in 1962 in the Jensen Beach Mirror.
With no fire department, people formed a bucket brigade, but the fire raced down the main street. People raced to roll 200-gallon fuel drums to safety. One exploded, sending flames 200 feet high.
The blaze wiped out most of the business section, including the Jensen Trading company, the Sneden Boat shop, the James Neal warehouse and grocery store, the Masonic Lodge, the Steinhauser meat market, Tucker’s Bowling Alley, Blocker’s bakery, 16 homes and five rail cars.
It also leveled the town’s lifeblood: the town hall, post office and rail
“Commercial Street is a scene of desolation,” the memoir said. Many property owners had insurance – just not enough.
The famed Al Fresco hotel survived, only to burn down Oct. 17, 1910.
As if the fires weren’t enough, competition from Cuban pineapples, along with local freezes and disease, killed the local industry.
Read More: Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River, by Sandra
Henderson Thurlow; A History of Martin County, by Janet Hutchinson.
Historical Society of Martin County: (772) 225-1961.
Byron Goldenhersh, who moved with his family to the West Palm Beach area in 2005, asks about Yamato Road.
“Why would Boca Raton name a road after one of the most infamous battleships the Japanese ever built?” he asks.
Right nation, wrong era.
Yamato is an ancient name for Japan, and it appears many times in Japanese history, including on the side of one of the two largest battleships ever built. She was sunk 200 miles north of Okinawa in April 1945.
But Yamato Road is named for something else: Boca Raton’s famed Yamato Colony.
It was founded around 1904 with only 20 Japanese settlers, all bachelors. They cleared 15 acres of pine scrub by hand in the heat and humidity and planted pineapples, as did farmers in the area of Delray Beach called Pineapple Grove.
By 1906, the colony’s population was up to 40 to 50, and it had its own post office and rail station. Nearby Delray Beach had but 100 families.
The enterprise fell victim to a fruit blight and competition from Cuba and the colony dissolved in the late 1930s.
One stayed: George Sukeji Morikami. He started acquiring land, at one time owning about 1,000 acres. He lost most of it in the Depression. He slowly rebuilt his fortune and amassed 200 acres. He could have sold it for millions, but he gave it to Palm Beach County for a park “because America has been so good to me.”
On his land, the county built the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, where exhibits keep the Japanese culture of the Yamato Colony alive.
Q: Why is the Lake Worth-Lantana area full of Finns?
A: Finns came to the area as farmers during the Depression, and the volume grew steadily in the 1940s. Most were not Finn citizens but rather Finnish-Americans who’d migrated from Europe to Midwestern states, New York and New England at the beginning of the 20th century.
Finns worked on the estates of wealthy Palm Beachers, and word spread through the Finnish diaspora, with many gravitating toward Lake Worth. In the early 1930s there were fewer than 1,000 Finns in Palm Beach County. Now there are about 25,000.
Peter Makila, a Lake Worth insurance agent and one of 32 honorary consuls of Finland, came over in 1965 as a teenager, later returned to Finland, then came back for good in 1996. He said his family’s migration from the northern United States started with his uncle.
“Some of their friends came back in the spring to Duluth, Minn., and they were so tanned and looked so healthy,” Makila said. “They said, ‘Where you have been?’ ‘We’ve been in this wonderful paradise called Florida.’ He sold everything.”
The tourist industry from Finland surged in the 1970s, and many applied for permanent resident status, but that has stalled because of tougher immigration standards, Makila said.
“Still, I get on my e-mail from younger people that they’re anxious to come,” he said. “The main reason many have, which was the same thing for me: to learn English and get a better job.”
Finland’s Honorary Consul Peter Makila: 582-2335.