Black history month
This Week in History
West Palm Beach
World War II
Palm Beach Post-Times staff photo from July 15, 1966: “The tiny five-acre spoil island is shown in the background of this view of the Boynton Inlet. Title to the wooded island is being sought by the Florida Outdoor Recreation Council, so that it can be turned into a county park. The island is on the north side of the Inlet channel.”
Palm Beach Times staff photo from April 25, 1972: “Disgruntled charter boat fishermen who are being evicted from the berth at the Boynton Inlet commercial docks to make way for posh and exclusive new condominium complex say the inlet’s nearby Beer Can Island will have to have its name upgraded to Champagne Island before the undeveloped 4-acre fill island can fit in the inlet area’s changing new image.”
The caption on the back of this undated Palm Beach Times staff file photo: “Visitors to Beer Can Island complain that even when people do use the trash cans, authorities fail to dump them when they get full.”
Sandy McCrorie, 14, (left) Sandy Lafayette, 14, Marie Gore and Rock Tate, 14 (right) haul trash bags of beer cans off Beer Can Island in this 1973 photo. The 8-acre island is now called Bird Island. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
Aerial view of the Boynton Inlet and Bird Island in 2012. Recreational boaters frequented the island until the 1990s, when its new owners, The National Audubon Society, gave it a $1.1 million makeover and turned it into a bird sanctuary. (Palm Beach Post file photo)
Tags: Boynton Beach, Intracoastal Waterway, photos
The ferry that carried tourists and residents from the West Palm Beach municipal docks on Flagler Drive to the Biltmore Hotel in Palm Beach was dubbed a ‘horizontal elevator’ in a 1963 feature in The Palm Beach Post-Times.
Its colorful history has been featured in Post Time columns in 2007 and 2010.
Bruce Colyer of Fort Lauderdale — who along with his mother, Lucile DeTar Colyer, owned and operated the ferry until 1966 — sent a trove of photos and articles about the history of the ferry to Post Time columnist Eliot Kleinberg, but we didn’t have enough space in newspaper to share them all.
News clip about Lucile DeTar Colyer appearing on ‘To Tell the Truth.’ (Photo courtesy of Bruce Colyer)
Lucile Colyer and her son Bruce on the deck of the Paddlewheel Queen. In 1965 The Palm Beach Post profiled the boat’s journey from Dubuque, Iowa. (Palm Beach Post file photo)
In 1941 the Pegg was hurriedly remodeled for war-time ferry service. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Colyer)
The Pegg after remodeling. The Palm Beach Post reported that the Pegg treated convalescent sailors to a cruise on Lake Worth in 1945. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Colyer)
A washboard band played on the ferry boats and up and down 1st Street and Clematis Street during the war years. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Colyer)
The Greyhound also served as a ferry boat during the war years, from 1941 to 1946. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Colyer)
This May 1965 photo from the Quincey collection of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County has the caption: “Endless history in one picture.” (Photo courtesy of Bruce Colyer)
A 1959 postcard: Jungle Cruiser on beautiful Lake in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Colyer)
The dock in West Palm Beach (Photo courtesy of Bruce Colyer)
Ferry promotional card (Courtesy of Bruce Colyer)
A photo by Virgil R. Boozer Studios, West Palm Beach, with the caption: 1945 ferry docks (Photo courtesy of Bruce Colyer)
Undated photo, probably from the late 1940s or ’50s (Photo courtesy of Bruce Colyer)
Postcard with the caption: “Florida’s oldest ferry ride on the intracoastal waterway between the Palm Beaches” (Courtesy of Bruce Colyer)
The Lew DeBerry, probably during the war years (Photo courtesy of Bruce Colyer)
Promotional card (Courtesy of Bruce Colyer)
Tags: boats, Intracoastal Waterway, photos, World War II, WWII
Readers: December 2003 columns on the history of the Intracoastal Waterway inspired Donn Colee to research his great-great-great-grandfather, James L. Colee, who helped dig the waterway.
Donn later learned a commissioner on the Florida Inland Navigation District, which helps maintain the waterway, was retiring. He put in for the volunteer post – and got it, perhaps because of his family connections.
“I wanted you to know how your column helped me connect the dots,” Donn writes. The longtime manager for WPEC-TV Channel 12 recently became director of research, development and strategic planning for Freedom Broadcasting, owners of Channel 12 and eight other stations.
Here are excerpts of Donn’s account:
“My great- great- great-grandfather, James Louis Colee was born Feb. 25, 1833, in St. Augustine and died there Jan. 8, 1912.
“In 1881, James L. and three partners incorporated the Florida Coast Line Canal and Transportation company, the first company to successfully dredge what was to become the East Coast Intracoastal Waterway. James was the firm’s engineer and surveyor. To encourage development of the ICW, the Florida legislature granted the canal company 3,840 acres of state land for every mile of canal constructed, as well as the right to collect tolls on what was then a private waterway.
“Digging canals through tropical hammocks to join natural waterways proved a daunting and expensive task.”
Tags: Intracoastal Waterway
Ellwood Sproul of Hobe Sound recalls that when he was a young Marylander based at the Boca Raton Army Air Field during World War II, the surrounding town was pretty quiet — it had fewer than 1,000 residents– and he would go up to Palm Beach, where cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post would let GIs relax on the beach of the Mar-a-Lago mansion.
Sproul says he rode a “dinky little ferry” that crossed the Intracoastal Waterway between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach.
Longtime resident Dora Digby of Lake Worth, now 87, remembered the ferry. She said in a 1992 letter, and in a February 2007 phone interview, that the boat ran from the George Washington Hotel, and later the Helen Wilkes Hotel, over to The Biltmore.
“The ‘captain’ had only had one arm, which sometimes interfered with his navigation. Five cents a ride, with entertainment thrown in,” Dora recalled.
She said it wasn’t a sophisticated business, just a disabled guy trying to earn a living during the war years.
The ferry filled a need after authorities banned cars from crossing the bridges with their headlights on.
Readers: Do any of you remember more about the ferry or its “captain?” Let us know.
Update: The Jan. 31 and Feb. 7 columns on the venerable downtown West Palm Beach office buildings prompted a call from Jeannette Dunkle, widow of John B. Dunkle, who retired in 1991 as Palm Beach County’s clerk of courts after 33 years and died in February 2005. She said Dunkle’s father and uncle, both local mayors, developed the Guaranty and Comeau buildings.
Tags: boats, Boca Raton Army Air Field, Intracoastal Waterway
Readers: This is the third, and last, installment of a brief history of the Intracoastal Waterway, courtesy of David Roach, executive director of the Florida Inland Navigation District.
In 1921, a schooner carrying President-elect Warren G. Harding ran aground near Fort Lauderdale. Later, President Harding called for a federal waterway project. A lengthy 1926 report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded that improving the waterway would save the nation $400,000 to $1.6 million a year in transportation costs. The report called for building the waterway all the way from New England to Key West, making it 75 feet wide and 8 feet deep. It projected a construction cost for the Florida part of $4.22 million, followed by $125,000 a year for maintenance.
In the deal, the original private waterway would be turned over to the feds, and local governments would provide areas to deposit dredged materials. In 1927, the state Legislature created the Florida Inland Navigation District to meet those conditions and authorized it to buy the original waterway for about $800,000 and hand it over to the feds.
The waterway was open and operating by 1935. Today, the Corps and FIND keep it at 12 feet deep and 125 feet wide from the Georgia border to Fort Pierce, then 10 feet deep and 124 feet wide down to Miami, and finally, 7 feet deep and 75 feet wide down to Crossbank, near Islamorada in the Florida Keys. The final stretch, down to Key West, was never finished.
Tags: Intracoastal Waterway