Black history month
This Week in History
West Palm Beach
World War II
On Sept. 20, 1929, the first airport in the Palm Beach area was officially recognized when the federal government approved a beacon and landing marker for Lightbown Municipal Airport. The airport, named for Palm Beach Mayor Cooper Lightbown, was established by the Greater Palm Beach Airport Association and the Junior Chamber of Commerce on a 440-acre tract on Belvedere Road. In 1936 the airport we now know as Palm Beach International began commercial service and was renamed Morrison Field.
This photo of a Ford tri-motor passenger plane was taken in 1929. From Post Time reader James P. Sikes who submitted the photo: The plane was the “747 of its day. Note the huge wingspan. The event was a plane ride over West Palm Beach for the employees of the West Palm Beach Water Co., shown standing with the plane along with company trucks prior to take-off in West Palm Beach. My father is the man in the middle back row, wearing the bow tie. His name, James Sikes.”
Coincidentally, Charles Lindbergh flew over West Palm Beach on his way to Miami the day before Lightbown Municipal Airport got its federal certification,
The Palm Beach Post story says “Col. and Mrs. Lindbergh passed over West Palm Beach at 12:52 Thursday afternoon, flying very high, and somewhat west of the city. His plane was moving at a rapid rate of speed.”
Tags: airports, place names, This Week in History
Each year at this time, we mark the most profound event ever in Palm Beach County: the great Sept. 16, 1928, hurricane, which killed as many as 3,000 people.
Most died when a 6-foot muck dike failed and the storm pushed the waters of Lake Okeechobee into the countryside.
It’s the second-deadliest natural disaster in American history.
One of the storm’s victims wasn’t a person, but a place — a place called Geerworth.
The 16,000-acre tract was about 10 miles east of Belle Glade, at a spot at Senter Road and State Road 880′s “Nine Mile Bend.”
It had been founded around 1918 by Harvey G. Geer (above), who developed much of the West Palm Beach area and helped build the first Royal Park (middle) bridge to Palm Beach.
The first buildings went up on April 13, 1921. By December, more than 100 acres had been cleared.
Geer sold 20 tracts, of 10 to 50 acres each, mostly to a colony of Brits, set to leave Liverpool the following February.
An article echoed the hopes of developers of homes and farms sprawling from the coast to the big lake: “This is just a beginning and demonstrates what will happen as soon as the roads into the Glades are completed.”
And, it said, “every resident of Palm Beach County should make this trip and familiarize himself with this coming great domain which lies at their very door.”
In 1922, much of the settlement was swamped by floods.
But by 1925, Conners Highway was about to link the Glades to the coast. An article from April 1925, two months before the road opened, said, “already the new town of Geerworth has been laid out with a hotel, packing house, several good dwelling houses and county school. Crops are now growing and daily shipments of produce are being made.”
That resurgence was brief. In March 1928, with the countryside tinder-dry following a drought, a grass fire roared through, burning down several buildings.
The 1928 storm washed out Geerworth forever. The former site now is part of the area’s expanse of sugar cane and muck.
Geer died at 83 in June 1939.
The annual service to victims of the 1928 hurricane who are buried at the cemetery in Port Mayaca, is at 10 a.m. Friday, the hurricane’s 83rd anniversary.
Special thanks to archivist Debi Murray, Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
This photo taken in Belle Glade after the devastating hurricane of 1928 shows the damage to the Everglades Experiment Station. A 6-foot muck dike around Lake Okeechobee failed, and much of the nearby countryside was flooded. (Photo courtesy of the University of Florida)
Tags: 1928 Hurricane, Belle Glade, hurricanes, place names
For many years, Debi Murray, the archivist at the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, has been an invaluable source. Recently she asked us to ask you for more about Camp Higgins.
It was one of many federal installations that sprang up in South Florida during World War II.
They include Morrison Field (now Palm Beach International Airport), Camp Murphy (now Jonathan Dickinson State Park near Hobe Sound) and Boca Raton Army Air Field (now the Boca Raton airport and Florida Atlantic University).
“Camp Higgins operated from early 1942 or earlier, at the undeveloped northern tip of Palm Beach, bordered by North Ocean Boulevard, Indian Road, the ocean, and Lake Worth Inlet,” the historical society’s website says.
“The camp accommodated about 200 men, sent for rest and recuperation. They lived in wooden-sided canvas tents, and kept a few tanks and sandbagged gun positions on the dunes. In 1943 the commanding officer of Camp Higgins was Lt. C.B. Hindman.”
The society quoted Philip H. Reid Jr., who lived nearby as a boy and recalled in 1981, “There were eight or ten North End boys who could often be found wandering through the camp, climbing on the tanks, visiting the tents, and talking to the soldiers. We often accompanied the soldiers when they hunted for sea turtle eggs, which they unearthed and cooked.”
Debi writes the camp had been deactivated by September 1942, when its recreation hall was loaded onto a truck and moved to Morrison Field.
Readers: Can you help?
American soldiers parade down Worth Avenue in this World War II-era photo. During the war, Palm Beach was a hotbed of patriotism, support for Allied troops, and even warlike action as German U-boats sank U.S. ships off the South Florida coast and prompted officials to mandate countless blackouts on the island. As Florida airfields and other facilities became home to military bases, uniformed personnel were everywhere, including marching in parades along the avenue. While not pictured, one can assume Palm Beach’s hundreds of Volunteers for Victory were marching, too. Volunteers for Victory operated several war-effort endeavors, ranging from a bathhouse at the beach to a soldier’s canteen. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)
Update: Palm Beach State College dean Ginger Pedersen, who runs her own local history Web page, wrote about the mystery behind the name of Congress Avenue: “I think the origin is more tied to the Westgate subdivision, which was started in the land boom. I too have found the newspaper referenced back to 1933. The best solution is that the road was a connector between Okeechobee and Belvedere. I think “Congress” in this case means a “connector.” Later when Palm Acres was platted, they took the name and extended it first south across the airport, then later north. Congress was not extended south to Boca (Raton) until the 1960s.
Tags: Palm Beach, place names, World War II, WWII
Delray Beach will mark its centennial Oct. 9, the official incorporation date. Look for plenty of fun events next month.
A meeting “for the purpose of discussing the advisability of incorporating” occurred a century ago, Sept. 4, 1911. It was at the Ladies Improvement Association Hall in what then was the settlement of Linton.
A month later, on Oct. 9, 57 “qualified electors” voted almost unanimously — one ballot was tossed — to create the new municipality of “Delray,” west of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Maj. Nathan Smith Boynton, U.S. Congressman William Seelyn Linton and David Swinton had come from Michigan in 1895.
Boynton was a retired Civil War major and former mayor of Port Huron, Mich.; Linton, postmaster of Saginaw, Mich., and a congressman; and Swinton, a Saginaw bookstore owner.
In West Palm Beach, they heard of land for sale to the south. By 1895, Linton had brought down 10 settlers. After they were hit by a freeze and Linton defaulted on land payments, settlers decided Linton reminded them of struggle and chose a different namesake.
Delray was a neighborhood in Detroit that was itself named for the Mexican town of Del Rey, translated as “of the king.” At the October 1911 meeting, John S. Sundy (pictured above) was elected mayor with 53 votes. He served seven terms.
A construction superintendent for the Florida East Coast Railway, he had stepped off a southbound train in 1898. When Henry Flagler told him, “There’s nothing here,” he replied, “There will be.”
Also at the incorporation meeting was George H. Green (pictured above), one of 10 people nominated for five aldermen’s positions, coming in seventh. Notable about that was that Green was black, in Florida, where in the early 20th century, few blacks even were allowed to vote. In fact, 11 of Delray’s 57 electors were African-American.
In 1923, the town of Delray Beach, encompassing residents on the barrier island east of the Intracoastal, was incorporated. Four years later, on May 11, 1927, the two towns merged.
The Delray Beach centennial web page is delray100.com.
Read the minutes of Delray Beach’s incorporation meeting here.
Miller and Son’s First Bicycle and Barber Shop in Delray, circa 1912. Left to right: two unknown customers, Albert L. Miller, Mary (Clutter) Miller and Albert F. Miller. The photo was taken near the location of the old Arcade Tap Room, now Gol! The Taste of Brazil on Atlantic Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Delray Beach Historical Society)
Tags: Delray Beach, incorporated, place names
This week is our 600th column! We started Jan. 19, 2000. Special thanks go to editor Tom Peeling, along with the copy editors who caught all those mistakes.
And, of course, our readers. Keep those questions coming!
Over the years, we’ve added tools to help readers — the majority from somewhere else — better understand their new home, in hopes they’ll feel like it is home.
Our Historic Palm Beach website is a century of words and pictures from The Palm Beach Post and other South Florida publications.
The web page contains every column from Post Time’s 11-plus years, as well as the contents of other archives.
Look also for the Flashback blog, the Your History page and the YourPix photo sharing site.
And look for the Place Names Map (below) on the main menu. You can click on the map for links to more than 100 place name origins.
Milestones such as column No. 600 also provide an excuse to remind you of historical mysteries we’ve yet to solve.
Two of the most infuriating are the most unlikely: the origins of Congress and Australian avenues.
We know Congress had that name at least as far back as World War II, and it might have a link to the Morrison Field military operation at what is now Palm Beach International Airport. But we find references dating to the 1920s.
For Australian, the one stretching from Blue Heron Boulevard to PBIA, archivist Debi Murray at the Historical Society of Palm Beach County reports finding references dating to the 1950s.
Here are more name origin mysteries:
• Lantana’s Mayfield, Euclid and Prospect streets.
• A stone duck that stood from around 1930 to around 1940 on Lucerne Avenue in Lake Worth.
• The names behind Lake Okeechobee’s Ritta and Torry islands.
• June’s Ice Cream, Lake Worth.
• Steiner Road, Phillips Point, Lake Wyman and Seminole-Pratt Whitney Road.
And the streets in Boca Raton between Federal Highway and Dixie Highway, north of Yamato Road, with names of British cities, in alphabetical order.
Readers: We still need your help!
View Palm Beach County Place Names in a larger map
Tags: mysteries, place names