Black history month
This Week in History
West Palm Beach
World War II
In our 10-plus years of Post Time, we still have some unsolved mysteries. Two of the most infuriating are the most unlikely: the origins of major roads, 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 a reference in our archives back to 1933. Two readers said it dated to the mid-1920s and was named DeWeese Road.
For Australian, we turn to Debi Murray, director of research and archives for the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
The Australian Avenue on Palm Beach dates to the town’s early years and Elisha Dimick.
The larger one, stretching from Blue Heron Boulevard all the way to PBIA, is a little tougher.
Debi says her examination of various maps and plat books shows the following:
“(In) 1893: approximately where Australian runs today (although not really because they used so much fill) was Water Street at the edge of Clear Lake.
“(In) 1957-58: plat map shows what looks like Australian running through Mangonia Park. It is a nice heavy line indicating an improved road. It runs from about where 59th Street would normally extend to 45th Street. From there the line is lighter indicating an unimproved road which wanders south until about where 36th Street would be. Most roads are not named on plat maps.”
Debi also recalls Australian once ended at Seventh Street.
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; Ritta and Torry islands; June’s Ice Cream in Lake Worth; Steiner Road, Phillips Point, Lake Wyman and Seminole-Pratt Whitney Road.
And then there are the streets in Boca Raton between Federal Highway and Dixie Highway, north of Yamato Road, with names of British cities, in alphabetical order. Historical Society of Palm Beach County: (561) 832-4164.
This sign on Congress Avenue welcomed the western expansion of Lake Park, in this undated photo from the Lake Park Historical Society. The origins of Congress Avenue go back at least to 1933 and perhaps to the mid-1920s. It may have had a link to the military operation at Morrison Field at what is now Palm Beach International Airport.
Tags: place names, roads, unanswered questions
Question: Who was Palm Beach County’s first black law-enforcement officer?
Answer: It probably was Wilbur Burney, the first black Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy and one of the first in Florida.
Even before he broke barriers in 1948, Burney had been an unofficial deputy, he said in 1983, two years before he died at the age of 80 in 1985 in West Palm Beach.
Starting in 1939, while driving a cab, “I was kind of undercover,” Burney said. “I wasn’t bonded and couldn’t arrest whites. They just wanted certain things done.”
Burney finally was hired, but he actually had been approached first by West Palm Beach Police Chief Truman Matthews to attend a training school. Sheriff John Kirk had nabbed him, though.
“Kirk sent his chief deputy to get me, but I was leery,” Burney recalled. “I said, ‘Just in black town?’ ”
He said the chief deputy showed him a badge and responded: “That’s what you’re going to be. You arrest anyone who breaks the law, black or white.”
Said Burney, “That’s what I wanted to hear. I was sworn in right there, and that afternoon, I marched in a parade in uniform.”
Burney said he was met with some resentment but that Kirk later sent him throughout the state to recruit blacks.
Soon after Burney’s death, the Sheriff’s Star, magazine of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, ran a feature about him.
Retired DeSoto County Sheriff’s deputy George Brown, of Arcadia, took the article to his sheriff. Brown had been sworn three years before Burney. DeSoto County, about to celebrate its centennial, promptly passed a resolution to recognize Brown, which only partially diminished Burney’s feat.
Burney founded the Florida Association of Negro Deputy Sheriffs in 1952, when the state had three black deputies who were banned from white organizations.
While Burney was the county’s first black deputy, individual police departments might have had black officers before that. Readers: Can you help?
Tags: African Americans, black icons, police, unanswered questions
Q: After Municipal Athletic Field was built in 1924, why was it renamed Wright Field in 1927? — Bill Butler, suburban West Palm Beach.
A: The ballpark — renamed Connie Mack Field in 1952 and now the parking garage for the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts — might be long gone but still sparks memories.
The “Wright” is George L. Wright, city manager in the 1920s and the man behind the stadium.
According to an article about the dedication on Dec. 18, 1924, it had appeared the opening would be delayed for a month, but Wright pushed contractors to rush it to completion, and the season’s first game was “played on grounds which are said to be second to none in the South.”
The city knows only that Wright died in 1926; the field was named for him the following year.
Possible relatives were tracked down in Virginia but weren’t related after all.
Readers: Can you help?
One insight comes from this anecdote, provided years later by the late, great Palm Beach County Commissioner Lake Lytal:
Sometime in the 1920s, Palm Beach High School’s football team was playing at Fort Lauderdale High School.
Wright’s son, Edloe, was center on the Palm Beach High team.
Wright got into a sideline hassle for what he perceived as unfair officiating — and was arrested!
A little more about Wright Field/Connie Mack from past columns:
Grandstands held about 2,000; black fans watched from a small section in the right-field corner. Total capacity was about 3,500.
The field became dormant in 1962 when the municipal stadium was built.
It was bulldozed in 1992 for a garage for the new Kravis Center.
Palm Beach Post file photo: The Connie Mack Field, which is now a parking garage at the Kravis Center, was first the Municipal Athletic Field, then the Wright Field, named after a West Palm Beach city manager. This photo was taken in 1989.
Tags: Municipal Athletic Field, place names, sports, unanswered questions
Readers: We recently received a photograph of Keith Jackson, vice president of a West Palm Beach engineering firm, and his sister Marsha in 1961.
The two are at a water fountain in Flagler Park, the waterfront spot where the city library now stands.
The cast-iron fountain had a storied past; it was built around 1907 by none other than the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
They wanted workers to get a cold drink at their water fountain instead of one the seven nearby saloons.
Recall that, at the time, Banyan Street was the only street in town where alcohol was permitted — at least officially — and it earned the notorious nickname “Whiskey Street.” Its saloons, gambling halls and brothels operated around the clock, luring the laborers building the Palm Beach resorts.
In 1904, it got a visit from the “Kansas Cyclone” herself: Carry Nation, the 6-foot-tall, black-clad, Bible-clutching matron of temperance who smashed saloons across America with her holy hatchet. In September 1961, as the buildings in Flagler Park were being demolished for the new library, this paper erroneously reported the fountain had been demolished as well.
The Palm Beach Times, co-owned but fiercely competitive, reported that afternoon — no doubt with great glee — that reports of the fountain’s death were greatly exaggerated.
In the November 1961 Miami Herald story which features Jackson and his sister, the paper — which then extensively covered Palm Beach County — quoted the city’s planner as saying the fountain might get relocated but it would stay in the park.
Now that the library is being knocked down for the new waterfront, Jackson asked us whatever happened to the fountain.
The answer is, we don’t know. Neither do our friends at the city of West Palm Beach or the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
Readers: Can you help?
Tags: mysteries, unanswered questions, West Palm Beach
William Stafford, whose grandfather owned and published the Lake Worth Leader and weathered the 1928 hurricane, writes all the way from New Zealand to ask about a “ghost town” neighborhood in Lake Worth.
“Captain” Stafford says it’s where Interstate 95 runs now, from 12th Avenue South to 6th Avenue South, just east of the old Seaboard Coast Line, now CSX Transportation.
“As kids in the ’60s, we played amongst the old foundations of homes, covered the cisterns over with beam-supported wood (excellent hide-outs for skipping school), and noticed modern concrete curbing in overgrown and abandoned streets which were sand-sealed with tar.
“A row of mature Australian pines ran along the northern (section) of the abandoned street, and we as kids found many 1920s-style Coca-Cola bottles, telephone and power pole glass insulators from the 1920s, and occasionally a few coins dated between 1915 and 1932 (pennies and buffalo nickels) around the
foundations of the former homes.
“The area is long gone, but as kids on our Schwinn Stingrays in the ’60s it was a pretty neat place to go, minding the rattlesnakes and spiders.
“I know that the west side of Ridge Street was removed for I-95, and the
ghost town went with it.
“But it was an interesting place nonetheless, and the overgrowth, infrastructure and dated remnants of items found placed it around the time Lake Worth was severely damaged by the ’28 storm.”
Beverly Mustaine at the Museum of the City of Lake Worth was as stumped as we were.
Readers: Can you help?
Tags: Lake Worth, unanswered questions