What happened to the lost ghost towns of Palm Beach County?


Did residents lose their itch for Scratchankle?

Sour on Azucar?

Would Figulus or Tustenegee ever have become as posh as the area’s later name of Palm Beach?

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Dozens of tiny towns, settlements really, that once dotted Palm Beach County have disappeared through the years, buried under floods, shattered by hurricanes or made obsolete by the changing economics of farming. Many were absorbed by larger adjacent towns.

Most of the lost towns were no more than the swamp fever dreams of mosquito-addled pioneers who imagined that staking their claim in the Everglades muck would be their ticket to riches. They’re the tragedies behind the old joke about buying Florida swampland.

Historian and Palm Beach County native Ginger Pedersen started a list of defunct place names on her Palm Beach Past.org blog, after seeing a name she didn’t recognize on an old map. Her research revealed that Ameron was an early 20th century farming community near where Miner Road meets Federal Highway in today’s Hypoluxo.

“They grew tomatoes and strawberries on the lakefront, but I had never heard of it. It’s what got me started on the lost place names of Palm Beach County,” said Pedersen.

Here’s a list of some of the most interesting lost towns:

Ameron (1900-1903) A farming settlement along Federal Highway in what is now Hypoluxo.

Apix This concoction of the U.S. Air Force and Pratt & Whitney was never more than a smokescreen to hide Cold War military secrets. In the 1950’s, locals were told a “fertilizer” plant was going up in a new town dubbed Apix, deep in the western woods. In reality, the town was a facade behind which the military was secretly experimenting with rocket engines powered by innovative liquid hydrogen fuel. The operation was called Project Suntan.

According to Eliot Kleinberg, The Palm Beach Post’s resident historian, all that remains of Apix, which is on private land, is a railroad siding and a series of photos on Florida Memory , the state’s archives.

Azucar (1930-1946) Spanish for sugar, this was a 1930s sugar cane community on the east side of Lake Okeechobee near Pahokee. Later it was called Bryant, after Lake Worth Drainage District founder, F.E. Bryant, the namesake of Lake Worth’s Bryant Park. Although the name still appears on Google Maps, Pedersen says the site is a ghost town along Old Connor’s Road, east of Pahokee.

Bare Beach (1920-1925) Known for its winter tomatoes, this sandy gap in the swamp surrounding Lake Okeechobee once had a post office, packing houses, an electric plant and drug store before it was wiped out by high water, according to Lawrence E. Will’s “A Cracker History of Okeechobee.” The land became sugar cane fields.

Bean City (1936-1973) A farming community near Belle Glade famous for its green beans.

Brown’s Farm Another of the small farming communities east of Belle Glade, but this one was famous in the 1930s and ’40s as usually the place to report election returns due to its small size. It was sometimes called Shawamo Village.

Chosen (1921-1955) Before it was destroyed by the 1928 hurricane, Virginia preacher J.R. Leatherman selected this Indian mound on the east side of Lake Okeechobee as his “chosen” land. The Smithsonian Institution excavated the area in the 1930s. Pedersen says a few buildings remain, as does a sign.

Connorsville/Connorstown After buying 12,000 acres in the ‘Glades, part-time Palm Beacher W. J. Connors spent $2 million of his own money to build a road through his muck lands to the Glades farming communities. At a toll of 3 cents a mile, his Connors Highway toll road pulled in as much as $2,000 a day before his suicide in 1929. The road today is U.S. 98 to Belle Glade. A section of the Connor’s road to riches exists west of 20 Mile Bend.

Deem City Deem City is still listed on some maps as a spot on US 27 right at the Palm Beach-Broward county line. An old sign said “Deem City – population 2.” The truck stop consisted of three buildings owned by Emilio Perez which burned after he went to prison on bomb possession charges. Deem City’s last resident ran a hamburger stand from his panel truck, until he was done in by code enforcement violations and the 1994 widening of the highway.

Earman Located near where Lake Park stands today, named for John Earman, the first mayor of West Palm Beach. His name endures in the name of the Earman River, which flows into the Intracoastal.

Figulus (1886-1891) This was the name of the Palm Beach homestead established by settler George Potter on 160 acres south of today’s Southern Boulevard. Figulus is Latin for Potter. Potter established a post office on his property in 1886. In 1890, the land was sold to the Charles Bingham family whose 1894 house was the area’s first private residence built on the ocean instead of on Lake Worth. The family’s daughter was Frances Payne Bolton, Ohio’s first congresswoman.

Fruitcrest Built on land southeast of Belle Glade that cost $20, the town was destroyed by the 1928 hurricane. Any remains today lie under sugar cane fields.

Galaxy Beginning in 1899, what was dubbed “the Celestial Railroad” ran from Jupiter through the settlements of Mars, Venus and Galaxy to the county seat of Juno along narrow gauge track, linking the Atlantic at Jupiter Inlet to the head of Lake Worth (today’s Intracoastal.) At the time, Juno was located approximately where Oak Brook Square in Palm Beach Gardens is today, said Pedersen. Before roads, the 7.5-mile railroad delivered freight and passengers from Jupiter, who then boarded boats at Juno to sail further south.

Geerworth This town was another get-rich-quick scheme that drowned in the Everglades swamps. After Connor’s Highway linked the ‘Glades to the coast, pioneers H.G. Geer and C.C. Chillingsworth bought 16,000 acres east of Belle Glade and sold most of it to British settlers. The town sunk in 1922’s high water, re-emerged in 1924-25, then sank forever soon after.

Gladecrest (1915-1917) In 1915, the Tropical Sun newspaper hailed a new town on the Hillsboro Canal, south of Lake Okeechobee. The Holland & Butterworth Company promised that one acre could support a family, but the land could not. After reaching a peak population of 72, the town was abandoned by 1921.

Hongry Land At the end of the Seminole Indian Wars, a starving band of “hongry” Indians and their families is said to have camped in this wilderness area between Lake Okeechobee and the Jupiter Lighthouse. Florida “cracker” historian Lawrence E. Will recalled that cowmen and hunters later knew the area as the Hongry Land, now grammatically sanitized and preserved as the Hungryland Slough Natural Area, west of Jupiter.

Kelsey City (1921-1939) Original name of Lake Park, founded during the Florida Boom by Boston businessman Harry Kelsey, who once owned 100,000 acres in Palm Beach County. The Florida Bust of 1926 busted Kelsey’s plans for a namesake community.

Kraemer (1918-1932) and Kreamer (1932-1936) Farms and a fishing village sprang up on this island in Lake Okeechobee until hurricanes and the Herbert Hoover Dike flooded it. Map makers at the time couldn’t agree on the spelling.

Inlet City An early name for a section of Palm Beach Shores and a neighborhood of Riviera Beach, settled by squatters and Bahamian fishermen.

Lucerne In the early part of the 20th century, adventurers who bought land out in the Glades through the Palm Beach Farms Company, also received a 25 foot-wide town lot in the planned town of Lucerne, formerly Jewell. During a 1912 auction, hundreds paid $250 for a 5-acre plot, only to discover their western plots were mostly under water. Discovering the name Lucerne was taken, the new settlers called their new town Lake Worth.

Munyon Island (1903-1905) The story of this island, known earlier as Munyon’s Island, now part of John D. MacArthur State Park, starts with its Indian name of Nuctsachoo, presumed to mean “Pelican Island”. In 1901, a family growing fruit on the island sold it to Dr. James Munyon, who built the 5-story Hotel Hygeia, named after the Greek goddess of health. Following health fads of the era, the hotel was billed as a spa for wealthy clients, who were plied with “Dr. Munyon’s Paw-Paw Elixir”, a patent medicine of fermented papaya juice bottled on the island. The hotel burned in 1917, but its boat landing can still be seen.

Osborne The Osborn family was the original owner of Lake Osborne and all the surrounding lands (somehow the “e” was added through time).

Oak Lawn (1889-1893) This was the name for an area where a tourist hotel perched on a tall Indian mound overlooking Lake Worth near where the Port of Palm Beach is today in Riviera Beach. In later years, the mound was decimated for use as fill for the country’s burgeoning road network.

Pelican Lake (1939-1964) Hundreds of residents from this community, also called Pelican Bay, died during the 1928 hurricane. Newspaper articles from the time reported finding 200 bodies one day, and 200 more the next. In 1932. a farmer’s cooperative purchased 1,000 acres of land from the state under the name Pelican Lake Farms, Inc. Newspaper accounts tell of the boxcars of green beans from the area taken north to sell.

Plumoses City In 1929, Jupiter residents who resented the town’s taxes formed their own city along Center Street, whose name came from the asparagus ferns grown for the floral trade. It was abolished in 1959 and again is a part of Jupiter, according to Pedersen.

Prairie This was a small community with a sawmill and school, listed in the 1919 school records.

Ritta (1912-1931) An island at the southern end of Lake Okeechobee, with the Ritta Hotel owned by Richard Bolles, the famous Everglades land speculator. In 1908, Bolles bought 500,000 acres of mostly swampy, undeveloped land from the state at $2 an acre. He sold it to unsuspecting residents at a 1911 auction. Two years later, he was indicted but found innocent of fraud. The island was covered by custard pond apple forest; the town was destroyed in the 1928 hurricane.

Rood (1915-1934) The Rood family moved from Wisconsin and bought a 20 acre tract in the Philo Farms district west of Jupiter. Mrs. Rood ran the small post office, and the family took mail all the way out to Indiantown along the old Jupiter Grade road.

Scratchankle – Another Lake Okeechobee settlement founded by John Tyner in 1912, and sometimes called Tynersville, although its colloquial name was probably more accurate in the days before mosquito control.

Torry Island (1917-1921) One of three islands at the sound end of Lake Okeechobee along with Ritta and Kreamer. The Cromartie family were among the first pioneers. Ivey Cromartie went on to marry Frank Stranahan, the modern founder of Fort Lauderdale.

Tustenegee (1877-1879) The earliest post office in Palm Beach, before there was a Palm Beach. According to Debi Murray, chief curator of the Historical Museum of Palm Beach County, the area was likely on what is today Cocoanut Row, near the Flagler Museum, in the home of James Brown, then Albert Geer.

Yamato (1907-1925) A colony of Japanese immigrants farmed pineapples and vegetables at this spot north of Boca Raton, but most of the lonely, isolated settlers returned to Japan. One who stayed was George Morikami, who bought land west of Delray Beach and donated the land to the county for the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens.

Zion (1888-1892) The original name for Delray Beach when the Orange Grove House of Refuge was still located on the beach, to save shipwreck survivors.

Additional research from Palm Beach Post reporter Eliot Kleinberg, Ginger Pedersen at www.palmbeachpast.org and “Florida Place Names” by Allen Morris.



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