WPBFD History

Centennial History 1894-1994 by Ronald E. Johnson


Introduction Dedication Preface Chapter One: Early Settlement on Lake Worth, 500 B.C.—November 1894 1 Chapter Two: The Flagler Alerts, November 1894—1901 Chapter Three: Formation of the West Palm Beach Fire Department, 1902—1910 Chapter Four: From Volunteer to Paid Firemen, 1911—1919

Chapter Five: The Roaring Twenties, 1920—1929 Chapter Six: The Depression Years, 1930—1940 Chapter Seven: The War Years, 1941—1945 Chapter Eight: A New Prosperity, 1946—1953 Chapter Nine: The Department Grows, 1954—1962 Chapter Ten: The City Moves West, 1963—1972 Chapter Eleven: The Rule Book Thickens, 1973—1980 Chapter Twelve: The Union Matures, 1981—1986 Chapter Thirteen: A New Pension Board, 1987—1989 Chapter Fourteen: Ill Winds Blow, 1990—1991 Chapter Fifteen: Looking to the Future, 1992—1994 Afterword APPENDIX A—Known Presidents/Chiefs of the Department B—Fire House Sayings C—Fire Summary D—Statistical Summary

This book is dedicated to West Palm Beach Fire Captain J. Harry Juergen who lost his life June 23, 1941, in a training accident. His death was the only line of duty death in the first 100 years of the depart- ment. May his sacrifice be the last . . .

Captain J. Harry Juergen


The Centennial History of the West Palm Beach Fire Department is written to record events of the West Palm Beach Fire Department from its humble beginnings in 1894 to today (1994). As in any organization in exis- tence for a hundred years, documentation for many inci- dents has been lost, poorly maintained, or never recorded. It has been a difficult process trying to gather information as there are very few people around to relate occurrences from even a mere fifty years ago. At least those who are currently available have been interviewed to preserve their memories. Some of the information contained in this book came from Fire Chief Bennett T. Kennedy's The Fire His- tory of the City of West Palm Beach, published in 1980. This was the first attempt to report the department's past in any detail, and we are grateful for his work. I used Kennedy's history as a guide in research, but in many cases additional information has been found that changed or added to his narrative. There are still many gaps that need to be filled-in. I can personally recall a number of fires that are not de- tailed in this book, mainly because I was unable to obtain documentation. Many personal stories have been pur- posely omitted in an effort to stay focused on the depart- ment itself and others, of course, can only be told at the firehouse coffee table. It was difficult at times to stay objective after twenty-two years of “living” inside this history, but I have done my best to use available docu- mentation. I sincerely apologize if anyone feels they have been slighted. If so it was not intentional. I have strived to be factual, whether this reflected good or bad on the department. It would not be fair to future generations to alter situations in order for the de- partment to appear "bigger than life." The West Palm Beach Fire Department, like any other, has had its ups and downs, its controversies, and its mistakes. That is the nature of firefighting, where fallible human beings are involved in life or death situations. This is neither a fairy tale nor a work of fiction. Work began in the mid-1980s with the formation of the West Palm Beach Fire Department Centennial Committee. This small group of active firefighters was concerned with the preservation of our history for future generations of men and women who would carry on the traditions of our department. One goal was to salvage as much as we could and pass it on to the next generation of firefighters. It has not been an easy task, but many people have cooperated benevolently toward our cause, giving us encouragement in our mission. The following deserve thanks for their assistance: Connie Voils, South College of the Palm Beaches; Nan

Dennson of the Palm Beach County Historical Society; Joel Engelhardt of the Palm Beach Post ; Mrs. Lois Tan- ner; Corky Dorey; and firefighters Walter Barndt, Brent Braunworth, Thomas Sheppard, Richard O'Brien, and Lester Milkins. A special “thank you” goes to Dot Rinehart of Robbinsville, North Carolina who edited the narrative. Two people, Barbara Kinser, Secretary to the Chief, and Joyce Olsen, Clerical Specialist, have helped in gath- ering information from the dusty fire department files and in many other tasks over the years. Much of the documen- tation for this book would have been lost had it not been for their skills. West Palm Beach firefighters will, I hope, continue the preservation of our history. We have done our best to provide a basic foundation that can be built on. Ronald E. Johnson West Palm Beach Fire Department Battalion Chief, Retired

Second Edition, December 2010

Author, as Captain 1984


PREFACE Fire is a good servant but a terrible master. Benjamin Franklin An early human around the time of 1,000,000 B.C. cowered in fear as great white flashes and trembling claps of thunder roared from a darkened sky. A nearby tree instantaneously erupted in a bright red and orange glow. Soon other trees and shrubs were consumed by the flickers of the evil breath. Mankind had been introduced to what he then believed was an all powerful master, fire. It was not until about 500,000 B.C. that man learned how to turn fire into his servant. Archeological diggings have uncovered charred wood and bones dating to that era. Fire greatly improved the lifestyle of man's primitive existence by providing heat and light. Man learned how to use fire as both a weapon and a defense against his enemies. It was used to illuminate the darkest depths of the caves where he sought shelter and to cook food that before had been inedible. Fire was one of the basic tools that allowed early man to be mobile, venturing into otherwise uninhabitable areas of the earth. It was a factor leading to the cohesiveness of the family unit, allowing groups to survive as they wandered into the unknown carrying precious embers to make fire when they reached their destination. By 7000 B.C. fire was being used for slash- and-burn purposes. This provided an easy way to clear brush in order for the land to be tilled. Greater quantities of grain and other foods were made available by this technique. Fire was put to other uses around the year 3000 B.C. Man learned to fire pottery, smelt copper, and combine copper with tin to make bronze. These advanced techniques provided new arms that gave armies a great advantage over their enemies in warfare. Smelting of iron came some two thousand years later in about 1000 B.C. This again brought power to those who knew the secret. When the Greeks were at the pinnacle of their power around 350 B.C., fire was considered one of the four essential elements of life and all matter. Earth, water, and air were the other three elements that were believed to have been used by the gods to create the world. Greek mythology held that the world had been without fire until Prometheus, one of the lesser Greek gods, decided to improve mankind's condition.

When Zeus, the ruling Greek God, proclaimed that humans must eat their food raw, Prometheus took pity and stole the divine fire from the heavens and gave it to man. For this defiant act Prometheus was fettered to a rock in a remote area forever. The first recorded organized firefighting force was established by Augustus Caesar in the year 24 B.C. A night patrol was instituted to check for fires and alert the citizens when fire was discovered. Some 600 slaves were stationed near the city gates to protect the citizens. A serious fire in 6 A.D. proved that the slaves were not inclined to risk their lives for their masters. Augustus organized a new group known as vigiles or watchmen. These free men were commanded by a "praefectus vigilium" who answered directly to the emperor. The vigiles were paid from the public treasury with moneys from increased taxes. In England around the year 1000 A.D. a similar watch service known as a "curfew" was established. Curfew came from a French word meaning to cover or extinguish fires by a certain nighttime hour. An ordinance decreed at what hour all fires had to be extinguished. A watch was maintained after that hour to ensure compliance and check for the outbreak of fire. The first written ordinance pertaining to fire safety was enacted after the London fire of 1212. King John's decree provided some protection against the spread of fire from one building to another. This "exposure hazard" is still a concern of firefighters today. The first serious fire in America occurred in Jamestown, Virginia, on January 7, 1608. Only months after the settlement had been established, the colonists found their meager cabins and provisions consumed in fire. The loss resulted in many deaths that winter from hunger and exposure. The tradition of a night watch continued in colonial America. The rattle watch, so named because of the rattling device used by the watchmen, alerted sleeping towns when fire broke out. The first fire prevention code in America was instituted by Governor Peter Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam (today known as New York). The code, which was passed in 1648, prohibited the building of wood or plaster chimneys. Four volunteer fire wardens were appointed to enforce the new law and inspect chimneys to make sure they were kept clean. Those with faulty chimneys were levied fines. The


extinguishment or covering of all fires by 9:00 p.m. was also enforced to prevent fires while people slept. In 1658 Stuyvesant appointed eight men to patrol the streets of Manhattan. These members of the rattle watch were distinguished by their long capes and noisemakers. Early American firefighting tactics were basic and required the help of all citizens. The bucket brigade, despite its severe limitations, was used throughout the colonies for lack of anything better. Townspeople would rush to the fire scene with their leather buckets. Two lines would be formed leading from the scene of the fire to the nearest water source. One line, usually women and children, would pass empty buckets back to the water supply where they would be filled and passed back down the other line and thrown in the general direction of the fire. Hot embers were doused with water soaked swabs mounted on the ends of long poles. These methods at best prevented the spread of fire to other buildings. A conflagration struck London on Sunday, September 2, 1666. The inferno raged out of control for five days consuming two-thirds of the city. Numerous churches, warehouses, and other buildings were destroyed along with some 13,000 homes. More than a hundred thousand people were left homeless in the ashes. An ironic note of firefighting history is that early Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans apparently knew the principle of pumping or throwing water. This principle was lost until the early 1500s when several "water engines" were developed. None of these water engines had been put into practical use at the time of the London conflagration. The bucket brigade was still throwing water with little success. The excessive losses in the London catastrophe spurred development of the first hand-tub water engines. These were basically a small rectangular storage box with a condensing case mounted on the top. Two handle-operated pistons were connected to the condensing case as well as a large water nozzle. The storage box was supplied water by the traditional bucket brigade, while volunteers worked the pistons which forced water out through the nozzle. Water engines had to be placed extremely close to the fire to prove effective, but this was a vast improvement over the simple bucket brigade. In 1871 Chicago, compared to other cities, had a modern, well-equipped fire department. The forces included 17 steam fire engines, 23 hose

carts, 4 hook-and-ladder wagons, and 185 well- paid firemen. On Sunday night, October 8, 1871, fire broke out in the O'Leary barn and quickly spread out of control. At sunrise on Tuesday morning the massive damage became evident. Some 17,500 buildings were gone, 300 people were dead, and 100,000 were homeless. Property damage amounted to $400 million. Thirty-two years later Chicago was the sight of another tragic fire. The "fireproof" Iroquois Theater was packed with 2,400 people on Wednesday, December 30, 1903. On stage a piece of canvas accidentally brushed against a hot light and ignited. Even though the fire caused minimal damage to the theater, 589 people died in the panic to escape. History shows the need for fire protection in urban areas to prevent such large scale disasters from occurring. Without adequate resources to ensure fire codes are followed or to check the spread of fire, people would live in constant fear of the red devil. Today, late in the twentieth century, Benjamin Franklin's words still hold true. Fire is essential in our daily lives, providing for our basic needs and comfort. But when allowed to become its own master, fire is indeed something to fear. When the genie escapes, running unchecked as it pleases, firefighters are called to perform miracles. As we shall see, it is not always easy to put the genie back in the bottle.


CHAPTER ONE Early Settlement on Lake Worth 500 B.C. to November, 1894 The farther back you look, the farther forward you are likely to see. Winston Churchill

pursuit thought differently.

500 B.C. The earliest inhabitants on the southeast coast of Florida were Indians. At the Jupiter Inlet a great oyster shell mound, twenty feet high and six hundred feet long, contained evidence of blackened campfires from tribes dating back to 500 B. C. The area provided sufficient food in the form of oysters, fish, and game to sustain these primitive people, but the land was wild. In the cen- turies before explorers landed on the shores everyday life was a matter of providing the basics necessary for sur- vival and nature’s perils were accepted as normal by the rugged Indians. These native Americans survived many hardships, but the coming of the white man marked the beginning of the end for their civilization and simple way of life. 1500 - 1600s Historians credit Ponce de Leon as the first explorer to investigate the southeast coast of La Florida. In 1513 he landed at Jupiter Inlet to replenish food and water. In 1555 Menendez visited the area, finding the Jeaga Indians living on the high shell mound at the inlet. Conflicts with these early explorers set the tone for later encounters be- tween the white men and Indians. The most detailed account of the Jeaga Indians was written by Jonathan Dickinson, a passenger aboard the barkentine Reformation, when it ran aground near Hobe Sound on September 24, 1696. The natives were not par- ticularly friendly to the strange intruders cast upon the desolate beach by fate. Dickenson and his fellow survi- vors were bound and imprisoned by what they considered brutal savages. After several weeks, the survivors of the Reformation were released. The Indians pointed north- ward along the barren white beaches, pushing the weak- ened white invaders away from their domain with spear points. Descendants of these pale strangers would none- theless return in even greater numbers. 1800s Documentation from participants in the Seminole Indian Wars (1835-1842) offered evidence why the south- eastern coast of Florida had not yet been settled. Many Indians, pushed southward by hostilities in the north, found the interior swamps a perfect retreat while those in

In 1838 General Thomas Sidney Jesup led an expe- dition to the Jupiter Inlet, fighting the Indians in the Loxa- hatchee swamp at the eastern end of the Everglades. Dr. Motte, serving the command as a surgeon, stated: After all, Florida is certainly the poorest country that ever two people quarreled for. The climate in the first place is objectionable; for even in Winter, while per- sons farther north were freezing, we were melting with heat. In the next place the larger portion . . . is a poor, sandy country in the north; and in the southern portions nearly all wet prairies and swamp; healthy in winter but sickly in summer. . . . It is in fact a most hideous region to live in; a perfect paradise for Indi- ans, alligators, serpents, frogs, and every other kind of loathsome reptile . . . Then why not . . . let the Indi- ans have kept it? The population of Florida in 1845 at the time of statehood was 66,500, concentrated mostly in the northern third of the state. The major population areas were Jack- sonville, St. Augustine, Key West, and the panhandle. Transportation around the more desolate areas of the pen- insula was accomplished by ship. The southeast coast remained unsettled. Construction of the Jupiter Lighthouse, near Fort Jupiter of the Seminole Indian Wars, was completed in 1859. The workers and keepers of the lighthouse were the only white persons on the coast south of Fort Pierce. At the outbreak of the Civil War the illumination equip- ment was disabled by attendant August Lang, a southern sympathizer. Fearing arrest by coastal patrols, Lang hid out on an island that is now known as Palm Beach and is considered to be the first resident of the island. Michael Sears and his son were exploring present day Lake Worth in a small schooner in 1866. They discovered Lang, liv- ing with his wife, in a small cabin unaware that the Civil War had ended. Lang later moved north, near Fort Pierce, where he was murdered in 1874. The next settlers arrived in 1872. Charlie Moore moved into the old Lang place which was several miles south of the Palm Beach Inlet. Mr. and Mrs. Malden set- tled on the north side of the inlet. W. M. Butler and Will H. Moore lived near the south end of the lake on an island that would later be known as Hypoluxo, an Indian word meaning "big water all around, no get out." In 1873 the


1890 - 1894 March of 1893 marked the end of the frontier world and the beginning of a new era for the southeast coast of Florida. Henry Morrison Flagler, one of the wealthiest men in America, arrived on the long, narrow island that would become Palm Beach as we know it to- day. No other single event had more of an impact on the future of West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County. Flagler had achieved success and fortune as a part- ner of John D. Rockefeller in Standard Oil. In 1878 Flag- ler brought his wife to Jacksonville, Florida because of her ill health. Later visits to St. Augustine, during the winters of 1884 and 1885, opened his eyes to the possi- bilities of providing improved facilities for tourists. By

population doubled with the arrival of five more brave souls; three members of the Pierce family, H. F. Hammon, and Will Lainhart. Mail service was sporadic at best. With no easily accessible overland route, correspondence came by ship. In 1878 the settlers petitioned for a mail route from the St. Lucie post office to Lake Worth. Mr. V. O. Spencer was named postmaster at Lake Worth in 1880. Many have believed that there were no coconut trees growing in the Lake Worth area until the Spanish baroque "Providencia," loaded with coconuts from Trini- dad, ran aground in January of 1878. But recorded his- tory proves otherwise. Accounts from Charles Pierce in- dicate that August Lang, the first white settler on Lake Worth, planted many coconut trees around the lake. Lang

1888 Flagler had built the Ponce de Leon and the Alcazar Hotels in Florida's oldest city. He also saw the advantages of owning a railroad; the state gave land in return for rail expansion and the new transportation system would bring guests to his hotels. Flagler purchased the Florida East Coast Railroad and began laying tracks southward. Later his empire would include a steamship line. When Flagler visited Palm Beach early in the 1890s, his railroad extended southward only to Rockledge. There were rumors that he would bring the rails farther south, but most peo- ple discounted that possibility. On Flagler's return to Palm Beach in 1893 the rumors were believed by nearly everyone in spite of a declining national economy. Agents working for Flagler had already purchased the Robert R. McCormick

walked the beaches collecting nuts that had been carried from the West Indies by the Gulf Stream currents. Many of the nuts sprouted and grew along the shore. There were coconut trees grown and bearing when the Pierces and other settlers arrived in 1873. When the "Providencia" wrecked five years later, the cargo was sal- vaged by H. F. Hammon and Will Lainhart. Fourteen thou- sand coconuts were sold at $2.50 per hundred and planted throughout the Lake Worth area. Within years the island looked like one large coconut grove. In 1886 settlers on the is- land petitioned the government for another post office, suggest- ing the name Palm City. The name was rejected because it had already been taken by another Florida town. The name of Palm Beach was accepted as a second choice.

Henry Morrison Flagler

homestead, one of the finest in the area, for $75,000. An- other point of land was bought from E. M. Brelsford for $50,000. It was soon announced that Flagler would build the largest hotel in the country on the McCormick land, ready for opening the following winter. The extension of his Florida East Coast Railroad into the area was scheduled for completion at about the same time. Flagler's own marble palace, named Whitehall, would be built on the Brelsford tract. Flagler not only had plans for development of his resort on the island, but was looking west too. While

Some of the early settlers were homesteaders, while others purchased land at a very low price. These pioneers had none of the luxuries that we know of today, and help- ing each other was a necessity because of the remoteness of the area. They held picnics on the lake, had Thanks- giving turkey shoots, and gathered for Christmas parties. Hunting for deer, turkey, and bear put meat on the table. Fishing and meager vegetable gardens provided addi- tional food. They lived for the most part in harmony with the few remaining Indians. These people, leading hard lives, could not imagine what was on the horizon.


There are two differing stories of what happened to the Styx. One version, put forth in the 1992 book Palm Beach Babylon , claimed Flagler secretly had the Styx burned down while his workers were at the circus. This version is disputed by Jim Ponce, one of the foremost his- torians of Palm Beach, who said there is "no evidence to support the rumor." Ponce believed that the workers had been relocated to the mainland side and the Styx then burned to clean-up what had always been considered only temporary housing. This theory is also supported by evi- dence presented in Pioneers in Paradise , the Palm Beach Post’s 1994 book. The first section of the Royal Poinciana Hotel opened to the public February 11, 1894. There were only 17 guests in the 540 rooms. When completed, the colonial -style hotel was the largest wooden structure in the world. The six stories and basement contained 1,150 rooms, a dining room that seated nearly 1,000 people, a magnifi- cent casino, a large rotunda, and various porches and par- lors. Suites cost $100 a day, but for $38 a couple could stay in a double room with bath. The imposing hotel was painted a bright lemon yellow, as were most of Flagler's enterprises. Construction of the Florida East Coast Railroad moved steadily southward while other railroads across the nation were going bankrupt. On March 22, 1894, the first train pulled into West Palm Beach. Every subsequent train brought prospective residents, businessmen, inves- tors, and guests for Flagler’s hotel. The railroad provided the first convenient access to West Palm Beach by land. There were several fires in the Lake Worth area before the construction boom. These had been limited to single structures because of the distance between existing buildings. The first recorded fire occurred in October of 1893 at the Cocoanut Grove House owned by Commodore C. T. Clarke, a Pittsburgh millionaire. The boarding house, located on the lake front in Palm Beach, was originally built in 1880 by "Cap" E. N. Dimick as his personal home. He converted the home into an inn by adding eight rooms. Later additions enlarged the Cocoanut Grove House to fifty rooms. Guests paid six dollars per person per day for a room, three meals, and all the fruit they could pick from the trees surrounding the inn. They could also take advantage of a rowboat and catboat docked on Lake Worth. At the time of the fire the inn was rented to Henry Flagler as his construction headquarters. "Cap" Dimick, the first owner of the Cocoanut Grove House, would later become Palm Beach's first mayor and a state senator. A statue of him still stands at the Royal Park Bridge entrance to Palm Beach. "Cap" Dimick earned his title in an unusual manner. He always wore a white cap and thus was nicknamed "Cap." This later was taken to be short for Captain, a term used widely

standing on the shoreline of Palm Beach discussing his grand proposals, Flagler pointed across Lake Worth and predicted, "In a few years there'll be a town over there as big as Jacksonville . . . ." News of Flagler's intentions was published far and wide with articles proclaiming the beauty and healthful- ness of the area. People began flooding in, eager to take advantage of job opportunities or buy land in the newly discovered paradise. As a matter of course, real estate prices soared from $150 to $1,000 per acre. Florida had never experienced such a dramatic change in real estate value. Those who had homesteaded a few years earlier, living in virtual poverty, suddenly found themselves inde- pendently rich. Land sold and quickly resold as the val- ues rose, each seller making in turn a substantial profit. Preparations were made for construction of the Royal Poinciana Hotel. The firm of McGuire and McDonald, which had built hotels for Flagler in St. Augustine, was to be in charge under the personal super- vision of J. A. McDonald. Shacks, tents, and boarding houses were quickly put up to house construction work- ers. Ground was broken for the hotel May 1, 1893, and soon there were more than a thousand men working on the mammoth structure. Flagler paid his workers well with unskilled laborers making $1.10 per hour, forty cents above the national standard. All materials for the hotel had to be transported into the area which proved a difficult and expensive process. Lumber was shipped by boat from Eau Gallie to Jupiter, then transferred to the Celestial Railroad, so named be- cause it served four stops; Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Juno. After the eight mile trip by rail to Juno, the materials were reloaded onto another boat for the final ten mile run to Palm Beach. A small army of men labored at each trans- fer point working around the clock, seven days a week. The freight bills for the railroad alone totalled $60,000. Additional materials were shipped down the coast on steamers that had been purchased by Flagler. Many laborers had set up residence in the Styx, an area on the island north of the hotel. The shantytown consisted of small wooden shacks hurriedly thrown to- gether in a dense tangle of jungle. Flagler decided that the west side of the lake, where only a few settlers had taken up residence at the time, was better suited for his workers. He obtained a 50 acre site on the west side from Captain O. S. Porter for $35,000 and a second tract of 60 acres. The great developer laid out a 200 acre townsite along one-half-mile of the lake front. The new town was originally called "Westpalmbeach," but the name was later changed to West Palm Beach. As the grand hotel neared completion, Flagler ar- ranged for a circus to entertain the laborers who had con- structed his latest masterpiece. The big top was set up on the mainland and a huge celebration ensued.


Suitable appliances will be bought for fighting fire, if the businessmen and owners of buildings will only give the boys reasonable encourage- ment to equip themselves. No more useful or- ganization could well be thought of just at this time, when the town is without the slightest fire protection of any kind. The Town of West Palm Beach incorporated No- vember 5, 1894. At the time there were more than 1,000 residents, a post office, town hall, school, newspaper, stores, and an ice factory. Seventy-eight voting citizens elected John S. Earman as the first mayor. Elected to the first board of aldermen were George Potter, J. M. Gar- land, J. F. Lamond, George Zapf, H. T. Grant, E. H. Dimick, and H. J. Burkhardt. Burkhardt had gained local notoriety as the "naked mailman." Working as one of the famous barefoot mail- men, he had taken to walking the isolated stretches of beaches without any clothes so that he could obtain the beneficial rays of the sun over his entire body. He was always careful to dress as he neared populated areas. One of the first orders of business for the new city officials was the consideration of forming a fire company. The volunteer fire company had the support of J. E. Ingra- ham, one of Flagler's most able assistants who saw forma- tion of fire protection forces an important necessity due to the large number of wood buildings in the area. Even a small fire posed extreme danger to Flagler investments. Flagler himself was well aware of the potential threat to his empire. His first Florida hotel, the Ponce de Leon in St. Augustine, was constructed with twin towers that held 16,000 gallons of water for fire protection. Similar meas- ures were not taken at the Royal Poinciana because the water plant at Fresh Water Lake provided ample re- sources. Much had happened in only a few short years to make the swamps habitable. Without Flagler's invest- ments and foresight, the area most likely would have re- mained wild well into the twentieth century.

in the area for anyone who operated a boat. The irony was that Cap Dimick disliked boats. Early West Palm Beach had the appearance of a tent city with sometimes two or three families living in a sin- gle tent. George W. Lainhart and George W. Potter opened the first lumber yard. Building materials pro- duced and sold by this partnership provided the basic needs for construction of wood buildings in the rapidly growing town. West Palm Beach began to look more re- spectable as new structures were completed. During the summer of 1894, certain streets were paved with shell rock at Flagler's expense. Clematis, the main street, was shelled from Lake Worth westward to Fresh Water Lake (today known as Clear Lake). The de- velopment of West Palm Beach was progressing faster than the island resort to the east. The citizens built their first church in 1894. The Union Congregational Church, located on the corner of Datura and Olive, was of typical wood frame construction with a metal clad roof. On August 25, 1894, the church was officially organized with the Reverend Elbridge Gale presiding. This church served the community until Octo- ber 18, 1954, when fire destroyed the building. As the population increased the town required other services. The first wooden school house in West Palm Beach was built at a cost of $1,500 on the corner of Clematis and Poinsettia (now known as Dixie Highway). The school accommodated 229 pupils. Flagler needed a source of fresh water for his new hotel and water supply for fire protection. He made plans to pump water from Fresh Water Lake. The single steam- driven pump for the waterworks arrived September 29, 1894, and installation commenced on November 5. The principle main, an eight inch line, started at the water plant located at the west end of Banyan Street and ex- tended through West Palm Beach across Lake Worth to the Royal Poinciana Hotel. The $45,000 system was a small affair to begin with, but the visionary Flagler saw that growth would continue. He purchased several hun- dred acres around Fresh Water Lake and present day Lake Mangonia for future expansion of the water plant. As the founder of West Palm Beach, Flagler often used his influence in the affairs of the day. He had an associate approach a local saloon owner in an attempt to stop the prostitution that operated out of the establish- ment. Flagler also blocked construction of a proposed road along the lakefront. Ironically, the road was later built and named Flagler Drive. The concentration of wood buildings in the mid- 1890s made West Palm Beach a likely target for the rav- ages of fire. In 1894 citizens made plans for organizing a fire company. On November 1, 1894, The Tropical Sun carried an article stating:


CHAPTER TWO The Flagler Alerts November, 1894 to 1901 You are dealing with a work full of dangerous hazard, and you are venturing upon fires oerlaid with dangerous ashes. Horace

1894 The Flagler Alerts officially organized as a fire com- pany November 17, 1894. J. E. Phillips was elected President; Joseph Elliott, Vice President; James T. Sand- ers, Treasurer; H. Papworth, Secretary; J. K. Marvin, Foreman; and C. L. Dorothy, Assistant Foreman. Joseph Elliott owned a lucrative fishing business, was a Justice of the Peace, and represented the Standard Oil Company as a local sales agent. Working as a com- missarist for the East Coast Railway, Elliott had moved south from St. Augustine with the expansion of the rail- road. James T. Sanders was the prosecuting attorney for the county criminal court and was, for a time, the only attorney in the area. J. K. Marvin owned a grocery store on Clematis Street and was also part owner of Marvin & Nokes, an undertaking and embalming business. The volunteer ranks soon reached a strength of nearly forty able-bodied men. The first piece of fire- fighting apparatus was a hand drawn hose cart purchased in 1894. A two-story wood frame building at Datura Street and Poinsettia (Dixie) housed fire equipment. A large bell mounted on top of the temporary Town Hall called the Alerts into action. Anyone who discovered a fire had to rush to Town Hall and pull the rope to sound the alarm. 1895 Adaptations to the water system were necessary for use by the Alerts. O. W. Weybrecht, a local plumber, installed water pipes and hoses in the Sun block January 31, 1895, the first adaptation of Flagler's water system for the purpose of fire control. February 15, 1895, the Flagler Alerts held a benefit ball to raise funds for the purchase of much needed equip- ment. The festivities took place at the new school house on the corner of Clematis Street and Poinsettia (now Dixie Highway). With little money available, the new town of 1,228 people left financial matters up to the fire company. After a year of incorporation, the town offered some monetary support for the purchase of fire equipment and land for a future fire hall. The hand written minutes of the town council meeting held November 11, 1895, indi- cate, "Progress in the matter of the fire apparatus now

being bargained for." Arrangements were also made for acquiring Lot 11, Block 12, from Flagler, ". . . for the fire engine and other purposes." In the town council meeting of December 7, 1895, the Flagler Alerts elected new officers: Joseph Elliott, President; Eli Sims, Secretary and Treasurer; V. A. Strumpe, Foreman; and C. L. Dorothy, Assistant Fore- man. Eli Sims was also the Town Clerk at the time. Among the most active volunteers on the rolls were: Walter M. "Dooley" Hill, Oscar Chatham, Dick Ray, George Currie, H. Papworth, J. E. Phillips, Victor O'Neal, J. W. Harper, Clarence Lauther, Milton Dick, and Don C. Morris. Henry Morrison Flagler and the mayor entered into a contract for the purchase of Lot 11, Block 12. The council read and accepted the proposal. The terms of the sale were: Four hundred and twenty dollars as per notes, in three annual installments. On the pay- ment of which notes, the first for one hundred and thirty-nine dollars and twenty cents, pay- able in twelve months from dates. The second notes for one hundred and twenty-nine and sixty cents, payable twenty-four months from dates, and the third note for one hundred and twenty dollars payable in thirty-six months from date, and in interest on deferred payments. The sum of eighty-eight dollars and eighty cents to be paid in hand. H. M. Flagler is to make good sufficient deed to said lot. And the Mayor was asked to complete the contract for the town as per contract. The council also named a committee ". . . to ascer- tain the cost of a building for engine house" on the newly acquired lot. The Town fathers seemed to take the fire threat seriously. 1896 The first major fire after the incorporation of West Palm Beach occurred on Thursday, January 2, 1896. At 2:00 p.m. fire broke out in the Midway Plaisance Saloon, a large wood frame building on the south side of Banyan Street. Flames quickly spread from one building to the


Strumpe was the first to hold this title in West Palm Beach. The new chief was quickly put to the test. At about 10:00 p.m. on the same night as Strumpe's appointment, the second major fire broke out in downtown West Palm Beach. A drunken tailor overturned a gasoline stove as he was lighting it. A mob tried to capture him, but he got safely out of town by running down the railroad tracks towards Miami. The fire rapidly spread eastward down Clematis Street and consumed another section of Narcis- sus Street. Losses included several stores, a number of profes- sional offices, and The Gazetteer (a local newspaper that would later become The Lake Worth News and eventually The Palm Beach Post) . Businesses destroyed were Dimick's Drugstore, Livingston & Sheen's Civil Engi- neering and Real Estate, Maltby's Undertaking, Nokes & Heslington's Painting, Oliver's Fruit and Vegetable Store, and Weybrecht Hardware (the first building in West Palm Beach). The fire also burned the tent that the Weybrechts had lived in since 1893. H. T. Grant invited the homeless family to stay in his home located nearby on Datura Street. Chief Strumpe most likely wondered how he

next, resulting in extensive damage to the south side of Banyan Street and the Seminole Hotel located on Narcis- sus Street. The Alerts saved little of the involved struc- tures. An explosion of a gasoline stove started the disas- trous fire. This conflagration caused great concern about the haphazard construction of the past. The town council im- mediately passed West Palm Beach's first fire code. The ordinance established a fire district and decreed that no building could be erected within that district unless it was constructed of brick, brick veneer or stone. The first new construction in the designated district was the Harmonia Lodge. The brick veneer structure, built in April 1896, complied with the law. On January 21, 1896, the record of the Town Coun- cil reflected that "the following bills were reported correct by the finance committee and warrants ordered to be drawn on the same. . . . Help hired by fire Dept. by Flag- ler Alert Hose Company - $2.50." The proceedings of the council meeting Thursday, February 20, 1896, indicated that V. A. Strumpe was ap- pointed the position of "chief of company" upon the rec- ommendation of the Flagler Alert Hose Company. Mr.

Banyan Street in the 1890s. 2

notorious for the drinking estab- lishments that sprang-up along the shell rock path. This became a place where Flagler's many labor- ers invested their paychecks to- ward a little fun and entertainment after a hard day's work in the tor- rid Florida sun. Saloons offered other diversions, such as floor shows and ladies of dubious dis- tinction. There was money to be made and laws were lax. Banyan Street's reputation grew with every brawl and it was soon dubbed "Whiskey Street" by the locals. Many early settlers lived within hearing distance of the fights and gun fire that erupted almost nightly. The scene resem- bled that of a small frontier town

could get out of his appointment. Prolific wood construction, lack of adequate firefighting equipment, and limited water sup- ply presented a staggering obsta- cle for the firemen who tried to control these blazes in the early years of West Palm Beach. Un- der the best of circumstances, fires of this magnitude presented major problems. To the Flagler Alerts of 1896 it was frustrating to more or less stand and watch as the heart of downtown burned to ashes. But, as was the case in many settlements of the day, the citizens were not to be denied their new town and hopes for a more successful future. The townspeople persevered, and with the help of their neighbors, built again.

in western movies.

Steps were taken by the respectable citizens to quell the disturbances. A reading room was opened on the lakefront at the foot of Clematis Street. The building had once been the clubhouse of the Palm Beach Yacht Club before it was towed on a barge to West Palm Beach. Peo- ple wanting to steer the rowdies away from the saloons of Banyan Street donated books and furniture. Many of the early Flagler Alert meetings were held on the second floor of this building. Flagler himself even made attempts to calm the rev- elry. He sent an associate to have a talk with saloon owner George Zapf to persuade him to stop the prostitu- tion that operated out of his establishment. In 1904 Carry Nation, America's foremost temper- ance crusader, visited West Palm Beach. She normally carried bricks, stones, an axe, and a bible as tools of her trade. Storming into a bar, the "Kansas Cyclone" would let loose with her weapons breaking as many bottles as she

Henry Morrison Flagler built a second hotel in 1895. The Palm Beach Inn (renamed The Breakers in 1900) was located on the ocean due east of the Royal Poinciana Ho- tel. Laborers living on the West Palm Beach side of the lake rowed small boats across Lake Worth to construct the hotel. Guests, who were some of the most prominent people in American high society, rode a ferry across Lake Worth to the hotels until 1896 when a new railroad bridge allowed them to ride in comfort right up to the front doors. Flagler's hotel workers had to pay a toll to use the bridge. A streetcar drawn by a mule later replaced the train for the short ride across Lake Worth. When the line was abandoned, the mule was pensioned with plenty of feed and a comfortable bed for the rest of his days. The early years of West Palm Beach were not en- tirely bleak, and diversions sometimes arrived in unusual ways. Shipwrecks had long provided the early settlers

with much needed supplies, especially wood. In the fall of 1896 an unexpected treasure washed ashore. The "great wine wreck" littered beaches with hundred gallon casks of Spanish claret, smaller kegs of Malaga, and a wine known as Double Superior. There was no record to substantiate it, but the Alerts surely had a hand in disposing of a portion of the salvage. Banyan Street, located between Clematis and Althea (2nd Street), was becoming

could. She bravely marched down Banyan Street preaching the evils of strong drink. In 1907 the Women's Christian Temperance Union dedicated a drinking fountain in Flagler Park hoping the wholesome water would attract the thirsty men away from the distilled spirits that were available only a block away. None of these measures worked. Finally the town fa- thers changed the name of Ban-

Carrie Nation on Banyan Street in 1904. 3

members of the volunteer company would "come a- running." The men pulled the hand carts unless a passing horse-pulled dray could be commandeered to assist. Wheel-high coils of hose were uncoiled along the narrow white shell rock streets. Water to quench the flames was taken from the lake before a system of mains was con- structed. The hand operated pump needed four men on each side to pump water to the fire. The Alerts had hel- mets and coats that were worn "sometimes." Another account remembered "when the alarm sounded, the first two Alerts at the fire house would take the head of the tongue and begin hauling the hand pump toward the fire. Other volunteers fitted their shoulders to the harness along the way to speed the human-propelled machine." By the time these "push-pullers" reached the fire they were often too tired to do anything else but col- lapse under the shade of a tree. Other volunteers arriving at the fire on foot or by bicycle took over until the ex- hausted men revived. The November 11, 1897, issue of The Tropical Sun carried an article about repairs that were being made on the local fire department building. Keeping the facilities presentable was an on-going problem with the limited funds available at the time.

yan Street to First Street in hopes of reforming it. Within a short time pundits had dubbed the street "Thirst Street." Prohibition calmed the rowdiness in 1918. In the late 1980s city officials thought it was safe to rename the thor- oughfare Banyan Street. The nation saw two dramatic new developments in 1896 that would change the world. The first moving pic- tures on a public screen were shown in New York City on April 23, and Henry Ford completed his first automobile in Detroit, Michigan on June 4. 1897 After only one year as Fire Chief, Mr. Strumpe evi- dently had enough. On January 7, 1897, the town council received a letter from J. Elliott, President of the Alerts, stating, "Gentlemen, At a meeting of the Flagler Alerts on 16th Dec. 1896, it was resolved on motion that J. C. Lau- ther be recommended to your honorable board for posi- tion of Chief of the Fire Department." At the next council meeting on January 9, J. C. Lauther was approved as the second fire chief of the Alerts. Carl Kettler, one of the early members of the Flagler Alerts, recalled the days when the bell would sound and

Jacksonville conflagration 1901.


1898 The appearance of the fire department building be- came a public concern in 1898. Funding for the Alerts was minimal and the fire hall was sorely in need of a new coat of paint. An article in the July 7, 1898, Tropical Sun brought the matter to the attention of the citizens. 1900 At the turn of the century southern Florida, in com- parison with other areas of the country, was still sparsely populated, especially in the summer season. Flagler's wealthy tourists only visited in the winter, leaving the sweltering summers for heartier folks. The Alerts put out a fire in the Masonic building in December of 1900. The Harmonia Lodge #138 F.&A.M. sent a formal resolution thanking the fire company on December 27. The first substantial water mains used for fire pro- tection in West Palm Beach were laid in 1900 and 1901. These were certainly welcomed by the firemen even though they were limited to a small area in the downtown district. 1901 Jacksonville had been the tourist capital of Florida during the latter half of the 1800s. The extension of Flag- ler's railroad southward to Palm Beach and Miami marked the end of a colorful era for the aging north Flor- ida city. Trains rolled through Jacksonville loaded with passengers seeking warmer climes and luxury to the south. On May 3, 1901, as if finally accepting its loss, fire swept through Jacksonville virtually destroying the downtown and its once popular resort hotels. Losses to- talled fifteen million dollars and seven lives. Memories of this fire would help to upgrade the water distribution system in West Palm Beach more than twenty years later. By the end of 1901, citizens of West Palm Beach began to seriously question the capabilities of the existing fire protection. A letter to the council requested that they look into providing additional equipment, improving the water supply, and forming an efficient fire department. Savings from reduced fire insurance would enable citi- zens to pay increased taxes for support of the fire depart- ment. No doubt the recent disaster in Jacksonville played a large part in these concerns.


CHAPTER THREE Formation of the West Palm Beach Fire Department 1902 to 1910 The past cannot be changed, the future is still in your power. Hugh White

with great care taken in the wording so the town council would approve. This added credence to the volunteer fire company in an effort to gain public support and funding. Article 17 of the by-laws read in part, "The first member arriving at the reel house on the alarm of a fire shall take immediate command." The new department enrolled the following men as charter members: F. J. O'Beirne, J. W. Sanders, L. C. Holmes, Emil Anthony, J. B. McGinley, F. C. Gardner, Ralph Broadwell, Louis Burkhardt, W. J. Haugh, Robert McNair, A. F. Faber, Charles Miller, Captain W. W. Jar- vis, L. P. Lockwood, R. B. Tiffany, Charles Messing, E. L. Carlisle, O. N. Thomas, J. F. Wye, S. Schneidman, A. J. Ellis, Lee Fenton, J. E. Chambers, C. W. Schmid, W. M. Pope, W. F. Heckert, G. G. Currie, and Harry L. Brown. No one received pay for his service to the com- munity as a fireman. Regular weekly meetings were scheduled for Tues- day evenings at 7:30 sharp. Drills were conducted twice each week. James B. McGinley, Frank C. Gardner, and A. F. Faber were named to a special committee assigned the task of collecting funds for the organization. No funds were available for a permanent fire hall, one of the first concerns of the men. The volunteers sent circulars to all citizens requesting donations, but collection was a slow and tedious process. Because of the shortage of funds, the members were required to pay dues. The money was used to purchase equipment for the gymna- sium and fire hose. At the September 9, 1902, meeting, Mr. McGinley, representing the finance committee, reported that from all prospects he thought they would be able to raise about one thousand dollars. The secretary then reported that he had received five dollars from each of the following gen- tlemen: Mayor Burkhardt, Mr. W. R. Moses, and Mr. Enoch Root of Palm Beach. A letter from Mr. Root was read before all present:

1902 In the spring of 1902 a debate arose in the Board of Trade over what steps should be taken to improve fire protection. Some wanted to purchase fire extinguishers that would be placed around town, while others thought a new chemical engine would better serve the people. A compromise was reached to request improvements to the water supply for fire purposes. In May a resolution to this effect was drafted and forwarded to the town council. A fire that demolished the Lake Park Hotel (located in West Palm Beach) and several other buildings in 1902 added concern as to the ability of the Flagler Alerts to handle major emergencies. George C. Currie, attorney, poet, and developer, called for a meeting of the Board of Trade to establish official fire protection for West Palm Beach that would prove more reliable. In August James B. McGinley stressed to the Board of Trade the need for an organized fire department in West Palm Beach. He cited "the present helpless condi- tion of the town in the event of a conflagration." Mayor Burkhardt agreed, stating that up until then the citizens had the responsibility of organizing the vol- unteers. He added that "the Town Council would gladly encourage . . . the organization of a volunteer fire depart- ment and that such an organization would be thoroughly equipped by the town." A special committee which in- cluded George G. Currie, James B. McGinley, and Charles Miller was appointed to address the issue. Sev- eral in attendance expressed hope that a company would be organized soon enough to compete with the Miami fire company in the Labor Day contests. Tuesday, August 26, 1902, the Flagler Alerts were reorganized as the West Palm Beach Volunteer Fire De- partment. This important meeting, held at the Public Li- brary Hall, was documented in the August 29, 1902, Tropical Sun . In the tradition of volunteer fire depart- ments, association officers were elected. The new Presi- dent, James B. McGinley, would later become the mayor of West Palm Beach in 1910. Charles H. Miller was elected Vice President; Frank C. Gardner, Secretary; A. F. Faber, Treasurer; J. W. Sanders and F. J. O'Beirne, Foremen. J. E. Chambers was appointed as the first chief of the new organization. Some twenty members of the original Alerts were still active in the firefighting duties and the hand drawn hose cart was still being utilized. The association adopted by-laws and ordinances

Palm Beach Florida September 6, 1902

Mr. Frank C. Gardner, Secretary West Palm Beach Fire Department

Dear Sir: - I am in hearty accord with the object of your contemplated organization, having in my own young days served my time as a fire- man, commencing when only a lad of fifteen as


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