I wouldn’t categorize The Loxahatchee Lament as a “beach read” and I’m pretty certain the Palm Beach County Library system wouldn’t appreciate you taking it anywhere near a body of water, but if you are curious about the history of Jupiter and northern Palm Beach County, I recommend you head to your nearest library branch to check out a volume.
The Loxahatchee Lament is a collection of interviews conducted by the Jupiter Courier in the 1970s. According to the editor and publisher, Ives M. Cary, “The original purpose was to save the Loxahatchee River.” Reporters interviewed local pioneers (some such as Carlin White lived in Jupiter since the turn of the century) about the state of the Loxahatchee River and how it had changed over time. From what I can gather, at that time the Federal Government was poking around in Jupiter’s affairs, claiming that there was salt intrusion in the river. Ecologists wanted to weaken the salt water estuary of the Loxahatchee, even though all the locals knew that the water had always been brackish for as long as they could remember – “… after all, everyone knew the Loxahatchee River was brackish – fresh in the reaches where the river bottom was above the high tide line, salty at the ocean, and a varying mixture in between.”
However, what started out as a quest to save the river soon became an oral and written history of the town. Jupiter pioneers who arrived in the early 1900s battled mosquitoes, the Great Depression, and the 1928 hurricane. It was impossible to travel over land; almost everyone used the Loxahatchee River for transportation. At the time of publication in 1978, those same pioneers now lived in air conditioned homes near modern grocery stores and doctor’s offices, all on paved roads. With over 100 interviews, readers can discover the Jupiter of the past, when our tiny town was just a beacon in the wilderness (literally).
Here are five things that you’ll never see again in Jupiter, taken from the pages of The Loxahatchee Lament:
Pennock Plantation was established in 1895 by Henry S. Pennock, a Philadelphia florist and engineer who moved to Jupiter to grow asparagus ferns in the warm weather without the use of a hothouse. The ferns were very popular in floral displays in the north and Mr. Pennock soon became the area’s largest employer.
“Pennock Plantation eventually had 29 acres of fern sheds in addition to a large Jersey cattle herd, cattle barns, 17 windmills, a sawmill, an ice making plant, and the town’s only telephone. In 1903, he [Henry S. Pennock] bought Pennock Point for $1,000, a price which everyone then agreed was out of reason. By no means was the raising of ferns the only or even the main activity at Pennock Plantation. For one thing, father was interested in Jersey milk cows. In 1907, he started his dairy herd. He bought his first cow in Fort Pierce and had to swim the river with it here to bring it home. The herd became the largest Jersey herd in Florida and produced milk that was delivered house to house in West Palm Beach.” – Shirley Pennock Floyd, Mr. Pennock’s daughter
“1947 may have been the rainiest year in the history of this area. It was the year I arrived. Twenty inches fell in one 24-hour period. The storm began with a severe hail storm which dented cars. All low areas were flooded. At Pennock Plantation, the fern sheds with slatted sides and roof acted as fish traps in the flood. Big snook swam in the doorways during the flood and couldn’t escape out the slatted sides. We chased them around fern tables and caught them with our bare hands.” – R.F. “Bud” Gladwin, Member of the Jupiter Inlet District Commission and my Dad’s first employer in Jupiter
“Boys worked a lot growing up. There was always a lot of yard work and we worked Saturdays and Sundays at Pennock Plantation for 10 cents an hour. Men were only making 25 cents an hour.” – Roy Rood
“There was a lot of asparagus fern grown here in our area. The Pennock Plantation with about 9 acres and Wilkinson with about 6 acres were the largest growers. The fern was packed with ice in warm weather and shipped to the northern wholesale florists. Mr. Amos Bassett said that about 60 boxes was the largest days shipment that he remembers and Dr. Bill Wilkinson remembers his father shipping 24 boxes in one day. Of course, the busiest times for the fern growers was right before the holidays, such as Christmas and Easter… There was a big bell on the Plantation, which was rung at noon and evening and for coffee breaks. For years it was the town’s fire alarm too. When it would sound fire, everyone would jump on trucks and head for the trouble.” – Harry Jackson, Treasurer of the Pennock Plantation
“A big bell on a platform rang out at noon on the Plantation and at quitting time. I believe it was moved to the Congregational Church after Mr. Pennock died. Youngsters were always welcome to play in the barns and fields. Mr. and Mrs. Pennock were fine people who loved children.” – Amos Bassett
By the mid-1950s, ferns were no longer in high demand and the Plantation downsized. All remaining buildings were destroyed in a fire in 1970. Today, the Jupiter Plantation apartments sit on the former site of Pennock Plantation.
The School Boat
I wrote about Jupiter’s school boat in a post earlier this month about Old Jupiter School. There was very little infrastructure in the Town of Jupiter and the dirt roads were mostly unnavigable (besides the fact that the majority of residents were too poor to own an automobile). The easiest way to get children to school was to take them by boat via the Loxahatchee River.
“For my first two years of school, the school boat called at our dock for me in the morning and returned me in the afternoon. It was a lifeboat from the battleship Maine, operated by Dr. Blanchard. His home was near where the Boy Scout camp is now. He’d pick up the Wilsons, Shuflins, and then us. In 1918, the school boat was discontinued and we had to row across the river and walk to school in Jupiter. Later, a bus came to the cemetery to pick up children, but we still had to cross the river in a rowboat twice each day.” – Mary Young
“The river brought children to school. The fellow who ran the school boat lived near the Boy Scout camp. He’d pick up the kids, then wait ’til school was out and take them back home.” – John DuBois, Member of the Jupiter Inlet Commission (1932 – 1942)
“There were only about a hundred residents in the area when we came to raise ferns. The only transportation was by boat, including the school boat that transported the children daily. On one occasion, the school boat captain, Dr. Blanchard, a former dentist, fell overboard to the great amusement of his passengers.” – Robert A. Wilson
“Did you ever go to church or school by boat? Or did you ever see a boat funeral? These were the regular methods of transportation in the early days.” – Harry Jackson
I’m pretty certain this practice is illegal now in Florida due to that fact that the method can easily wipe out a fish population (someone please correct me if I am wrong), but here’s an explanation from a November 6, 1958 article in the St. Petersburg Times: “Fire fishing, a name dating back, some say, to ancient man’s use of flaming torches for night fishing, is modernized to include those who gig fish in shallow waters under a bright, gasoline lantern that supposedly attracts and blinds fish.” Jupiter pioneers recall that the river was so thick with mullet that, if you happened to be on the riverbank during a full moon, the surface was continuously broken from the lighthouse to the inlet by jumping fish.
“The Loxahatchee River is a superb natural spawning grounds. It’s the best in South Florida as long as we preserve it. Fishing was always abundant until recently. We used to specially enjoy fire fishing. At night, with a fire burning in a frame built out and over the front of a boat, we would spear fish attracted by the light. Falling embers wouldn’t scare the fish, and in an evening we would gather a couple tubs of fish. Enough to feed 20 or 30 at a picnic. Big mullet, snook, sea bass, pompano, and snapper were the usual fare. Mullet regularly ran to four and five pounds.” – W. J. Whidden
“We went fire fishing a lot. That is done at night. A frame extending over the front of the boat is piled high with kindling and ignited. The light from the fire attracts the fish. You can’t imagine the numbers of fish it produced. The river was just loaded. One time we got 20 sting rays in one boat ride. There were a lot of manatees in the river, too. Sometimes they would bump the boat while feeding.” – Shirley P. Floyd
I had absolutely no idea that there were (and maybe still are) oysters in the Loxahatchee River. Nowadays, you wouldn’t want to eat one because of the run-off and pollution from golf courses, lawns, and our roads.
“My high school graduation suit was paid for by selling oysters I’d gathered from the Loxahatchee River. I sold oysters for 75 cents a quart and I could open a quart of oysters in 13 minutes, then. We used to gather them barefooted and store the oysters out on a sand bar for opening later. They were beautiful, clean, fat and good tasting.” – Dave Brooker
“One of the treats that newcomers don’t have now are the delicious oysters we used to take out of the river. Some as big as six inches long, you’d have to cut in several pieces to eat. You have to have clean moving water for good oysters. We used to collect a bunch and store them in a tub off the dock for when we needed them. We had our cows to supply the milk for the chowder. The Pennocks had a diary herd of purebred Jerseys that got caught in a flood one year. The barns were flooded and they had to jack up the cows to milk them.” – Robert A. Wilson
A Lighthouse Keeper
Yes, the job of the lighthouse keeper is one of the many careers that have been phased out in the name of technology. In 1928, the light was electrified and a 1/3 horsepower motor turns the lens carriage. Since 1987, a photoelectric cell turns turns the bulb and motor of the light on when the sun sets and off when the sun rises.
“The Jupiter Lighthouse was the center of my life as a boy. I was born there and grew up there. My father was keeper of the lighthouse from 1919 to 1947… The hurricane of 1928 hit Palm Beach County hard. Winds over 130 miles per hour moved the brick lighthouse an estimated 17 or 18 inches. The storm knocked out electric power putting out the light during the storm when it was needed most. The diesel motor wouldn’t start so my brother Frank, who was 17, lit a mineral lamp and placed it in the lighthouse cradle. He pushed it in a circle until daylight. In the morning, John DuBois brought over his light plant for the lighthouse to use. It was a 4-cylinder motor with generator which produced 1500 watts.” – Cliff Seabrook
“During the 1928 hurricane, a magnifying Bullseye lens was blown out. The lens had been made in France and was impossible to duplicate. Captain Seabrook salvaged every piece of the “broken eye” and they were shipped to Charleston. There, the pieces were put together, with the bars across them as it now stands.” – Courier Highlights, May 31, 1973
“One night, Ray Swanson and I climbed the lighthouse and rode the revolving light for hours. His dad was the lighthouse keeper.” – Glynn Mayo, Jupiter Chief of Police
It brought forth a quality of Jupiter people that I have loved. The quality of all pulling together. I’m not saying that it wouldn’t happen today, but it was different then because we all knew each other. We were community minded then without much money but with time to help. Maybe it was because the town was small. If one person had a problem, it was everybody’s problem. Everyone seemed satisfied with what he had. People don’t get that close to one another now. – Roy Brooker, remembering the clean-up and rebuilding efforts after the 1928 hurricane and my favorite quote in the book
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