Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Tales from the Archives: Pearl City, Part I

It is our privilege to share the Boca Raton Historical Society’s “Tales from the Archives” series, written by Susan Gillis. This will be a recurring column on our website, beginning with a six-part series on Pearl City.–Ed.

Note from the Curator: The information about our earliest black pioneers is very sketchy to say the least. Boca Raton didn’t warrant its own census count until 1920; locals would have appeared in the Deerfield or Delray census of 1910. There appears to be no 1900 census for all three communities. Most of what we know about our early pioneers actually comes from the diaries of Frank Chesebro, a Michigander who came in 1903 and was the area’s largest farmer. 

Boca Raton’s earliest known black resident was a man named C.W. Blaine. He was a sharecropper with six acres of tomatoes and a half acre of beans according to the Florida East Coast Homeseeker, a publication of the Model Land Company (Florida East Coast Railway, February, 1900 edition). Unfortunately, his name does not appear in any of the ensuing censuses, and we have no idea what happened to him.

Frank Chesebro’s diary makes reference to a number of his workers, primarily black, most of whom probably lived in Deerfield and walked to work every day. However, I infer that a few may have been sharecroppers who owned land in what is now Boca Raton—not sure where—but possibly “Hurricane Hill” also known as “The Hill” by the old timers in Boca. The Hill is at West Palmetto Park Road and Northwest/Southwest Fourth Avenue. Two of Frank’s early employees include A.J. Anderson and Jim Huntley. Huntley definitely owned his own property as well as working for Chesebro. Lena, last name unknown, was a sharecropper who by the 1910s became an aide to Nettie Chesebro, Frank’s wife, who was invalided and eventually suffered from dementia. Lena was treated like a member of the family.  Additional employees mentioned in Frank’s diaries include:  Sam Brown, Bradley Bradford, Robert, Timothy Edgecomb, Pete Williams, William J. Reid (Reid), Joe, Roberts, W.J. Anderson, Mrs. Shawood, Judson, Bunch, Patterson, Clark, William Tillman, Alex Hughes, and Will Demery. Hughes and Demery were to stay in Boca Raton and become some of the earliest residents of Pearl City. 

To be continued…

Now on display at The Schmidt Boca Raton History Museum…

BLACK PEARLS: The Story of Pearl City, Boca Raton’s Historic Black Community, July 19 to Dec. 15, 2023

The Schmidt Boca Raton History Museum is pleased to announce a new temporary exhibition entitled Black Pearls: The Story of Pearl City, Boca Raton’s Historic Black Community, on display through December 15, 2023.  This exhibit features photographs created by artist Reginald Cunningham on loan from the Boca Raton Museum of Art that document the current and past residents of Pearl City, Boca Raton’s historic black community platted in 1915. These images are supplemented with historic maps, photos, documents, and artifacts from the Schmidt’s Pearl City collection as well as items on loan from a Pearl City pioneer family. 

For more information about the Boca Raton Historical Society and Schmidt Boca Raton History Museum, visit their website here.

Susan Gillis
Susan Gillis
Susan Gillis is the curator of the Boca Raton Historical Society and Schmidt Boca Raton History Museum. Her "Tales from the Archives" series is inspired by her work with the Society and Museum, and covers all corners of Boca Raton history.

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