Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Tales from the Archives: Pearl City Part III

Curator’s note: In 1985, the Boca Raton Historical Society and Florida Atlantic University professor Art Evans conducted a series of interviews of some of the oldest Pearl City residents. We present here some of their memories of Boca Raton back in the day.

By the 1930s-50s, most Pearl City residents were employed in August Butts’ green bean fields which once covered much of what is now “West Boca.” It was a hard life and even the children worked in the fields during harvest time. Many Pearl City residents also lacked running water and electricity; things we take for granted today. Nonetheless, they knew how to enjoy themselves.

Walter Dolphus recalled:  

Well, the kids always played ball; and I never forget years ago of a marble range…was right in the center of Dixie Highway, and now you can’t even walk across it. A car would pass by probably every four or five hours. So that’s where we used to make up our marble range, right in the middle of Dixie Highway between 11th and 12th Streets. Right in the middle of Dixie Highway.

Amos Jackson had this memory:

We used to celebrate the 20th of May here [that is Florida’s “Emancipation Day”]. That’s the day that we were told that the slaves were freed…The 20th of May was a big day to us. We’d have big baseball games, picnics on the beach and Collin Spain used to carry his juke box, or piccolo as we called it, on the beach; and he had a generator, and they called it a dynamo at the time, that would provide the electrical service for the box. We used to have music on the beach, swimming, ice cream, and sandwiches. Later on in the day we would have baseball games.

Irene Demery Carswell recalled the pleasures of a box supper:

Well this is boxes that the ladies would fix with food, and the men would buy these boxes. This was one of the recreational parties that they had. The men would buy the box maybe for fifty cents or seventy-five cents at the most. And then, for instance, if I made a box and you liked my box, I had this box all decorated with crepe paper, etc. And sometimes there’d be big boxes and little boxes, and they had fried chicken and potato salad and maybe some collard greens, or some homemade rolls, or maybe made a cake. You put enough for two in the box. For instance if you bought my box, you and I would sit and eat whether we were married or not. If you bought my box I had to sit and eat with you. 

Willie Mae Fountain Jackson tells about what people did for recreation on Friday night:

I tell you what we had but my daddy was a very strict man he didn’t let us go out. My brother he’d go. Right up here where Tom’s Place is there used to be the Spain boys; they had what we used to call jukes [juke-joints]. That’s why he [their father Alvin Fountain] wouldn’t let us go. And we had a piccolo that ran by a motor outside and it was a guy named Collin Spain, the oldest boy, and that’s where they had records; they played records by these piccolos, we’d dance and things like that. Well my daddy, if my mother went with us, we could go, but if she didn’t go with us we couldn’t go. So that’s we what did. That was the recreation in Boca Raton.  

To be continued…

Missed the last Tales from the Archives? Check it out here.

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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