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Butts Farms

August H. Butts (1884-1955) and his wife, Natalie Swanson, came from Lake County, Florida,

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Augustus Butts of Butts Farm, Boca Raton.

Courtesy Boca Raton Historical Society.

to West Palm Beach before 1920. After the bust, Butts gradually purchased 3,500 acres in Boca Raton that had been vacated by speculators, on each side of Glades Road from Florida's Turnpike to Interstate 95. He chose his land for its higher elevation, abundance of trees, and good drainage, the conditions needed to grow beans. Butts had about 1,600 acres under cultivation at one time; the rest was bought to keep out competition or for irrigation purposes.

Butts Farms became one of Boca Raton’s main employers during the Depression and one of Florida’s largest truck farms. Its produce, primarily beans, was shipped as far as Chicago, New York, and Boston. The farm employed from 400 to 900 workers, depending on the season. Most were Hispanic or African American migrant laborers; others were blacks from Boca Raton’s Pearl City community. The farm provided housing, a church, and a general store for its employees. Originally it also had an elementary school with two teachers; later children were bused to a school in Pearl City. Butts carried insurance to bury workers on the farm if they could not afford other arrangements.

August and Natalie Butts had four children. Jeannette married Marshall W. DeWitt in 1929 and moved to Delray, where he was later mayor. Clarence Edison oversaw the farm’s complex irrigation system of canals, which was so efficient the family sold surplus water to other farmers. He married Jessie Johnson in 1931. Harold earned a degree in agriculture from the University of Florida; in 1938 he built an oceanfront home into the coral rock of a reef called “Butts Rock” just south of Palmetto Park Road. Myrtle married Tom Fleming, Jr., founder of Boca Raton’s first bank and instrumental in starting Florida Atlantic University.

When farming became less profitable, the Butts family sold much of its land to Arvida Corporation. Some of it is now occupied by Town Center Mall, Royal Oak Hills, and Boca Square; other parcels were donated to Florida Atlantic University and St. Andrews Episcopal Church. Butts Road runs along the east side of Town Center, a tribute to the family’s contribution to the local economy.

 

First Jobs

Edna Morris did not own a farm, but tried her hand working for local farmers when she lived in the Glades from 1917 to 1921, at the age of 11 to 15. She later wrote: 

My first job was packing tomatoes at Hill Bros. Packing House.  I counld'nt see how they quickly grabbed up the thin square piece of paper, put the tomato into it, twisted the end, and laid it neatly in the row beside the other one.  I got fired.

My next attempt at money making was picking beans. The rows were close together and the beans hung heavily on all sides. We would grab them with both hands, throw them into the hamper and turn to the other row, not straightening up until we got to the end of the long row. Just when we thought we had a full hamper, the foreman would come along and shake it down. We picked about 13 hampers a day at 50 cents a hamper. That was big money.


 

 

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