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Delray Beach

U.S. Congressman William S. Linton

COM054 U.S. Congressman
William S. Linton, ca. 1896.

In 1894 Congressman William Seelye Linton and Major Nathan Smith Boynton from Michigan visited Lake Worth; they hired Frederick C. Voss to show them the lake area in his naptha launch, the Victor. The captain invited his wife, Lily Pierce Voss, to go along, and they stopped at Bassett’s Hotel in Lantana for lunch before looking at land further south. 

Linton, who Lily Voss found to be “refined” and “likeable,” visited again soon with a group from Michigan that included David Swinton, a bookstore owner, to establish a new community. In West Palm Beach they heard of land for sale near the Orange Grove House of Refuge No. 3; they reached it by barge on the East Coast Canal (now the Intracoastal Waterway).

Linton paid $25.00 per acre for 160 acres of jungle, the size of a homestead. Although Cecil W. Farrar, Swinton’s nephew, wrote that his uncle did not advise the land purchase, he helped finance it. Linton made a down payment on an additional 640 acres. Linton and Flagler’s Model Land Company surveyed the land, platted subdivisions, and officially recorded the new settlement as the Town of Linton.

Back in Michigan, Linton advertised in local newspapers; by 1895, he sold five-acre tracts to ten men. In October, Linton took them to the new townsite, staying at the House of Refuge while clearing land and erecting temporary shelters. Once work began and he had established a post office, Linton returned to Michigan. He formed the Michigan Home Colonization to promote south Florida with Major Boynton, who founded the area to the north that is now Boynton Beach.

A freeze the following February killed the young tomatoes, pineapples, and green beans; many of the early settlers were financially ruined and returned to Michigan. William Linton lost most of his land holdings through foreclosure. Those who stayed in Linton received free seed from Henry Flagler and were able to export their produce when the Florida East Coast Railway was extended to Miami in 1896. They chose railroad clerk Washington W. Blackmer as their new leader.

John Sundy (left) with his family on the porch of his home in Delray Beach

John Sundy (left) with his family on the
porch of his home in Delray Beach.

As the name Linton was associated with these unfortunate events, in 1898 the residents changed the name to Delray for the Michigan town where some of them were raised. John Shaw Sundy, elected the first mayor, came to the area as superintendent of construction for the Florida East Coast Railway in 1894. The Sundys stayed at the Potter homestead in West Palm Beach on Lake Worth near Hibiscus Street, until they settled in Delray in 1899. The 1902 Sundy home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Delray grew into a strong farming community, shipping pineapples, tomatoes, and other vegetables to northern markets. The Delray Canning Company and others pursued related industries. African American families from northern Florida established a settlement just west of Linton known as The Sands for its soil; today it is known as the West Settlers’ Historic District.

The Sterling Commissary on 1st Avenue was constructed in 1896 and later remodeled into a hotel. Abraham George owned one of the first general stores in Florida, built in 1897 at Atlantic and 4th Avenues. Many early buildings have been preserved in Downtown Delray Beach and throughout the city.

In 1923 the area east of the Intracoastal Waterway was incorporated as Delray Beach, which merged with Delray in 1927, the same year William Linton died in Michigan.

George Green

George Henry Green was among the first settlers of Linton in the 1890s. The son of a slave, he married Josie Gertrude Jackson of West Palm Beach, who had just graduated from Florida A&M University. The area of Northwest 5th Avenue between Second Street and Lake Ida Road, where the Green families settled, is still called Green’s Corner.

George Green was part owner of a packinghouse and a prosperous farmer. He sold land to the members of Mt. Tabor Church for their building, later renamed St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, and helped establish what is now Greater Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church. Mt. Olive Church was the first in town, in 1896.

Green was politically minded and subscribed to Crisis magazine, then recently founded by William E. B. DuBois and the official publication of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The U. S. Census recorded 904 people living in Delray in 1910; a year later the city was incorporated. Eleven of the town’s 57 voters were black, and no one tried to circumvent their right to vote, as was common elsewhere. George Green ran for the position of alderman and lost by seven votes. .

 

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