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Paul Albert Dreher

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Paul Dreher

Paul Albert Dreher (1903-1993), known as the “Johnny Appleseed” of West Palm Beach, was born in Germany, where he earned a degree in horticulture from the University of Hohen-Heim in Stuttgart. After World War I Dreher emigrated to the United States and taught himself English using a dictionary.

Dreher was hired by the City of West Palm Beach in 1932 for 25 cents per hour to “do something” with Flagler Park. After Dreher transformed the sandy site into a lush oasis, Howard raised his pay to $5.00 per day to care for all the city’s green spaces, including the cemetery. His city projects included Currie and Phipps Parks, and as the city expanded he planted trees along the new streets.

The city owned 32 acres called Bacon Park, which had been used as a campground nicknamed “Tent City” until it was leveled by the Hurricane of 1928. In the 1940s Dreher started a nursery there. He collected 200 varieties of palms and planted stumps that grew into towering banyans. He was quoted as saying, “Anything green that grows is good. You just have to control it.”

Dreher convinced the city in 1951 to buy 108 acres from the State of Florida for $100.00. He spent ten years turning the swamp into a park by borrowing equipment, collecting fill, rescuing unwanted plants, and digging a network of ponds, which he stocked with fish. Dreher also built a small red barn, where he put six farm animals he bought with $18.00 of his own funds, and which became the Palm Beach Zoo. The city renamed the area Dreher Park in 1957.

Paul Dreher retired as the city’s parks director in 1962 and went to work for John D. MacArthur, landscaping his new city of Palm Beach Gardens and the PGA National golf course. He also landscaped Lion Country Safari. He tried working as a freelance consultant, but that did not work out because, he said in an interview, “I gave all my advice away for free.”

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