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Floy Cooke Mitchell

Alabaman Floy Mitchell arrived in Boca Raton with her husband J.C. (Joe) Mitchell in 1923. It was the height of the Florida land boom, a time when many people came to Florida from throughout the U.S. to make a new life. The Mitchells had come at the request of Floy’s parents to develop land they had purchased in the southern part of town, near today’s Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club. At the time Boca Raton was a community of only about 300 residents. The young couple’s first home was a rented house, equipped with only the bare necessities—a small oil stove, ice box, hand pump in the sink, and an oil lamp for lighting. Floy, accustomed to homes with more “modern” conveniences, was surprised to find that the “bathroom” was an outhouse located in the back yard—complete with a wooden half-moon cut in the door. Baths were taken in a zinc tub with water heated on the stove. Floy’s husband Joe, realizing her discomfort in these rather primitive conditions asked “Are you sure you want to stay?” to which Floy replied “Wild horses couldn’t get me away from here.”

Floy and Joe Mitchell were given a warm welcome in their new hometown. Their neighbor George Martin brought over a bowl of “green mango sauce,” as a welcome gift and instructed Floy how to do the laundry in the yard with a tub and a scrubbing board—the old fashioned way even in the 1920s. Other neighbors greeted them with fruit, fresh vegetables, Scottish shortbread, and tea.

On Christmas day of 1923 the couple was a bit lonesome—far away from their family. The day was warm and bright, and Joe suggested a day at the beach. They dressed in their bathing suits, gathered a blanket, books, and magazines and were at the beach by 10:00. Because of the holiday, they had the beach literally to themselves all day. Floy recalls that “it was like being on an island away from civilization—warm sun, soft breeze, and the waves quietly lapping on the shore.” Later they were the guests of their new friends, Bill and Peg Young, for dinner. They brought the homemade candy, cookies, and other goodies sent them by their family in Alabama for dessert. Their new neighbors, the Longs, also contributed a “Heaven Knows What” cake. When asked for the recipe, Mrs. Long notified all that there was no recipe—she would use whatever was at hand. One time it would contain chocolate, coffee, jelly, and nuts; another it could be honey, peanut butter, and orange juice—hence the name “Heaven Knows What” cake. The Mitchells and Youngs stayed and talked until late that evening. Floy would recall it was the most “blessed, tranquil, uncluttered Christmas Day” they had ever spent—or would spend again.

By the mid-1920s, prosperity had come to the little town of Boca Raton. Architect Addison Mizner and other developers were creating new developments and projects to draw investors and new residents to the small town. The Mitchells found the money to construct the Mitchell Arcade, the first large commercial building in Boca Raton, on Dixie Highway south of Palmetto Park Road. The arcade featured a covered passageway running through the center with stores on both side and apartments on the second floor. Floy and J.C. took up residence in one of the apartments—complete with electricity and indoor plumbing.

Floy was a bit unusual for a woman of the times; she was a college graduate and had even been a bank branch manager in Alabama. Her experience in financial matters made her a valuable partner to husband J.C. in operating their real estate and insurance agencies while at the same time raising two sons.
Shortly after the completion of the new arcade building, the Mitchells experienced the force of the 1926 hurricane, a powerful storm which affected mainly the Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Moorhaven areas. The Mitchells did not realize their windows should be boarded up—they had the dubious pleasure of witnessing freight cars blown right off the nearby railroad tracks and telegraph poles snapped like toothpicks. The arcade suffered extensive damage. Most of the roof was blown off and there was a great deal of water damage. By the storm of 1928, which was so damaging throughout Palm Beach County, the Mitchell’s were better prepared. Boca suffered far less damage than their neighbors to the north. The Mitchells boarded the windows this time, and carefully parked their car inside the arcade.

During the Great Depression the Mitchells “tightened their belts” and learned to live more economically—on as little as five dollars a week—like the rest of the nation. Floy was proud to make dresses out of material that cost as little as ten cents a yard. Unusual buttons and trims helped turn an ordinary frock into a pretty gown. Floy used the leftover scraps to make items for the annual church bazaar, always thinking of other people’s needs as well as her own.

Floy’s husband became very active in local politics during the 1930s. He served as a town councilman and was mayor for eleven years. Mr. Mitchell was responsible for attracting the U.S. Army Air Force to establish an important training base and school in Boca Raton during World War II. The war brought great excitement and financial prosperity to Boca Raton. Floy Mitchell also entered the governmental arena when she served as the first female town councilwoman for Boca Raton in 1943. She was asked to step into the position left vacant by the resignation of J.L. LaMont, serving until 1944. After the war, Mayor Mitchell was instrumental in getting the government to return the airbase lands to the people of Boca Raton. He and wife Floy worked together to bring Bibletown, an active Christian ministry, to the grounds and buildings of the former airbase.

Floy Mitchell lost her husband and partner when J.C. died in 1955. A school in Boca Raton bears his name today. Mrs. Mitchell continued to live in the community she had grown to love until 1989, when she passed away at the age of ninety. Mrs. Mitchell was a founding member of the Boca Raton Historical Society, contributing greatly to our knowledge of the history of Boca Raton through the vivid memories she so generously shared. Her neighbor and local historian Peg McCall noted, “She had a real zest for life. She was enthusiastic every day…I’m going to miss her as my best source of historical information and as a friend.”

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