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South County


Map of Boca Raton, 1900.

Map of Boca Raton, 1900.

Surveyor and farmer Thomas Moore Rickards planted pineapples in Boca Raton, as well as 5,000 citrus trees on 55 acres nearby. When Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad (FEC) reached Boca Raton, Rickards was hired to promote the area to farmers who would ship their produce on the FEC. He subdivided several hundred acres into ten-acre tracts, which he sold to northerners, and started plantings for them from his own pineapples and orange trees. Rickards also planted orange groves for Flagler and for James Ingraham, vice president of the railroad. When Ingraham invited a Japanese group to start a farm colony in northern Boca Raton, he appointed Rickards to handle the arrangements for Yamato.  

Another early settler in Boca Raton was Frank Howard Chesebro, who developed an interest in horticulture as a young man in Michigan. In 1903 Chesebro’s family became the sixth to settle at then-Boca Ratone, where they bought 60 acres from Flagler’s Model Land Company for $380. The Chesebros’ main crop was pineapples until about 1912 when, like his fellow growers, he focused on truck farming. He planted potatoes, tomatoes, and banana trees, but too much rain, grasshoppers, and worms destroyed his crops. He and his family persisted, however, and eventually had one of the largest farms in Boca Raton. Before Chesebro died, he prepared a message to be read at his funeral, which said in part, “I will not be alone. My trees and shrubs will stay with me. Please pull out the weeds.”

August and Natalie Butts purchased 3,500 acres west of Boca Raton that had been vacated in the land bust. Butts Farms became one of Boca Raton’s main employers during the Great Depression and one of Florida’s largest truck farms. Its produce, primarily beans, was shipped as far as Chicago, Boston, and New York. The farm employed from 400 to 900 workers, depending on the season, on land that stretched from today’s Interstate 95 to Florida’s Turnpike on both sides of Glades Road. The family sold most of it in the 1960s, when farming became less profitable. The farm’s complex irrigation system of canals was  so efficient that the family sold surplus water to other farmers.  

When Florida Senator Phil Lewis was a teenager in the 1950s, he worked on his family’s Mulberry Farms, named for the mulberry trees they raised to feed silkworms. The farm produced silk on a commercial basis and raised free-range chickens, cattle, and several varieties of citrus. The Lewis family sold Mulberry Farms in 1958, which became the City of Atlantis, and were active real estate brokers themselves in northeastern Palm Beach County.  

Although farming in eastern Palm Beach County continues, the number of farms is gradually decreasing. One that endures is the 900-acre Yee Farm, Inc. Tom and Nancy Yee grow Chinese vegetables, which are shipped from their packinghouse in western Boynton Beach, to customers all over the United States.




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