Interview with Judge J. R. Knott, June 18, 1968

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Interview with Judge J. R. Knott, June 18, 1968
Knott, J.R. ( Interviewee )
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Subjects / Keywords:
St. Lucie County Oral History Collection ( local )
Spatial Coverage:
St. Lucie County (Fla.) -- History.


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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This interview is part of the 'St. Lucie County' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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St. Lucie Tapes 37 DS

TAPE 3: Judge J. R. Knott

A lease, a five year lease on the Mosquitoe Control building on the

beach. It will be remodeled and we have the floor plan already drawn up

and in the hands of the county commissioner as well as the city on the

arrangement of artifacts and articles of interest, historical interest

that we will have. Now I'm sure that each one of you have something

that's of historical value. You can let us have that on a loan basis and

anytime you wish to come and claim it, it's yours, or any of your heirs

later on would like to reclaim that article, it could be, it will be

yours right on. But we will have the use of it. We need it because we

are going to have a lot of room. This building is 147 feet long, and we

will have a wonderful museum when this is completed, and the building is

all cleaned up and turned over to us. Now, we need things, and we will

have places for it and things of interest and it will be a museum that

will be a credit to our community. We hope in the fall, at the present

time the museum is closed for the summer months, the attendance is so

small, when school is out we don't have all those school children coming

in. so we resent that or close it for the summer. But in September, we

hope to open our new museum and we're going to need some of your beauti-

ful things that you have and we hope to open up with a wonderful cele-

bration, you might say, open house, and we hope that all of you will

help us to build this museum. We will have this lease for five years,

with the option to renew. So come and help us to build a better museum.


Judge Knott is here tonight and I have asked him if he could help us on

tabulating and indexing and setting up files and things so he's goine to

recommend some materials for us that'll helD us.

who most of you already know it- that we do have a very

active program committee and a publicitv committee. I'm quite sure all

of you received your notices much the same as I did, and I'd like for

them to know that we appreciate their efforts and that there efforts

are accomplishing something. To get back to the program chairman, I

think at this time I should turn it over to T. H. Dandy Sanders. The

fellow that the north bridge, the Dandy Sanders Bridge, is named after.

That's what the radio man says every day and my wife says, "yeah, I know

it." And I guess the rest of you do too, but, Dandy has gotten us a

speaker tonight and I would like for Dandy to introduce the speaker to


S: Thank you. Mr. President. Indeed a pleasure for me tonight to have

the opportunity to introduce to you a real Floridian, native born.

Sell you where he's from, but it's Leon County. Some of

you know ____ where that is, but it happens to be

Tallahassee. And he has lived in West Palm Beach;for the last 21 years.

He is judge of the circuit court, I think he said the ninth district. He

is about to ... historical work in ___ plans. He's been president

of the states' Historical Society. He's president now of the Historical

Society in West Palm Beach, and I know there isn't anything more that I

can say about him that I'm eoina to let him do the rest. It's my plea-


sure to present to you, Judge James R. Knott.

K: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen... Mr. Sanders men-

tioned that your Society was having a series of talks on lower eastcoast

history, and suggested that I discuss the history of the Palm Beach County

area. He told me that my friend, Judge McCarty had given a talk on Fort

Pierce, and that my distinguish colleague,Judge Sample was to address

you soon, with I believe a two hour speech. outlining a few of the impor-

tant achievements of the Sample family. I don't see how Judge Sample can

do-that'in just two hours. Every other person that I've met in Fort

Pierc n the past the time seems to be either Dr. Sample or Judge Sample,

or Colonel Sample or Professor Sample, or some other prominent member of

the Sample family. At any rate, I feel myself surrounded here by an oral

prestige that will be difficult for me to live up to. It might be inte-

resting to review the past background of Palm Beach County as a political

annity. Palm Beach County used to be in the same county as Fort Pierce.

They were both in Mosquito County. Now this name was changed about 1844,

and they both became located thereby in Levard County, and of course,

later in St. Lucie County. Palm Beach became a part of Dade County about

1874, and remained in Dade County until 1909, when the legislature created

Palm Beach County. When I speak of Palm Beach County therefore and dis-

cussing its past history, you will understand of course that I mean the
Palm Beach County area, because actually the county itself had not come

into existence until 1909. The history of the Palm Beach County area can

be divided into four general periods. The first period might be said to

end in 1873, when the first permanent white settlers arrived in that area.


The second period extended from 1873 to 1893, when what could best be

termed the "Flager Era", started. And the third period, the Flager

Era, extended from 1894 until the Florida Boom. I think that's a con-

venient way to terminate it. Our modern history since the boom, I think,

may be regarded as current history, and I will not attempt to touch on

that very much tonight. Incidentally, after we conclude this discussion

on my part, if any of you have some questions which you would like to ask

me about the Palm Beach County historical background, I'll be glad to

try-- to answer them. I can't guarantee it'll be correct in all my an-

swers, but I'll do the best I can.

The first resident known by name in what is now Palm Beach County,

was the Indian chief. Chachi, who lived in a village near Lake Magonya.

That's a peculiar name. I'm sure that most of you must believe it, must

be a corruption of Magnolia, but it comes from the mango, Lake Magonya.

This village was located about a mile or so west of West Palm Beach.

Chachi became a scout for the United States Army during the Seminole

Indian War, in 1841. It was during this war, which lasted from 1835 to

1842, as most of you know, that the army built a roadway from Jupiter

south to Fort Lauderdale, called the military trail, which is still a

site of a highway today. During the Seminole Indian War,Zachary Taylor,

who was then colonel in the United States Army, had command of a troop

which fought a battle with the indians south Okeechobee city on Christ-

mas day, 1837. He had eleveqhundred men under him, and lost a hundred and

thirty-eight in this battle, killed or wounded. Zachary Taylor was pro-

moted to general for his services in this battle. And was later

in supreme command of the United States Army forces in our war with Mex-

ico, which led directly to his election as president f the United
ion as president of the United


States. As late as 1872, there was no one living between Fort Pierce

and Biscayne Bay, except at Jupiter where the lighthouse began operation

in 1860, with the lighthouse keeper and his two assistants and their

family in attendance. During the early 1860's, a man named August

who was said to have been the head gardener for the king of Saxony, came

to Palm Beach, the island of Palm Beach, and established a farm. Lake

Worth, which is twenty-two miles long, was in a fresh water lake.

August Lang dug the first inlet, which caused salt water to enter Lake

Worth, killing the fresh water fish. The inlet later filled over and

the fresh water killed all the salt water fish. The stink, or perhaps

I should say smell, of the dead fish was said to have been too much for

Mr. Lang, and he left that year, about 1868, and moved to a new farm

west of Fort Pierce. about ten miles west of Fort Pierce, where, I regret

to say, he was murdered. A legend has it that Mr. Lang was a draft dod-

ger from the confederate army and came to the isolated Palm Beach area to

escape imprisonment, but this story is not substantiated.

The first permanent settlers came to Palm Beach about 1873, when I

say Palm Beach I mean the whole area. And at the end of that year ten

people lived on shores of Lake Worth. Practically all of them, either in

what is now Palm Beach, that is the island on the ocean, or south, and

another island in the lake called The ocean inlet to Lake

Worth was destroyed by a storm in 1878. Nineteen men and their families

by that time had settled on the shores of Lake Worth, and all nineteen

gathered to redig the inlet. During the same year, an important event

occurred which effected the future of Palm Beach, consisting of the wreck

of a small spanish brig, called the Providential, which had as part of


its cargo, twenty thousand coconuts. This small ship which weighed

only a hundred and seventy eight tons was wrecked on, in the middle

right near where the pier is now, the middle of what is now Palm Beach.

And the settlers all hustled over to gather the coconuts and plant them

with the results that the tropical beauty of that area became so enhanced

that it impressed Mr. Flager, with its unique loviness, and caused him to

establish Palm Beach as what became a world famous winter resort, which

is the next subject that we will discuss. Prior to the wreck of the Pro-

vidential, sometimes we're asked whether Palm Beach had palm trees. The

answer is yes it did, but it didn't have them in profusion. And the

enormous number of Dalm trees which later grew in Palm Beach was due to

this wreck. There's no question about that. There are estimated are,

about twenty years agp they were estimated to be about a hundred and

seventy-five thousand palmtrees in Palm Beach. This is for those of you

who may like statistics, and about two hundred and thirty thousand palm

trees in West Palm Beach. Early Palm Beach had three post offices which

were necessary because travel, even for short distances, was possible

only by water, atleast it was very difficult except by water. The first

post office was established in the northern part of the island and was

called Lake Worth. It had no connection with the present city of Lake

Worth which is south of West Palm Beach, and was established much later.

It was of course named after the lake, Lake Worth, which separate Palm

Beach from West Palm Beach. And Lake Worth itself, was named after

Colonel William Jenkins Worth, who was a prominent military figure in the

Seminole Indian War with headquarters at Jupiter, at Fort Jupiter, at the

head of the military trail, which I mentioned a few minutes ago. The


second postoffice is called Figureless, and was opened in 1886 in the

southern part of the island, just south of where the and Tennis

Club is now located. The third postoffice was, finally, Palm Beach and

was opened in 1887 in the store of Mr. on Point,

where White Hall, the Flager Museum, is now located, in the very

heart of Palm Beach. Figureless and Lake Worth were later discontinued

as post offices, although as I mentioned of course, many years later a

new town called Lake Worth came in to existence south of West Palm Beach.

The first hotel in Palm Beach opened in 1885, thbeCoconut Grove House,

which was formed by additions to home of Cap, he was called, Cap E. M.

who was later to become the first mayor of Palm Beach after it

was incorporated many years later. Tourists came to this hotel from all

over the United States. It had about fourty-two rooms, and of course it

didn't have accommodations for large numbers of people, but nevertheless,

it had people registered there from all over the country, and even from

Canada, because we have the hotel registers in our Historical Society.

West Palm Beach came into existence after Palm Beach did, and was in-

corporated, indeed it was first started and first settled in 1894 with

the coming of the railroad. As nearly all of you know Mr. Flager ex-

tended the railroad south, from this area to West Palm Beach, arriving

there in 1894, and in doing so he displaced a short little railroad which

we call now the Celestial Railroad, which extended for only eight miles.

Extending from the Indian River of the mouth of the River at

Jupiter, down to Juno, and provided a method to get from one boat jour-

ney to begin another boat journey at the head of Lake Worth. This was

the purpose of the little eight mile railroad which had only one loco-


motive, and that railroad as I said was discontinued with the building

of the big fine new railroad, the Florida Eastcoast Railway by Mr. Flager,

which came to West Palm Beach in 1894, and eventually to Miami in 1896.

And that was the year that Miami was incorporated, when the.railroad got

there although it had had a post office for years before that, there

were very few settlers there. Now at this time in 1894, we begin in the

Palm Beach County area with a third historical period of what might be

called the Flager Era, which is probably the most glamorous and the most

stored, let's say, era in our local history down there. Mr. Flager, who

had made a fortune in-theroil business with John D. Rockefeller, and had

been Mr. Rockefeller partner, in fact, he was senior to Mr. Rockefeller

in years. They had been partners in Cleveland. And by 1879, the Stan-

dard Oil Company, which they formed, was said to control 95% of all the

petroleum business in the United States. Mr. Flager tired of the oil

business and sought new interest, and came to Florida, first as a vaca-

tioner and then as an investor. His first trip was in that year in 1879.

He first came to St. Augustine and did much to develop St. Augustine as a

resort with the building of two great hotels there and the purchase of a

third hotel, and he operated all three. And St. Augustine was of course

a very famous resort largely on that account. And later he acquired the

Orman Beach Hotel and he came to the Palm Beach area, extended the rail-

road down here, built the Royal Hotel, which was the largest

resort hotel in the world with over a thousand rooms, and accommodations

for nearly two thousand people. He built the Royal Hotel

and the Hotel the following year. And with the easy access pro-


vided by the new railroad, people came and drove to Palm Beach, tourist,

winter hotel residents. And among these people were some famous names

socially, financially, politically, in the United States, and these

people helped to make Palm Beach famous. And they gave it an attraction

for other well known names which it has continued to have to some extent.

Palm Beach, for a good many years after these hotels ere opened, remained

a hotel community. The entire island and most of the people who lived

there were devoted to the business of taking care of the winter visitors

who lived in the hotels. But as time passed and World War I approached,

people began to build winter homes and the first one who built a winter

home there was Mr. Flager himself, who opened the way to the building of

the great homes in Palm Beach, with one of the greatest of all the pri-

vate homes in the United States known as White Hall, which is now the

Flager Museum. Most of you have doubtless been to White Hall, those of

you who have not been there, I think would find it extremely interesting.

As I say operated as a museum. Now, a great many people during this so

called Flager Era, came to Palm Beach to spend the winter. And they

would bring the families, a lot of the men were retired, they were all

financially people of means, they had to be, because these were not mo-

dest boarding house price places. They were quite expensive, even in

that day when money meant something entirely different from what it does

now. It said that some of the accommodations at the Royal _were-as

high as a hundred dollars a day. These winter residents, hotel visitors,

who came to Palm Beach were entertained constantly of course as they are

today in some hotels by programs of events. They had dances, they had at

least two orchestras at the Royal fact, the Royal


Hotel had an orchestra for the help alone. They had 400 waiters and with

the dining room seating 1600 people,sthey had enough help to have an or-

chestra to be needed occasionally, I suppose. But, at any rate, they had

a constant program of things to do. They had the alligator farm, they had

an ostrich farm, all right there in Palm Beach. They had the Jungle Trail,

which led down into where the Evergladesgolf course is located now, and

they had these wheel chair rides up the side of the lake, the western side

of the island, along Lake Worth known as the lake trail, extending for

several miles, and they had a pretty good time. Some people envisioned

Mr. Flager's house as a kind of, they looked on Mr. Flager's house as

the kind of house that they would like to have, and some of them had

money enough to build that sort of house, and later on theyAbuild houses

which were some what to White Hall. This started about

1916. In 1918 Singer, who was the son of the sewing machine man,

came to Palm Beach, sick, to see if he could be cured. And he met there

an architect named Addison Mysner, and they formed a sort of loose

partnership in which Mr. Singer provided the money and Mr. Mysner pro-

vided the ideas and architectural designs, and they built the Everglades

Club, which was the first outstanding Spanish architectural piece in

Florida that we know of. And several of the members of the Everglades

Club which immediately became extremely popular among the winter people,

decided to hire Mr. Mysner as their architect to build houses for them.

Among them was Mrs. of Philadelphia, whose husband was a

partner and the head of Morgan Drexal Company in Philadelphia, one of

the leading bankers of the United States. And Mrs. and her hus-


band built a great mansion in the spanish style, and this was imitated

by a great many others who fancied the spanish architecture, and formed

the basis of a trend which we still have in Palm Beach County and in fact

also in Miami. And you find it in Boca Raton where Mysner designed the

Boca Raton Club, when it was first known as The Clusters. It was in a

private club and later developed into the Boca Raton Hotel & Club.

Mr. Mysner continued this program of designing houses for the wealthy dur-

ing the twenties and lined ocean Boulevard, he and others like him, lined

Ocean Boulevard and many of the other streets in Palm Beach with these

spanish type mansions. Many of which is still there. And they...there

popularity lasted, I believed, until the thirties when the West Indies, the

Bahamian style of architecture began to become popular. West Palm Beach,

as most of you know, has grown with Palm Beach in a different way. There're

some people who believe that West Palm Beach was always inhabited by

people who worked for people in Palm Beach, but this is not correct in my

opinion. West Palm Beach is a normal business community, much as any

other east coast town is, which depends very largely onAtourists and win-

ter people for economic benefits and to some extent on Palm Beach. But

most of the people who work, at least as servants, in Palm Beach don't

live in West Palm Beach. They're brought down there with the owner of the

houses in which they work, and that applies also to 'the hotels. The ho-

tel help has always been brought to Palm Beach from outside, and it's only

the extra incidental help that has been hired locally. The Royal

Hotel always had special trains.which brought its employees down to Palm

Beach for the winter, and then took them back at the end of the season.

Now, I've tried to mention some of the highlights of Palm Beach and


West Palm Beach history and a little bit about the county, of course, all

of you know about the wonderful economic/of Palm Beach, and some what fol-

lows your own area in regard to farming. We have a very famous and pros-

perous farming area in the growing of winter vegetables, so that Belle

Glade, that calls itself the winter vegetable capital of the United States.

I don't know whether that's warranted or not, but they, they think it is,

so we encourage people to believe in it, as of course. I think that this

about covers most of what I had to say, and I wonder if some of you don't

have questions about some particular matter which might interest you. I

don't want to talk to long.

Q: I would like to ask one question for the benefit of the whole audi-

ence here. Would you mind telling us what days your museum is open, what

charges, and highlights of what might be expected to see in Palm

Beach? Get a chance to your museum.

K: Alright, sir, good. The Flager Museum is open every day of the week,

except Monday, and that includes Christmas day, July the Fourth, any-day

in the year, unless it happens to fall on Monday, any holiday or any other

day. There is an admission fee of one dollar, but free days are, I believe,

Wednesday and Fridays. There's no admission fee on Wednesdays and Fri-

days, and of course, that's subject to change. It might be a good idea to

check that before you went down there. Take that day with a large

but I think that you'll find that free days are Wednesdays and

Friday. Now, the home, the museum, whichI said was opened in 1902, and

has been termed the Marble Palace, which is not strictly accurate. Its


not really made of marble. It has a marble hall, which is about 110 feet

long. It's very imposing and beautiful, as most of you know. The home

was lavishly furnished, let's say, during Mr. Flagers' life time which

ended in 1913. And after his death, his widow inherited the house and

she left it to her niece. Her niece invited all of her friends to visit

White Hall and take what they might need for their own home, in St. Augus-

tine in particular, because she was living there at that time, and she

also lived in Virginia. But, anyway, many of her friends took advantage

of this and a lot of the furniture was removed and never has been re-

covered. She sold the building later, and it became a hotel. It became

a hotel in 1927. It was a very famous hotel, and advertised itself as

the most expensive hotel in the world. And, apparently people were proud

to recognize that and become associated with it, because it always had a

lot of people there, until after World War II. When its popularity dimin".

ished, Palm Beach was becoming less and less a hotel town, and eventually

Flagers' granddaughter bought the hotel and converted it into a museum in

honor of her grandfather, Mr. Flager, and removed the hotel portion, the

additional rooms, 300 rooms.which had been built adjacent to an oval part

of the original home. And left only the original home left with part of

it facing ground structure of the hotel in the rear. And, so she operates

it, or trust operates it rather, as a museum and I think it's well worth

seeing. They've recovered a great deal of the furniture, including the

rug in the entrance hall which is a very large oriental carpet. It's said

to be the largest one ever loomed of its particular kind. And the rooms

have a great deal of interest in them, a great deal of rare silver, china.

Not all of it was there in Mr. Flagers' day. Some of it has been donated


to the museum and it is genuinely valuableA Any other questions?

: Anyone? Don't be bashful. Now is your chance, you got him here.

Anyone else have anything?

Q: I noticed he didn't mention the hOvfe- rnrifdlN-ar Was that before,

when did that come in?

K: The k0oreo4 mail man route, route-I think is more correct, started

in 1885, and Mr. Pierce who has been your speaker up here, the late Mr.

Pierce, Chuck Pierce of Fort Lauderdale. His father was one of the -;Lp.iP

mail man. He wasn't one of the regular ones but he served for a while

because he was on the bond of the mailmen. The mailmen

was a term applied to the postman who carried the mail from Palm Beach to

Miami on the beach. And to be more comfortable, he removed his shoes, and

he got to be tagged with this name, the barefoot mailman, which Theodore

Pat made famous with a novel called the Barefoot Mailman. The, one of the

famous stories, true stories, incidents, which occurred in connection with

the barefoot mailman, was the death of James Hamilton in 1887. He was

carrying the mail from Palm Beach to Miami on the beach, and his clothes

and shoes and the mailbags were found on the north side of the inlet, the

Hillsborough inlet. And that was all that was ever recovered of it. It

was theorized that he had to swim across the inlet to get the boat, which

is a very likely possibility that someone might had taken the boat, and

left it at the south side of the inlet. And it's believed that he was

attacked by crocodiles, which did exist in this part of Florida then, and


were found there in large numbers at that time, or sharks or something.

He met his death in that way. The barefoot mailman mail route was dis-

continued when a shell road was built between West Palm Beach and Miami,

which was about 1893. Between 1892 and 1893. Any other questions? Well...

: No one has anything else? Not anybody? I never saw so many women

in one place that couldn't ask a question.


K: Yes, mam, what was his name?


K: Well they certainly do. What was your grandfathers' name?


K: I see.


K: Well thank you for telling us about that. That's extremely interest-

ing and unusual in this part of Florida where we live to have one of our

own people whose ancestre goes that far back, in the same area. Mr. Pierce,

our Mr. Pierce,that I just mentioned, his father wrote this manuscript

about his boyhood when his father was assistant lighthouse keeper at JU-

piter,A1872. And he tells about a shipwreck there, and what they recovered

from the shipwreck, and what the Indians got, and how they it a-

round between themselves and the indians, and how people came by, other

people from outside came to buy and And also about how people

were sent up Key West to investigate the shipwreck and the possibility-

of recovering what could be selvaged. And of course, the people who lived

there alreadyAselvedged everything possible to be selvedged but they let


the selvedgers go in and try to get whatever they could. They got so

little that ___of London, who had insured the vessel, sent an-

other group of people out from Key West, who they thought would know bet-

ter how to selvedge something. And they returned empty handed too.

That was, I believe, the Victor, the steamship, Victor. Any other

questions? Well, it's been very pleasant to be here with you and I would

like to say that I think you have a wonderful record here, and accomplish-c

tng so much in such a short time. By a short time I mean anytime less

than fifty years. I mean, you're going to have your own museum build-

ing, in fact, you already have one, I believe, but you're _having-

another one now and which will be yours permanently, and all you need to

do is get in there and put some interesting exhibits, which you already

have, and invite the public to come in, which they'll want to do and

you're all ready for business. I think it's wonderful. You've got a

large interested intelligent group, and that's the idea, I think,of every

Historical Society to have. So I certainly congratulate you. And I

think you've done extremely well, and you really should be the envy of all

the rest of us who try to do that and don't always succeed. Thank you

so much for inviting me up here.

: I'm sure that everyone here appreciate the visit from Judge Knott.

I would like to say that you are welcome here, and your wife, at anytime.

We'll be glad to have you with us and I'm sure the commissioner would be

glad to get two assistants on the cataloguing and so forth, that we will

have to gp through. We have made a lot of progress. We got a lot fur-

ther to go. There's going to be times when somebody is going to be


asked to help. Keep it in mind, it might be you. It might be any of

you, and let's remember, we can all do something that would be of help.

Now if there isn't anything else, I'd like to say that, you get tired of

hearing me say this but, if there is anyone who hasn't paid their dues

and would like to...