The legend of the Styx is probably the most colorful in the history of Palm Beach County. Passed down by oral tradition, it is accepted as gospel by many. But the evidence all but dismisses it. The black shantytown sprang up on Palm Beach’s County Road, north of the Royal Poinciana Hotel, in the 1890s to house the more than 2,000 black workers at the adjacent hotels.
The story is that Flagler was eager to oust the residents so he could develop the land. He had it condemned on health grounds, then hired a circus to set up across the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach, gave black residents free passes, and while they enjoyed the show, burned their homes down. Another version places the incident on Guy Fawkes Day, Nov. 5, 1906.
But Inez Peppers Lovett, who was born in 1895, said in 1994, a year before her death, that she recalled packing up and leaving the Styx but remembers no fire. And in 1994, T.T. Reese Jr., of the pioneer Dimick/Reese family, wrote… to The Palm Beach Post “to lay these questions to rest.” First, Reese said, Flagler didn’t own the property. The Bradley brothers Col. E.R. Bradley owned the famed Beach Club casino – bought the 30 acres around 1910 and by February 1912 had cut it into 230 residential lots.
In 1912, Reese says, Bradley ordered his father to move the residents out. He says his father gave them at least two weeks, and he remembers seeing them walk across the bridge, hauling their belongings. After everyone left, Reese says, his father cleared the land, pulled up the trash and burned it. Newspaper clippings from the time back Reese’s version of events. He died in 1997.
Historical Society of Palm Beach County: (561) 832-4164.
Author: Eliot Kleinberg