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West Palm Beach, Transportation

Suniland Magazine


If there is a city in all creation that is almost constantly a-wheel, the juvenile municipality of West Palm Beach is the selfsame. The city has more wheeled vehicles than recognized voters. Instead of taking a regular census via orthodox style, all the enumerators have to do is to visit the half dozen bicycle stores and copy the statistics representing the annual sales of wheels. For practically every resident owns a bicycle. None of them allow their steel horses to accumulate any rust as a result of little use. The pneumatic tire business has become a sinecure not because of automobiles but because of bicycles and afromobiles.

Latterly, in West Palm Beach an unusual and critical shortage problem developed—not a shortage of school desks and floor space but inadequate storage space and parking facilities for the thousands of "bikes" which the students ride daily to school. Don't think that the use of the bicycle is confined to the younger generation. Fathers and mothers, grand-dads and grandmothers ride their bicycles as regularly as do their children, and grandchildren. Stand on a street corner in West Palm Beach and you will review the strangest passing show visible in any American city.

A leading banker all diked out in a new business suit, spins by on his trusty wheel, hurrying to keep some appointment. Close behind, comes a florid-faced tourist garbed in sport clothes and carrying a bag of golf clubs. The bicycle enables him to double up on his daily round of exercise. He rides to the links and then shifts his system of exercise to divot-digging and the pursuit of an elusive golf ball.

A tall and dignified preacher next rolls into view. Anatomically speaking, he was designed for a steel steed many sizes larger than the one he bestrides. But, despite lack of full leg room, he was evidently enjoying his ride. Next in line came a portly colored washerwoman expertly balancing a basket of clothes on her head as she pedaled her wear-worn wheel. Then followed society matrons, school children and policemen-all working their legs vigorously in order to keep pace with the speeding crowd.

The first thing that the athletic tourist does when he arrives in West Palm Beach is to rent or buy a bicycle. To the man unaccustomed to vigorous exercise, the initial excursion or the "bike" is associated with the same variety of aches and pains which the "tenderfoot" accumulates who is first introduced to horse and saddle. You can almost recognize the newcomers by their walk. The first few on the bicycle leaves visible imprint in the gait of the wheeling enthusiast until he works off all saddle soreness.

Far and wide over Uncle Sam's spacious map, the superb sport of cycling is decidedly antediluvian far as the interest of the general public is concerned. As a pleasure vehicle, the motor car has practically backed the ball bearing bicycle off the American map. Recollect, if you can how different it was during the late 'nineties when the two-wheeled vehicle was most popular. Those were the days when the parks in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and St. Louis were thronged every Sunday by millions of cyclists out for pleasure spins. The bicycle was then the most popular vehicle of rapid conveyance in the country. The bicycles were low enough in price that they were available to all classes of users. Then came the gasoline buggy-the horseless carriage of yesterday. Gradually, gasoline power pushed leg power into oblivion as a means of locomotion.

No, there has never occurred any cycling revival down West Palm Beach way, for the bicycle in that neighborhood has never gone out of style. In the rendezvous of American society, the bicycle still reigns supreme and reliable means of getting about quickly. In the stretch of a few blocks, you will meet with representatives of every line of life and stratum of society—all astride glittering, pneumatic-tired bicycles bound here and there and every where. A number of dealers have accumulated comfortable fortunes selling "bikes." Bicycle repair shops are as numerous as garages. Parking space for bicycles is reserved in every business block. Two to three large bicycle racks accommodating 50 to 60 steel steeds adorn every street.

Palm Beach is also the birthplace of the bicycle's brother—the famous afromobile, a vehicle which is found in no other city in Dixie. There are 1,000 of these curious one-arm chaises now in use. West Palm Beach traffic officers have doublebarreled problems to face as a result. They have to police the motor traffic which congests the streets, for the license tags of every state in the union are found there in large numbers while they also have to look after the goings and comings, the backings and the turnings of the many afromobiles.

Twenty-seven years ago wheeled chairs and abridged jinrikishas were introduced into Palm Beach County. Every season since that time, these vehicles have improved in pattern and increased in numbers. As styles have changed, new models have supplanted the old ones. Now the era has been reached where the afromobile dominates the traffic in many sections. Certain beautiful drive ways are reserved in Palm Beach exclusively for the promenading of the curious bicycle chairs that are propelled by the muscular calves of swarthy sons of Ethiopia. They rank among the most extraordinary cabmen who ply their trade in these United States.

It was in 1895, three years after the first mammoth resort hotel was built along the shores of Lake Worth that jinrikishas were first imported to Palm Beach. They immediately attracted the interest and the patronage of the tourists and vacationers. In time, the original vehicles were replaced by wheeled chairs such as are used on the famous board walk at Atlantic City. In turn, these hand vehicles were supplanted by the bicycle buggies which are still in use. Several years ago, a Floridian inventor equipped several of the afromobiles with small gasoline engines and electric motors so that the occupants of the chairs could drive the vehicles themselves. These innovations were not popular. The afromobile is the vehicle which the residents and visitors to Palm Beach County like best next to the bicycle.

The chain of resort hotels which is strung out along the Atlantic Ocean and the shores of beautiful Lake Worth is now linked together by afromobile highways—paved pathways including "Lakeshore Drive" and the "Garden of Eden" which are devoted exclusively to bicycle chair travel. During the winter season, the darkey-piloted equipages roll backward and forward along these special purpose highways where motor cars can not enter. The fee which the dusky charioteer asks for the rental of his strange cab is the index to the financial rating in which he classifies you. The jehu charges what he thinks you can afford to pay. He is a past master at spotting the inflated bank accounts.

Resort centers in practically all parts of the country at one time or another have tried to popularize the afromobile and bicycle as sporting and pleasure vehicles. All such attempts north of the frost line have failed. These vehicles have become part and parcel of the daily life at West Palm Beach where summer spends the winter. Divorced from their native habitat, the vehicles apparently lose their attractiveness. They are firmly entrenched in the native geography as are the stucco bungalows of Spanish design.

The time may come when Palm Beach County will be the sugar bowl of the nation, for sugar cane growing introduced centuries ago by the earliest Spaniards is now being developed into a popular and profitable industry. One large sugar mill which represents an investment of several million dollars is already in operation. Tens of thousands of acres of Everglades lands are ideally adapted for sugar cane production and gradually are being cropped to that commercial sweet. In addition to sugar cane, more than 100 different species of food and truck crops are grown for the northern markets away down south in the Floridian tropics. While the rest of the United States is shoveling coal and snow, the Palm Beach County farmers are planting potatoes and gearing up their straw hats and short-sleeved shirts for the spring soil cultivating campaign.

In addition to being a million-acre vegetable farm, Palm Beach County is also a geological curiosity. It boasts a harbor which was converted from a fresh water into a salt water port by the hands of a soldier runaway. During the Civil War, a deserter from the Confederate Army wormed his way South as far as what now is West Palm Beach on the Atlantic coast. In those early days, huge shell mounds accumulated by the prehistoric Indians identified the shifting sands. The Lake Worth body of fresh water was isolated from the salt sea by a land barrier. With large conch shells, the fugitive dug a causeway to the ocean. Subsequent action of the salt waves and the ravages of time have widened and deepened the man-made canal to the extent that a great salt water harbor has been developed from a tiny beginning.

Turquoise-hued Lake Worth is about one mile wide and 27 miles long and only five minutes' ride from its shores surge the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. Refer to your dog-eared maps and geographies and you will ascertain that west Palm Beach is 500 miles closer to the equator than notable Los Angeles. Furthermore, this Floridian city is 102 miles farther east than Jacksonville. The valuation of real estate in West Palm Beach aggregates $24,000,000 while the bank resources total more than $25,000,000. Palm Beach County entertains more than 1,000,000 visitors annually. During the last five years the population of this popular county-has doubled while the resident register in the county seat has increased about three-fold. The geographic position of the young city qualifies it as the future marketing center of the great Everglades empire.

Last year, the building program consummated at West Palm Beach cost $8,000,000. During 1925, experts estimate that the construction costs will figure up between $10,000,000 and $12,000,000. Drastic growing sickness has spread down like a fog over Palm Beach County. The song of the hammer and saw is heard everywhere. Beautification of gardens and grounds, streets, parks and boulevards is proceeding in proportionate ratio to the extensive building campaign. Three great projects, The Conners' Highway, the Florida Western and Northern Railroad and the Lake Worth Inlet have aided markedly in ushering West Palm Beach and its environments into the giant growing class of tropical municipalities.

The new railroad from West Palm Beach to Tampa over a 165 mile short line route will satisfy a long-felt want in southern Florida and will stimulate intercoastal trade and travel as could no other agency of modern man. And the completion of this steel railed road to market is the last incentive which Palm Beach County needs to develop its county seat which Henry Flagler years ago purchased for $30,000 into one of Southland's strongest cities. The ways to market are varied and diverse. There are now 326 miles of Palm Beach County which link the growers of foodstuffs with the ultimate users.

Just let's take a minute to review the agricultural assets of this sun-swathed section which claims champion honors as a producer of edible crops. During a recent year, the crop value per acre for the entire state of Florida amounted to $68.87. During the same twelve month's period, Palm Beach County cultivated 14,274 acres of crops which sold for $2,337,652 crop value per acre of $164.28. Of the eighteen principal field crops produced that year in Palm Beach County, 11 yielded an average value of more than $300 an acre. These crops were in order on of importance: Celery $1,750, green beans $600, lima beans $500, Japanese cane $400, tomatoes $400, peanuts $400, English peas $400, egg plant $400, peppers $400, cabbage $300, onions $300.

Palm Beach latitude has won sempiternal fame as a wintertime capital of northern social leaders. It now deserves exploitation as a "pay dirt" country of standardized farming. And not alone as a hub of food growing does the region prove productive but also as a source of fish for northern consumers. The fish business of West Palm Beach amounts to more than $1,000,000 annually. Some seasons the local fishermen catch as many as 500,000 pounds of Spanish mackerel. The rise of a certain fisherman is depictive of the growth of the fishing industry during the last decade. Ten years ago this man migrated to West Palm Beach. With only a few dollars as his cash capital, he rented a boat and began fishing in Lake Worth with but a single net. He caught pompano, snapper, blue fish and sea bass for the local market. Today that same individual operates a fleet of 150 fishing boats manned by 500 professional fishermen.

When Henry Flagler extended his east coast railroad to West Palm Beach and built near the Atlantic breakers his first great tourist hotel in that vicinity, he visualized the locality as it would be a core of years thence. This empire-maker of southern Florida well understood the value of a superb climate. His original expenditures for construction which were extremely lavish for those days have been vindicated countless times. The great hotels at Palm Beach, the unrivalled Ocean Drive, the countless homes of northern capitalists which feature every luxury which can be bought, the gorgeous tropical plantings, the palm-lined boulevards, the fame of this resort center which has been heralded wherever man has traveled—these are the modern memorials to the farsightedness of Flagler, the pioneer pathfinder.

During the period from mid-January the fore part of April, society assembles on the far-spread sand at Palm Beach identically the same hour that Congress Up Washington Way begins its active business session. To keep tab on the daily visitors at the Palm Beach seaside during that season is to become familiar with most of the celebrities who are listed in "Who's Who." For the great majority of these famous people find time during the ice-edged northern winter to slip down to southern Florida and get their shoes full of sand at Palm Beach or Miami. And the sandy expanse of the spacious beach the one spot where you do not find the afromobiles and bicycle in perpetual operation. The going is too treacherous for the cushion-tired vehicles. The social folk ride on wheels as far as the improved roadways go. Then they park their bicycles or dismiss their colored cabmen and trust to shank's mare for transportation across the sands to the invigorating surf.

You may wander the Floridian map from Cape Sable to Jacksonville and from Fort Pierce to St. Petersburg and in the journey you will visit many spectacular resorts, but none that will equal the splendor and glory which are universal in the "city on wheels." The lure of a magical magnet is concealed somewhere in the geography of Palm Beach County for there is no other section of Florida more forceful in annually bringing back vast coteries of former visitors. The Palm Beach habit once formed is apparently not eradicable. And the "city on wheels" yearly reaps a fortune of many million dollars because this habit has inoculated thousands of pleasure-loving Americans who cast aside business cares and spend the winter far south of freezing temperatures.

Day, G.H., "Florida's City on Wheels."
Suniland, Nov. 1925, Vol. 3, No. 2. Pgs. 62-64; 184-185


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