Tag Archives: Palm Beach

Birdie Dewey’s South Florida: from wilderness to paradise

“Pioneering Palm Beach: The Deweys and the South Florida Frontier,” by Ginger L. Pedersen and Janet M. De Vries. The History Press. 128 pages. $19.99.

The authors bring us on a delightful journey into the history of that part of Florida defined largely (in the nineteenth century) by the borders of Lake Worth. It truly was a frontier. Sketchily populated and without much of a commercial or transportation infrastructure, this beautiful but isolated region appealed to only the hardiest souls. Fortunately for the authors, they found a magnificent focal point in the lives and writings of two such pioneers, Fred and Birdie Dewey, providing readers with a general story of the region’s gradual development anchored by a specific, personal story.  

The opening chapters outline the lineage of Fred Dewey’s lineage and Byrd Spilman. Each person’s family gave rise to many prominent American citizens. Birdie, in fact, was a great-niece of President Zachary Taylor. Ms. Pedersen and Ms. De Vries trace generations of the families’ activities in Kentucky and Illinois, where Fred became a notary public for the town of Salem. In 1876 or 1877, Fred and Birdie met and were soon married. He was thirty-nine and she was eighteen years younger. Fred’s later work included being a bank clerk. They both loved pets, and as they never had any children, pets played a large part in their family life.

Birdie was a well-educated book lover, and she would became a productive, successful writer. In fact, the narrative of Fred and Birdie that the authors have constructed depends largely on three published novels by Birdie, all set in Florida, which they treat as disguised autobiography. Fortunately, the authors bolster these sources with many others, rendering their autobiographical readings of the novels plausible.

Fred’s physical discomfort in Illinois winters was one motivating factor in the couples’ decision to consider a relocating to Florida. More importantly, they were both adventurous, independent spirits. They had energy and imagination. They wanted to be part of something new and to test themselves. Homesteading in an unsettled patch of Florida seemed to be just the right thing. The Deweys settled on the Lake Worth area after exploring several more northerly locations.

DeVries and Pederson in front of Birdie Dewey portrait

In treating the Deweys’ role as settlers, Pedersen and De Vries detail the history of the region leading up to the Deweys’ arrival on the scene, then continue by stressing the hardships they had to face. Readers receive vivid images evoking the material culture of the time. Once committed to Lake Worth (the lake – there was no town), they built several homes, bought and sold large property tracts, and generally did quite well for themselves.  In the early decades of their Florida lives, Fred and Birdie dealt with a remoteness and isolation that made it very difficult to obtain necessary supplies. Transportation was mostly along rivers and the lake. Merchants were few and far between. There was little social intercourse and no amenities of higher culture. For Birdie, this isolation was depressing. . . .

To see this review in its entirety, as it appears in the October 31, 2012 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 1 edition of the Naples and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Pedersen and DeVries

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Jonathon King’s “Max Freeman” series continues to excel

Midnight Guardians, by Jonathon King. Open Road. E-book. $9.99.

This sixth and newest novel in Jonathon King’s “Max Freeman” series picks up in the wake of Max’s girlfriend’s crippling injury. Broward County Sheriff’s Office Detective Sherry Richards’ loss of a leg is something about which Max can’t help but feel responsible (see Acts of Nature in which the calamity occurs), and he is doing all he can to redeem himself and assist in the psychological healing that Sherry needs. Not that she admits to any needs. An independent and courageous woman, she is struggling to get on with her life, which means mainly her job. Stubbornly refusing assistance as much as she possibly can, Sherry makes it difficult for Max to know how to do and say the right things to nourish their relationship. 

She has taken on the assignment of counseling Marty Booker, a fellow officer who just lost both legs in what seemed to be a routine traffic stop. However, it turns out the Booker might have been set up – possibly for even more than the double-amputation.

Meanwhile, Max’s old Philadelphia friend and principal employer, well-healed attorney Billy Manchester, has something for Max to investigate. Billy’s client, Luz Carmen, is a young woman who works for a medical equipment supplier that she suspects is involved in Medicare and Medicaid fraud. She feels certain that her younger brother, Andres, has been drawn into the gang that is making the false medical claims. She wants to save Andres, who is essentially a delivery boy, while bringing the masterminds to justice. Though Luz had insisted on seeking a safe place to discuss this matter, she and Max barely escape being victims of a drive-by shooting. Was it just a prank? Or was someone following Luz?

Billy insists that Max keep an eye on her.

Jonathon King

Through the device of having several chapters explore the thoughts of Marty Booker, Mr. King offers another center of interest and also a series of steps to the realization that rogue policemen are in on dealing and abusing illegal drugs. A shadowy fellow nick-named the Brown Man, with whom Max has had past encounters, is found to be straddling the criminal world, moving from the drug trade to  the more white collar fraud enterprise. Marty had been trying to separate himself from the steroid-using police gang before his “accident.”

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the December 22-28, 2010 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and in the December 23-29 issue of the Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Jonathon King pdf

[only the Naples edition carries the additional material on e-book publication]

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Maurice Fatio’s Architectural Legacy

 by Philip K. Jason                              Special to Florida Weekly

“Maurice Fatio: Palm Beach Architect,” by Kim I. Mockler. Acanthus Press. 256 pages. $65.

Kim Mockler’s study of Maurice Fatio’s contributions to the way of life among the powerful and wealthy denizens of Palm Beach is a treatise on American taste and splendor in the years leading up to the Great Depression and the decade that followed it. The descriptive text is crisp and clear, the presentation of architectural detail is at once knowledgeable, lucid, and accessible to novices. “Maurice Fatio” is lavishly illustrated with a generous assortment of period photographs and new ones, as well as floor plans rendered especially for this gorgeously produced volume.   

In presenting 26 representative examples of Fatio’s designs, Mr. Mockler incidentally provides us with a who’s who in American society and culture. If homes reflect their inhabitants and owners, Kim Mockler’s presentation of Maurice Fatio’s Palm Beach achievement reflects the inspiration and aspiration of the American Dream. However, this landscape of material culture never forgets its European heritage.

Maurice Fatio’s designs are characterized by a variety of European influences, from Mediterranean palaces to British Colonial mansions and even homes with modernist influences. He made extensive use of quarry key stone mined in Florida, and his plans typically included a central courtyard which provided wind-sheltered outdoor entertainment space.

Kim Mockler’s descriptive narratives include intriguing biographies and family histories; vivid word portraits of the residences; details about ornamentation, interior design, and furnishings; information about additions, renovations, and successive – including current – owners. We learn about where stones were quarried, which local artisans (wrought iron craftsmen, etc.) made contributions to Fatio’s vision, and how the various residences were situated with respect to the ocean and to Lake Worth.

For whom did Maurice Fatio design his Palm Beach estates? Joseph E. Widener, the art collector who donated his family’s famous collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C., is also known as the man who brought Hialeah Park to prominence as a world class horseracing track.  E. F. Hutton, founder of the famous brokerage house that bears his name, built his first Fatio house with wife Marjorie Merriweather Post and his second with his next wife, Dorothy Dear Metzger. Fatio designed several homes for members of the Vanderbilt family. The list of Maurice Fatio’s clients is a who’s who of American and international affluence and influence.

To read the full review (plus interview with Kim Mockler) as it appears in the Fort Myers Florida Weekly for October 13-19, 2010 and the Palm Beach Gardens and Naples editions for October 14-20, click here: Florida Weekly – Kim Mockler pdf

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