Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Who Slept at Seminole Inn?

      On a recent trip to Indiantown, I drove past a building I remember passing several times over the years.  As my Dad usually wouldn't stop unless it was a dire personal emergency requiring a restroom, I was never able to get more than a glimpse of the hotel as we rolled past on our way to the west coast.

      This time, I stopped for a couple of pictures and a closer look. (It's so nice being the driver instead of the passenger sometimes.) 

     The Seminole Inn is one of the hotels built back in those glorious days of the Florida real estate boom of the early 1920s. I've wanted to stay the night there since I was a child, but it always seemed to be on the way to another destination. But one of these days, I'm going to make it my destination. I'm adding it to my Florida Bucket List.

     It was 1926 when the Inn was built on the side of Beeline Highway at Warfield Boulevard in Indiantown, Florida.  The brainchild of S. Davies Warfield, President of the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad in the 1920's, it was intended as a luxurious stop for railway visitors as they made their way through Florida. Warfield had big plans for little Indiantown and since Warfield had the say-so, he said the railway would make a stop at Indiantown, and so it did.

     Warfield was actually the uncle of Wallis Warfield Simpson. You may have heard of her. A king of England abdicated his throne rather than give up Wallis. Rumor had it that Wallis and her princely husband, the former King Edward VIII, honeymooned at the hotel, but Palm Beach Post columnist Eliot Kleinberg tracked down the truth. The couple honeymooned in Australia.

     S. Davies Warfield died in 1927 shortly before the hurricane of 1928 wreaked havoc on the railway line and the stock market crash of 1929 took the wind out of the tourism industry in Florida for a while. The railroad continued to stop in Indiantown until 1971 and the depo was demolished sometime later. 

    Personally, it's ok with me if royalty didn't trod the wood floors and gaze upon the pecky cypress ceilings at the Inn. I'd still like to stay there and let my imagination run wild. Anyone up for a road trip?

    The Seminole Inn is located at 1585 S.W. Warfield Boulevard, Indiantown, Florida 34956. That's in Martin County. Telephone: 772-597-2777 and e-mail is


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Gratitudes

      I got in the habit of gratitude a couple of years ago. Before then, from time to time I'd think about how grateful I was for one blessing or another, but it wasn't a habit.

     These days, before my feet hit the floor every morning, I think of three--and only three--things for which I'm grateful. I call these "The Gratitudes." There's no rhyme or reason to what pops into my head on any given morning and just like the three below, they don't often go together. I have to tell you, sometimes I wonder why a particular gratitude shows up, but I take the first three and offer thanks for them and try not to question it too much.

      This week, in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, I'm sharing today's three gratitudes with you.

     1.  I'm grateful that I was talked into participating in the World Wide Photo Walk by my friend, Karen Bain. (See photo above.) There's nothing like walking through one of the cities I love, cell phone in hand, snapping pictures. I'm STILL looking at things differently. I can't think of a better way for a writer, or anyone else, to start noticing things we usually race past.  

    2.  I'm grateful I've been able to speak to quite a few elementary school students about Betty Tales: The True Story of a Brave Bobblehead Cat and get them yelling "climb those stairs!" as they learn about my bobblehead cat, goals, obstacles, and determination. There were goosebumps on my arms and tears in my eyes when a teacher told me about one of her students who had faced what was, for him, a huge obstacle. He was in the middle of trying to learn a part for a school production when I showed up with videos of Miss Betty and her message of persistence. When he nailed his part in the production, he turned to his teacher and said, "I really climbed those stairs, didn't I?" 

     3.   I'm grateful Sir Harry Oakes bought the Winter Golf Club from Harry Kelsey in the early history of Palm Beach County thereby becoming part of my childhood memories and nightmares. I'm not sure what I would be writing about if I hadn't grown up studying the upstairs windows of the mansion for signs of his ghost. Talk about lighting up an imagination!

     I could go on naming gratitudes quite a while--my wonderful friends and family, for example--but my rules keep me at the first three that pop in my head on any given morning. It's hard to stop when I start counting blessings instead of disasters. I'd be willing to bet you'd have a hard time stopping, too.

      This Thanksgiving, I hope you and yours have a wonderful, peaceful holiday loaded with gratitudes. 

     And for those of you who follow my blog from foreign lands where this uniquely American holiday isn't celebrated, I'm grateful for you and your support of this blog and hope your week is a great one, too.

       Oops! Another gratitude! There's no stopping!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Elementary Echos

One windy day in October, I visited what had been my elementary school. As I walked through the halls I raced through as a child, my footsteps echoed and the wind pushed something around just out of sight.  I was surprised to find the school still standing.  North Palm Beach Elementary is scheduled to be demolished so that a new technologically advanced school can rise out of the ashes by 2014.

As I walked down halls and peered in windows, I tried to remember what it had been like. What I had been like before life accelerated way past worrying about who I would sit next to at lunch. I had spent several years of my life here. The graduates I know are doctors, lawyers, magistrates, homemakers, secretaries, policeman, teachers, parents, artists and writers.  

Cafetorium Extraordinarium
It was 1965. Toward the end of the summer, children all over North Palm Beach met in the combination cafeteria/auditorium known as a “cafetorium,” to buy large paper sacks of school supplies from the Parent Teacher Association. The PTA charged $5.00 per sack to provide everything we’d need and it was heavenly looking at all the interesting things I’d be using in the coming year.

My memories start at first grade—Mrs. Atherton was my teacher. We sat in wooden chairs at tables and wrote furiously in workbooks that told the story of Dick and Jane and their dog, Spot. We took their lives seriously as we labored over each letter. “Run, Spot, run. See Spot run. Dick and Jane see Spot run.

Physical Education was held on sprawling fields that stretched to the north and west of the school in the days before any of us knew about s.p.f. “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Tommy right over!” With aching arms, sweaty bodies, pink noses and shoulders, we trudged exhausted back to the classrooms with our bobby socks colored gray by Florida sand around stickers that we invariably picked up from the weeds in the fields.  

We had orchestra and I attempted to learn how to play the cello. I have no idea why I didn’t choose a flute or something small, but I was very grateful that my friend Chip helped haul the cello to the curb when I had to take it home to practice. We’d wait for our rides under the melaleuca trees that lined Anchorage Drive, peeling the papery bark of the trees as we talked.

When I was at North Palm Elementary, Spring Carnival was held on the front lawn where the library was later built. We wore colored poster board cut in the shape of tulips, roses or daisies on our heads like masks with holes cut for our faces and ribbons holding them in place. We sang songs about spring and danced. 

Portions of the hanging ceiling
removed showing the high ceilings of old.
North Palm Beach Elementary went up in stages from the late 1950s until the 1970s. Gradually, portable classrooms started taking up the play fields to the north and then the portables themselves were replaced with buildings.   The school is going to disappear much more quickly. Plans are to pull down almost all of the buildings and remodel the two that will remain standing.  They’re replacing the cafetorium with a better facility—nicer cafeteria, more impressive stage.  I remember it as a big room with high ceilings where suspiciously, cafeteria ladies always served spinach on days the lawn was mowed.

I really do understand that the old school is out-of-date. Technology has raced ahead and the old buildings were built way before computers became small enough to fit in a phone. The price to retrofit must be way more than the cost to just tear down and re-build. Part of me, though, regrets that one day soon, I won’t be able to drive by and see how it’s changed. Unlike my father, whose school still stands as part of Old School Square in Delray Beach, mine will disappear.

Bittersweet, to be sure.

If you’re a graduate of North Palm Beach Elementary, it might be too late for one last visit by the time you read this. Demolition and clearing was scheduled to start in October. I’d driven by one last time to say goodbye.  As I walked out of the school for the last time, the sun slowly set over what was left of the play fields and the shadows crept further and further down the halls. The sound of my footsteps echoed against those walls I last touched at eleven years of age. 

This column originally appeared in Seabreeze Publications, Inc. as "North Palm Beach Elementary Echoes" on November, 2012.

UPDATE: I was by the school on November 3, 2012, and it was still standing. You may still have a chance to say goodbye.

Copyright (c) 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Reddy Kilowat: A Bolt from the Past

Reddy Kilowatt

          Reddy Kilowatt was his name and appearing on everything FPL was his game.

      In 1965, my Girl Scout troop took a cooking class for children conducted by FPL in a building that's now part of Palm Beach Atlantic University in downtown West Palm Beach. Wearing little white aprons, we stirred and mixed and learned all about the fascinating world of electric appliances. Does anyone even have classes like that anymore?

          Reddy had arms and legs of lightning bolts, a huge bubble head with a light bulb for a nose and wall outlets for ears.   He was a cutie and he was all over the handouts we were given. He's nowhere around FPL these days and when I tried to call the company for some information, I didn't get a call back. My, how the mighty Reddy has fallen.
         So I did what any self-respecting obsessed curious person would do--I went internet surfing. I was surprised to find out Reddy wasn't unique to Florida Power and Light. Created by Ashton B. Collins in 1926, the figure was trademarked and licensed to "more than 150 investor-owned electric utilities in the United States and at least 12 foreign countries" according to the unofficial website

          Sadly, you won't find Reddy on company handouts in Florida these days. The company has gone to a circle with a lightning bolt across it with the letters "FPL" next to it. Not nearly as fun. Collectors can still find Reddy on e-bay and probably at the occasional garage sale.  As I write this, there are over 430 items up for bid.

           Um.... gotta run. I'm running out of time to bid on the "Vintage 1950's Reddy Kilowatt "Trudy Tenderfoot Meets Reddy Kilowatt" Cook Book.