Join Our Year-Long 50th Year Celebration!
What were you doing in 1964?
Amongst the excitement, a group of very caring, professional and amateur historians quietly created a legacy for Palm Beach County and the Delray Beach Historical Society was born on August 26th, 1964.
The original mission of the Society was “to be an organization that preserves the records and to form a significant and authentic history of the City of Delray Beach.” Fifty years later, they have done just that.
Today, the Delray Beach Historical Society now houses and archives a comprehensive history of Delray Beach on behalf of the City and resides in downtown Delray on a campus made up of rescued and restored historic buildings, complete with a Florida Native Plant Garden. The journey is interesting – what started at the breakfast table with a group of inspired town folk then moved to the top floor of the famous Arcade Tap Room on Atlantic Avenue and then on to the upstairs of Cornell Museum at Old School Square. In 1989 the Society moved the archives and office to “Cason Cottage,” a living history museum depicting life in South Florida from 1915 – 1935, on the corner of 1st and Swinton. The 1926 Bungalow exhibit space and Gift Shop and the Ethel Sterling Williams History Learning Center and Archive Bunker were added in the early 2000’s.
“We’ve begun this year with a vision of the next fifty years. A vision that includes establishing the Society as a vibrant center for education, research and community life by bringing together families and multiple generations to a series of fun-filled and contemporary-themed exhibits, programs and events, which showcase the rich and colorful stories of our past,” says Winnie Edwards, Executive Director and daughter of one of the 1964 Charter signing members, Roy Diggans. “We’re off to a good start, as we’ve welcomed over 1,200 visitors to our campus for tours, research, exhibits and events so far.”
Today’s Delray Beach Historical Society works hand in hand with Spady Cultural Heritage Museum, Delray Beach Center for the Arts, The Delray Beach Public Library and various public agencies promoting education and cultural enrichment. The key focus areas for the future of the Delray Beach Historical Society are: to increase engagement of residents and businesses; expand educational programs and optimize the various ‘Collections’ from the archives for exhibitions; to build public awareness of people from all backgrounds providing valuable inspiration for the present and guidance for the future; to strengthen the financial security of the organization and ensure its sustainability for generations to come.
The Society is supported directly by membership dues and funds raised at member and community events. Without financial support from the community and volunteers, the Society could not continue. Currently there are 280 members, several of whom are direct descendants and relatives of the original pioneer families or the children of charter members. “We have a wonderful and dedicated membership base who care so much about preserving our history. We hope to increase our membership by attracting those that are just learning about us and new families who are calling Delray home,” says Leslie Callaway, Board President. “Our goal is 1,000 new members by 2015 and this Golden Jubilee Celebration year is a great time to showcase what we’re doing for the community.”
Much has been done in 50 years to protect, preserve and archive our history for easy access by the community. Did you know there are over 10,000 items in our archives? Digitization of our records, photographs, negatives and oral history recordings are crucial to the longevity of storytelling and education in Delray Beach. Through membership dues and sponsorships, we can achieve our goals.
The Society has played an important role as a community provider for many Delray Beach milestones. Significant contributions were made to the 1995 year-long celebration of our Centennial of Settlement, the 2011 Celebration of Delray Beach’s Centennial of Incorporation, the Delray Beach Library 100th birthday, and the establishment of the Preservation Trust and the Preservation Board. The Society was responsible for bringing about the designation of four City historic districts: Nassau Park, The Old School Square District, Del-Ida Park and the Marina Historic District and the naming of Linton Boulevard after Congressman William Linton, who platted and registered the town site of Linton.
Please look for news of our gala event at year’s end in celebration of our 50th Anniversary and send off to the next 50 years!
A Fish Tale Straight from the Archives!
When you go fishing in the Delray Beach Historical Society archives, there’s no telling what you might find! During a recent research project to gather information about original Lake Ida homes, we re-discovered a collection of extraordinary handcrafted scrapbooks and diaries created by local fishing legend, Randall Wilson Davis, when he was a teenager way back in the 1930’s.
Randall’s family settled in Delray Beach in 1925, and his father, Jacob Davis, and older brother, Orville, started the Davis Transfer Co., in early 1926. (In fact, one of his Dad’s contracts was to deliver bailed hay from a side-track railroad box car in from of the old Delray Electric Power Station run by Doc Ranson.
Randall graduated from Delray High School in 1937, and his first job was lifeguard and recreation director at the Gulf Stream Bath & Tennis Club. But his true passion was fishing, and Lake Ida his favorite honey hole.
At that time, Lake Ida was a sprawling wetland where bass fishing ruled supreme. And Randall Davis was one of the best fishermen in town. A true sport-fishing fanatic, Randall won many fishing contests, even taking home first prize in 1937 from Field & Stream Magazine for the 15 lbs., 12 ounce, 36 inch long bass he landed.
When Randall wasn’t casting a line into Lake Ida and other area lakes, he was writing about fishing, contributing columns to the local papers. It was his desire to save his articles, stories and fish tales for posterity that got Randall involved in what could be called an early form of scrapbooking.
Randall began documenting everything in elaborate, handmade scrapbooks he crafted using personal photos and little pieces of cut construction paper, glued alongside typed poems and funny anecdotes, cutout newspaper articles and small, hand-drawn pictures. These pages became unique living works of art documenting life in Depression-Era Delray Beach.
And in 1990, Davis donated his marvelous scrapbooks and diaries to the DBHS so we would be able share them with you. They’re wonderful and inspiring, and whether you’re a fan of fishing, a Delray Beach history buff, or a weekend scrapbooker, you’ll love pouring over them.
There are literally hundreds of stories in our museum-quality, archival bunker. That’s what we do. We share the stories of Delray Beach and preserve them for future generations. Our Ethel Sterling Williams Research and Learning Center is open to the public. Come visit us and explore our treasure trove of historical artifacts, photos, records, original blueprints, media, art and a wealth of other documents detailing the founding of our Village By The Sea. Attend one of our exhibits or events, tour the Cason Cottage or wander through our native Florida plant gardens.
See the Randall Wilson Davis Scrapbooks at our “Memories of Lake Ida” exhibit, open though October in the 1926 Bungalow.