The High School and the Elementary School

The High School and the Elementary School


Boynton’s Schools

In 1896, or early in 1897, Boynton established its first public school under the auspices of the Dade County School Board. The school was a small wood frame building which was located just east of the F.E.C Railroad tracks where Dewey Park is today1. By the time the school opened, Boynton had some 70 settlers, including thirteen families and eight students, as recorded in the Florida State 1896 Census of Youth for Dade County. Miss Maude Gee, from northern Florida, was the school’s first teacher.

In 1900 a new school was erected that would also serve as a community center and church for the pioneer families and the construction workers attracted to Boynton's development plans. Townsfolk joined together to build the school, a simple one-room pine wood frame structure with gray clapboard siding and a shingle roof, located on the same site currently occupied by the Boynton Beach Schools. A school bell, still housed at the Elementary School (the Schoolhouse Children’s Museum), hung in the belfry and called the students from the first through the ninth grades to the single classroom. Miss Ruby Coates was the first teacher employed at the school, which at the time stood at the western edge of the town, bordering pinewoods and pineapple fields to the west. Although the oldest remaining school on the property dates from 1913, the history of the site and its significance to education and the local community can be traced to the turn of the century.

The 1900 Boynton School (photo from 1907)The 1900 Boynton School (photo from 1907)

The Town of Boynton continued to develop along with the region and, in 1907, the need for a school for the town’s African-American students was recognized. Population pressures at this time also led to the division of Boynton’s school house into two rooms and the subsequent employment of two teachers, Miss Laura M. Fleming and Miss Edith Hunter. Still the educational needs of the community were not being fully satisfied and so, in 1911, Mrs. Cora Stickney Harper negotiated for the Boynton students to attend the Palm Beach High School. Arrangements were made with the F.E.C. Railway for students to make the commute to the high school in West Palm Beach. Students left Boynton on the 7.15 a.m. train, which sometimes ended up a few minutes behind schedule due to kindhearted conductors who waited for the late students running up the dirt road. After picking up additional students in Hypoluxo and Lantana, the train was met in West Palm Beach by a horse drawn bus. The afternoon return trip was made on the 2.15 p.m. train, nicknamed “The Shorter”2.

Blanche Hearst GirtmanBlanche Hearst Girtman, teacher at Poinciana Elementary School
The Boynton School was built in 1913 and located east of the by then overcrowded wooden school house. It was built of concrete block and contained two floors with six classrooms. The number of students enrolled required the services of a principal, who taught high school subjects, and three teachers who taught grades one through eight. Once the High School was completed in 1927, the school was renamed the Boynton Elementary School3.

The 1920s brought further changes to Boynton. The Town of Boynton was incorporated in 1920, with H.B. Murray as its first mayor (the name was changed to the City of Boynton Beach in 1941). In 1924 a P.T.A group was organized, with Mrs. P. Ruenuman as the first president4 .

Around 1925, the Boynton Elementary School (for Blacks) was built to replace the earlier one-story building. It was located near the present Poinciana Elementary on the corner of Seacrest Boulevard and NW 12th Avenue. Its four rooms served grades one through eight until 1952 when the building was no longer big enough to handle the number of students. Six further classrooms were built to the west. The name was changed to Poinciana Elementary because of the many Poinciana trees on the campus. The old schoolhouse was torn down in 1960 when a new Poinciana Elementary was built5.

In 1926, a bond issue was passed to provide funds for another school in Boynton. Not only was the 1913 building overcrowded, but also residents felt the population merited a high school of its own. Temporary buildings were erected to ease the congestion, and plans for the new High School went forward. The school’s construction heralded the first time that two schools would operate side by side in Boynton6.

The High School

Boynton High SchoolBoynton High School
The Boynton High School, completed in 1927, was designed by the architect William Manly King and was built by Chalker, Lund and Crittenden. King was the architect for a number of Palm Beach County schools and other notable buildings including the Armory Building in Lake Worth. The design incorporates many architectural features associated with the Mediterranean Revival style; however, there are also elements of the then up and coming Art Deco style which was introduced in the 1920s.

Externally, the building retains many interesting architectural features including columns and urns at the arched entrances (Fig. 1), cast stone twisted pilasters (Fig. 2), and cartouches on the two corner towers which depict heraldic shields, wreaths, and torches (Fig. 3). Internally, the building retains its original wood floors and gymnasium.

1928 Hurricane damage1928 Hurricane damage
In 1928, the school was badly damaged by a hurricane. Many people took refuge in the building, only to be injured when the second floor gymnasium walls collapsed. King was retained by the School Board to oversee the repairs which, on completion, differed slightly from the original design.

The first High School graduation of two students occurred in 1929 and the last graduation of 15 students occurred in 19497. After 1949 the school was used as a grammar school8. In 1990, the Elementary School housed in the building was closed and, in 1993, the City of Boynton Beach acquired the building from the Palm Beach County School Board9. In 2007, ownership was transferred to the Boynton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency and in 2009 ownership was transferred back to the city. The building, which has lain vacant for a number of years, is listed on the Boynton Beach Register of Historic Places.

The Elementary School

Elementary SchoolBoynton Beach Elementary School
The Boynton Beach Elementary School, built in 1913, was designed by William W. Maughlin of the West Palm Beach firm Ruggles and Weller. Among Maughlin’s other projects was the 1908 West Palm Beach High School which, at the time, was the largest educational building in southeast Florida.

In 1912, the Palm Beach County School Board awarded the contract for construction of the school to A. Mellson.

The building is constructed from rusticated concrete blocks in the Masonry Vernacular style which was a great step forward for Boynton as the previous schoolhouses were small wood frame buildings. Significant features include the arched entry porch and the pyramid-roofed belfry which is clad with sheets of decorative tin plate designed to resemble the rusticated concrete block. Internally, the building retains many original features including wood flooring and tongue and groove wainscoting.

Boynton School early photoBoynton School
The school opened on September 8, 1913 with 81 students. The last elementary students attended classes in the 1980s after which the Palm Beach County School Board used the building to house special programs10.

In 1994, the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places and ownership was transferred from the Palm Beach County School Board to the City of Boynton Beach. Funds were raised to restore the building and create the Schoolhouse Children’s Museum and Learning Center which opened in 200111.

  • 1. Farace V.K. et. al., Boynton Beach, The First 100 Years, Boynton Beach Historical Society & Friends of the Boynton Beach City Library, 1995, p.21.
  • 2. Hill C., National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Boynton Cultural Center, 2005 (application not submitted), (abridged).
  • 3. Farace V.K. et. al., Boynton Beach, The First 100 Years, Boynton Beach Historical Society & Friends of the Boynton Beach City Library, 1995, p.21.
  • 4. Hill C., National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Boynton Cultural Center, 2005 (application not submitted), (abridged).
  • 5. Farace V.K. et. al., Boynton Beach, The First 100 Years, Boynton Beach Historical Society & Friends of the Boynton Beach City Library, 1995, p.20.
  • 6. Hill C., National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Boynton Cultural Center, 2005 (application not submitted), (abridged).
  • 7. Coastal Star website.
  • 8. De Vries J., Around Boynton Beach. Charleston, SC. Arcadia Publishing, 2006, p.85.
  • 9. Coastal Star website.
  • 10. Parker C. and Mattick B., National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Bureau of Historic Preservation, 1994.
  • 11. Schoolhouse Children’s Museum and Learning Center website.