Original Pioneer Bios S-V

Henry & William Henry Sanders

 Henry Sanders arrived on the shores of Lake Worth in 1891. Born in England on 13 October 1841, Henry was fourteen when he came to America with his sister and brother, Tom. During the War Between the States, Henry and Tom joined the U.S. Cavalry. They were sent to Kansas as scouts, and, at the end of the war, they homesteaded in Kansas and married sisters there. Henry’s bride was Susanna Simpson, by whom he had six children: Annie Laurie, who married Thomas Farquarson; William Henry, who married Hattie Gale, daughter of pioneer Rev. Eldridge Gale; Susan Margaret, who married Harry DuBois of Jupiter; George, who became medical doctor; Rose, who married Frank Rowley, son of pioneer George S. Rowley; Samuel, who remained in Kansas.

Son William Henry Sanders had met his future wife, Hattie Gale, while attending college in Manhattan, Kansas. At age sixteen, before attending college, Hattie became the first school teacher in Dade County. When she returned to Florida with her family, Will went too. In August 1890, he traveled by train to Jacksonville, then on to Titusville, where he slept under a mosquito net for the first time in his life. The trip from Titusville to Jupiter Lighthouse took two days by Indian River steamer. Then Will experienced an eight-mile ride from Jupiter to Juno on the Celestial Railway and, finally, from Juno to Lake Worth, traveled by racing sailboat in the ocean, an unsettling experience for a Kansas farm boy. Fascinated by the Indian River steamers, Will became captain of the tugboat, “Palm.”

Will wrote home such glowing accounts of southeast Florida that his father decided to move there too. Susanna refused to accompany him. Henry set out from Clay Center, Kansas. The last leg of his trip, from Jacksonville to Lake Worth, was on the schooner, “Mary B.,” owned by Captain U.D. Hendrickson, and he arrived 1891. In 1897, two of his daughters, Susan and Rose, also left Kansas and arrived in Stuart, where Susan became a school teacher. (see her story, following.)

Henry’s wife, Susanna, died in 1899, and, in 1907, he married Frances Debras, also a native of England. She died in 1918.

Henry and son, Will, took an active part in the pioneer community on the shores of Lake Worth. An early photo shows Henry, with Will at the throttle of a locomotive he built. The locomotive, the type used in logging camps, was used in Palm Beach to clear land around the Royal Poinciana Hotel. When the Palm Beach Yacht Club erected a clubhouse on the lakeshore a short distance south of the Coconut Grove Hotel, one of the pioneers put together a seven-piece orchestra to play on opening night. Two of the members were Henry Sanders on bass horn and Will Sanders on piano. A later band, The Lake Worth Band, named for the lake and not the town, included Henry Sanders on tuba.

Henry died in April 1934 at age ninety-three and was greatly mourned by the surviving pioneers. His funeral was held in the Union Congregational Church where he had been a member for many years and was a deacon emeritus. The Legionnaires were active pallbearers in honor of his military service.

Will and Hattie had three children. They moved back to Manhattan, Kansas, where Will was a professor at the university for many years. He died 20 September 1967, at age ninety-nine.


My father and married brother were in Florida before I came down in the summer of 1897 with my sister, Rose. There were five men to every woman, and school teachers were very scarce, also. The teacher’s examination for that year had been held before I arrived, so they sent me up to Titusville to take the examination there. Dade County at that time ran up half of the state.

I was assigned to a little school just started out in the woods west of Stuart. I arrived in Stuart about 11 a.m. Saturday school was to start Monday. There was a store and post office combined run by one of the Kitching brothers. I inquired there if anyone from out to Leesville, as they called it, was in to meet me. They said two children, a boy of eight and his twelve-year-old sister had walked in, so after rounding them up, we started out. It was an awful, rainy fall, and the woods were full of water. After walking down the railroad for a mile or more, we struck out through the woods. It was cloudy and overcast, and in about two hours, we were back to the railroad tracks. We started again. . . on and on. . . it became dark so we squatted down by a big pine tree and waited. About 10 p.m. we saw a light. They had sent out a search party for the children. We were pretty glad to see them. They took us home, fed us, and gave us dry clothes. . . my trunk was still at Stuart. . .They all lived in one big room, a bed in every corner and one between on the two long sides of the room. There were four or five boys in the family, besides two young men boarders. I was assigned to sleep with the daughter.

The school house was an eight by twelve palmetto shack with no floor, no desk for me, but a box to sit on. The children sat on a long, backless bench with a long, slanting, continuous board in front to prop their books against. There was a desk and bench down each side of the room, and place for me to walk up and down a the center. I taught the children, just beginners with some -almost as old as I was, for the princely sum of forty dollars a month.

The teacher at Jupiter had been having trouble with the trustees, and to punish her, they sent her out to the little school I was teaching, and sent me into the Jupiter school after Christmas.

George W. Sears

 George W. Sears was born in Alsace-Lorraine in 1843. When he was eleven years old, his parents packed up their three children and traveled to New York and then to Key West, to stay with an aunt, Charlotte Filer (Mrs. Frederick). Not long afterward, George’s mother and his brother died of yellow fever. In 1858, George’s father, Michael, moved George and his five-year-old sister, Caroline, to Biscayne Bay.

Michael spelled his name Zahr. Caroline, who never married, spelled her name Zair. Various spellings included Zuhr, Zaihrs, Sair, Sayers, and even Chairs. George adopted the spelling of Sears.

On Biscayne Bay, about three miles north of the mouth of the Miami River, George helped his father build a house, clear some land and plant fruit trees. They salvaged wrecked ships for metal for their own use and to barter. With Michael’s schooner, “Lavinia,” they traveled back and forth between Key West and Biscayne Bay, bringing back supplies to sell to the Indians.

In 1866, they made a trip to Titusville. On their way back home, they noticed a difference in the color of the water as they were passing what would now be opposite the north inlet. Probably there had been some bad weather to cause flooding which led to a break in the barrier island. Water from landlocked, fresh water Lake Worth was mixing with the ocean water. They sailed through this new inlet onto the lake. Traveling a few miles south, they saw a man standing in a clearing on the east shore of the lake. He turned out to be Augustus Oswald Lang, who asked them how the war was going. Lang was surprised to learn that it had been over for more than a year.

George and his father returned to Biscayne Bay. George served as a mail carrier between the Bay and Key West in the 1870s. In 1872, he homesteaded 160 acres two miles north of his father’s place. By November 1878, George had built two houses plus outbuildings, cleared 6 acres, and planted fruit trees, sweet potatoes and pumpkins. He valued his homestead at $800. However, it was ten more years before he was allowed the homestead.

First, he had to be naturalized, which he did in Key West in 1879. Then there was a question of whether his land was swamp or dry land. If swamp, it belonged to the state and could not be homesteaded. Before the question was settled, George moved farther north and remarried. There is no record of his first marriage, but he is listed as widowed or divorced on the 1880 census. In Eau Gallie in November 1881, George married Elizabeth Houston Adams, a widow with two children, George S. and Mary Virginia Adams. In April 1882, they visited Biscayne Bay. Because there were no schools for his stepchildren, George moved his family to Mangonia, near present-day West Palm Beach. He was one of the charter members of the Lake Worth Pioneers’ Association.

His stepson, George Adams, married Mabel Whitehurst in Lemon City and they lived there until 1896, when they, too, moved to Mangonia and George Adams became clerk of West Palm Beach. Mary Virginia Adams married Frank Courtright who farmed with George Sears. They were so successful in raising tomatoes for market that their methods were written up in Miami Metropolis.

George and Elizabeth Sears had two daughters of their own: Kate, who married Arthur Janes and Josie, who married M.B. Plummer. Both died young, leaving daughters.

George and family moved back to Biscayne Bay in 1900, to stay. The Sears and Courtrights lived in adjacent houses west of the Little River railroad station on what is now NE 79th Street. Here, George W. Sears died on 17 September 1919, at age seventy-six.

Melville Evans Spencer

 Melville Evans Spencer was born 31 October, 1850 at Mansfield, Pennsylvania, the son of Valorus and Jane Keltz Spencer. He was educated there, but in 1872 his family moved to Baltimore. Melville had heard many favorable stories about Florida and decided to visit. He got as far as Titusville and got a job as a carpenter working for Capt. (Mr.) Titus at the north end of the Indian River. In an interview in 1937 he said “My aim was to come to Lake Worth, so I built myself a 16 foot cat rig boat buying the lumber from Mr. Titus. I sailed alone in my new boat down Indian River to Jupiter in May 1876.”

He selected a homestead on the ocean front, “123 acres from Sunset Avenue to a wedge in the Atlantic Ocean about the north line of what later became the McKenna place.” His first home was a palmetto cabin not unlike those of his neighbors. When his father, mother and two of his three sisters came a year and a half later, they built a house on 40 acres of state land just south of Melville’s on the banks of Lake Worth.

Melville had been doing some carpenter work for the Jupiter Lighthouse keeper, James Armour. When Armour’s nephew left the job of assistant keeper, it was offered to Mel, and he began working in September 1878. Within three months he was promoted to first assistant keeper and held that position for six years. Later he was made principal keeper at the Sombrero Lighthouse 40 miles east of Key West and he held that position for nearly six years. When he wanted to visit Lake Worth, he would take a boat to Miami and walk the beach the rest of the way.

In 1889, at a religious meeting in the old East Side schoolhouse, he met Josephine Bellows of Frankfort, Michigan, who was visiting her sister, Mrs. J.J. White. Eleanor came to Michigan from Rhode Island where she was born in September 1853. It was love at first sight, and they were married the following April. In March 1896, his sister, Flora (Florence) married Eleanor’ s brother, Adelbert in the old Bethesda Church and moved to Michigan where she taught school.

She was widowed seven years later and moved back to Florida. Another of Mel’s sisters, Mattie, married Circuit Court Judge Allen Heyser, the first county judge of Dade County. At that time Dade County encompassed the territory just south of Jensen to the north and Key Largo to the south, and it wasn’t until 1909 that Palm Beach County was laid off from Dade County. Mrs. C.H. Redifer, sister of Melville, came to Lake Worth in 1893 with her family. Each family built a home and cultivated the land by growing fruit and ornamental trees. In a letter to his brother, Frank, in Mansfield, Pennsylvania, Mel said, “We can grow Irish and sweet potatoes, cabbage and tomatoes, but our profitable crops are pineapple, banana, lemon, lime, orange, fig and juave (guava).”

When the ship “Providencia”, bound from Central America to Barcelona, Spain was wrecked off the coast, it lost its cargo of 20,000 coconuts. Mel salvaged over 1000 of them and set them out. When they matured in 10 years, he “could get $100 or $200 per year from this crop and I only have to pick the nuts.”

In 1894 Mel operated the first steamboat, the 12 passenger “Night Hawk.” He also towed lumber from Juno for Henry Flagler’s Royal Poinciana Hotel. Beside his occupation as boat builder, he was a machinist and a horticulturist as well as a lighthouse keeper.

Mel and Eleanor’s children were Louis Perry, born January 15, 1892, and died October 10, 1965, and Ervilla, born June 1893, and died 1973.

Valorus Orlando Spencer

 Valorus Orlando Spencer was born at Tioga County, near the New York State border in 1824. He arrived with his family on the shores of Lake Worth 16 January 1878 by schooner. They were lured to Florida by the letters from their son, Melville, who described “this place is a tropical paradise.” Valorus bought 40 acres of land just south of Melville’s on the banks of Lake Worth and built a substantial house. Melville had come to the lake area in 1876, three years after the first settlers.

Mail delivery was very haphazard until 1880 as the mail was carried by anyone coming south. V.0. Spencer and his daughter, Mattie, got up a petition for regular mail delivery to be extended to the settlers on Lake Worth. (There were no inhabitants south of the lake.) As they went up and down the lake by boat to gather signatures, the weather turned stormy causing the boat to capsize. It took them three hours to reach shore, but in the morning they rescued the wooden box holding the petitions and soon sent them off to Washington, D.C.

On 30 May, 1880 the route was reinstated, and V.0. Spencer became the first postmaster. It was considered reinstated; a route had been in service from St. Lucie to Miami during the Civil War.

Valorus married Jane Keltz ,born 6 December 1818, in Pennsylvania. In addition to their son, Melville, they had daughters Florence (Flora), Martha (Mattie), Anna and Sarah L. V.0. died in 1895, and Jane died on 18 May, 1906. Mattie married Judge Allen Heyser, Judge of the Circuit Court in Miami. Florence married Adelbert Bellows, the brother of Melville’s wife, Josephine. Anna was the wife of Henry Redifer. Sarah L. Spencer married 0.P. Eames.

Frederick Christian Voss

 Frederick Christian Voss, a steam engineer, was born at Bath, Maine, on 28 February 1865. He learned his trade at Bath Iron Works. One of five children, three of whom had already died, Fred was advised to seek a warmer climate. He went to sea at age eighteen on a five-masted schooner and wound up in Florida.

In 1886, he was hired as engineer of a small steamer, “Lake Worth, “by owner U.D. Hendrickson. Captain H.P. Dye and Fred made regular runs between Titusville and Jupiter on Indian River. With the demand for service on Lake Worth increasing, the steamer was moved to the lake to provide passenger service. One of their stops was at Hypoluxo Island, where Fred met Lillie Elder Pierce. (See H.D. Pierce story.) Lillie’s uncle, William H. Moore, asked Fred to help him convert his schooner to a steamboat named “Hypoluxo,” and they were awarded the mail route from Juno to Hypoluxo. Starting in 1893, they made daily runs, carrying not only mail but freight and passengers.

Fred and Lillie fell in love and were married 12 May 1894 at the home of her parents on Hypoluxo Island. Fred built their first home on the island and, later, a large, permanent house on the mainland. Fred used extra heavy timber for the roof, and the house was a neighborhood haven during several hurricanes.

Fred took Lillie to Maine in the summer of 1896 to meet his folks but they were back in Hypoluxo in time for the birth of their first child, Lillian Frederica, born in October.

Fred continued to work on steamboats in Florida during the winters and, during many summers, traveled to Maine where he found work. He also had a small charter yacht, “Victor,” on which he took parties on cruises around South Florida.

By 1903, Henry M. Flagler was extending his railroad from Homestead to Key West. He needed pilots and engineers for the big sternwheelers used to transport men, equipment and supplies through the shallow waters of the Florida channels. Fred and his brother-in-law, Charles Pierce, along with many other boatmen from Lake Worth and Indian River, were hired by Flagler. Fred became engineer on the “Peerless,” and Charles, captain of “Wanderer.” Both went through the great hurricane of 1906.

During the summer of 1921, Fred joined Lillie’s cousin, Walter R. Moore, in having a 78’ pleasure yacht built in Bath, Maine. They named her “Donnygill” for Walter’s son, Donald, and Fred’s son, Gilbert. They ran charter parties out of New York in the summer and out of Florida in the winter. The whole family usually went along. About ten years later, they sold “Donnygill,” and Fred spent the rest of his life farming his land. Fred and Lillie’s savings were wiped out in the crash of 1929.

Fred and Lillie were members of the Lake Worth Pioneers’ Association and Boynton Methodist Church (now First United Methodist) and were active in the community. They had six children:

Lillian Frederica (Mrs. Harvey E. Oyer), Charles Hannibal, Frederick Christian, Jr., John, who only lived five days, Walter Reginald and Gilbert Lincoln.

Fred died of a stroke at home, at age ninety-two, on 27 November 1957. He is buried in Hillcrest Memorial Park, West Palm Beach. A year later, Lillie moved to a small cottage next to her daughter’s home in Boynton Beach, and the house Fred built was razed by the new owner of the property. What a tragedy because the house would have been an historical treasure. LiThe died 14 September 1967 and is buried beside Fred.