THE BAREFOOT MAILMAN
By David J. Castello
1885 the sixty mile stretch of South Florida coastline between
Lake Worth and Biscayne Bay had remained unchanged since Ponce
de Leon sailed past here in 1513. Nevertheless, settlers in the
area had become numerous enough to warrant the U.S. Postal Service
to extend mail delivery south from the town of Palm City (Palm
Beach) down to Haulover Beach in Lemon City (Miami).
But a new route over what? At the time there were no roads,
no railroad, nothing that connected the two points.
Except that virgin coastline.
Henceforth the "Star" or 'Barefoot" route was created.
The hardy souls that traversed the distance became known as
the legendary "Barefoot Mailmen". And legendary they were. Have
you ever trudged through a mile of beach sand? Try eighty miles.
In the blazing Florida sunshine. With a large haversack stuffed
to the hilt slung over your shoulder.
And all for $175 every three months.
The first contract was "awarded" to Lantana settler (and later
Dade County school superintendent) E. R. Bradley who shared the
duties with his son, Louie. The route began on Monday morning
in Palm City where Bradley picked up the mail. From there he sailed
down Lake Worth and was deposited on a sandy ridge near the present-day
Boynton Inlet. It was here that the mortal mail carrier transformed
himself into the "Barefoot Mailman". Shirt off, shoes off, sometimes
trousers off (who's going to know?) and all stuffed into his haversack
along with a canvas mail sack. The lightweight canvas mail sack
was a major concession by the Postal Service. All other mail carriers
in America were required to use the standard one made of cowhide.
The Barefoot Mailman walked five miles across Boynton Beach
and rested his first night at the Orange Grove House of Refuge
(for shipwrecked sailors) just north of Atlantic Avenue in Delray
Beach. On Tuesday he walked twenty-five miles of beach sand until
he reached Hillsborough Inlet and crossed in a small boat he kept
hidden in the bushes for his own personal use.
Alternating between foot and small boat he reached Lemon City
on Wednesday night and began his return early the next morning.
The round trip was 136 miles. Eighty by foot and fifty-six by
boat. The mail carrier reached Palm City by late Saturday, rested
Sunday and started the arduous journey all over again on Monday.
To supplement their wages, some of the Barefoot Mailmen (there
were at least 15*) allowed a traveler to accompany them for $5.00.
They felt their fee was justified because the mail carrier was
forced to slow down for the inexperienced walkers and ferry them
across the various inlets.
The Barefoot Mailman's efficient route became widely known and
probably led to the death of the second one, James "Ed" Hamilton.
On October 9, 1887 Hamilton was southbound and reached the Hillsborough
Inlet. To his dismay, he discovered that the small boat hidden
for his use was tied up on the opposite side (an investigation
later revealed that the keeper of the Orange Grove House of Refuge
had warned a southbound traveler the day before not to use the
mail carrier's boat. Obviously, he did.) Hamilton left his mail
sack on the north side of the inlet and swam across to retrieve
his boat. He was never seen again. The investigative report described
the inlet as "infested with large alligators."
In late 1892 the first county road from Lantana to Lemon City
was completed. The following year the U.S. Postal Service did
not renew the "Barefoot Mailman's" contract.
*Barefoot Mailmen Under Contract: E.R. Bradley (1st contract),
Louie Bradley (his son, under same contract, they took turns),
Andrew Garnett, George Sears, Frederick Matthaus, Otto Matthaus,
Charles Pierce, Bob Douthit, Dan McCarley, George Charter ,Ed
Hamilton (killed - probably by alligators) and H.J. Burkhardt
(last mailman under contract and probably the fastest).
Barefoot Mailmen Not Under Contract (Used During Last Two Years):
Edward "Ned" Peat, Stafford (complete name) and Dan Kelley.
PAGES FROM BOYNTON BEACH HISTORY
THE BAREFOOT MAILMAN (1885-1893)
THE BOYNTON BEACH HOTEL (1896-1925)
THE WRECK OF THE COQUIMBO (1909)
NATHAN S. BOYNTON (1837-1911)
BOYNTON'S INDIAN MOUNDS (1000BC-1700AD)
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