The U.S. Mail route was established in 1885. In Southeast Florida, there was no road connecting the 68 miles from Palm Beach to Miami, and fresh water was unavailable for mail-carrying horses. Thus, the only means of delivering the mail was by row boat in some areas and by foot in others.
The men who traversed this route became known as the Barefoot Mailmen. They walked from Palm Beach south to Miami along what is now mainly Ocean Boulevard and/or A1A. The Barefoot Mailman stopped at the Orange Grove House of Refuge in Delray Beach before continuing his route to Miami.
The most famous Barefoot Mailman, Ed Hamilton, mysteriously disappeared while making this six-day trek. Speculations abound about what may have happened to him as he walked through the Hillsboro River area, known to be heavily populated with alligators. His mail pouch and some of his clothes were found at the edge of the inlet. Hamilton's service is forever commemorated in a stone statue next to the Hillsboro Lighthouse.
Today, there are plenty of other ways to travel this stretch of land, but a walking tour is still the best way to see things the way the Barefoot Mailman did. A sidewalk with the beach on the east of Ocean Boulevard/A1A begins south of George Bush Boulevard and extends south to Casuarina Road. Approximately one mile, this walk is filled with historical markers and landmarks.
Walking south on A1A and approaching Beach Drive, the area extending between South Ocean/A1A and Andrews Avenue is the location of the Bay Ridge Cemetery. This is the graveyard of the pioneer families of Delray Beach.
Looking west at 120 N. Ocean Blvd., you’ll spy the Grosvenor House Condominium. This was once the site of the Orange Grove House of Refuge, built in 1876 by the U.S. Life Saving Services. It is the first-known building in Delray Beach and was used by the Barefoot Mailman on his overnight rests before continuing to deliver the mail along South Florida’s beaches.
East of the sidewalk, walk beachside and you’ll see the Orange Grove House of Refuge Marker.
Built upon the site of the 1923 Seacrest Hotel, which was demolished in the early 1980s, the Marriott Hotel stands gracefully on the corner of A1A/Ocean Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue.
Located east of the sidewalk on North Ocean Boulevard is the Bicentennial Marker erected for July 4, 1976.
On the southwest corner of Atlantic Avenue and 2 S. Ocean Blvd. is the Visitors Information Center and Sara Gleason Park. This is the former site of the Old City Casino and saltwater pool, built during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Directly across from the Visitors Information Center is the Delray Beach Pavilion, which served as the center for many activities of the pioneer families beginning early in the 20th century. The present pavilion is an architectural homage to the Orange Grove House.
Located west at 40 S. Ocean Blvd. on the site of the Old Casa Las Olas Hotel is Boston’s on the Beach.
Continue walking south to The Dover House Resort, located at 110 S. Ocean Blvd.
Coming up on the west side of the street is the Sandoway House Nature Center, built in 1936 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Offering unique educational experiences, Sandoway House is a wonderful place for the entire family. A historic marker has been erected there.
At the corner of Nassau Street and Ocean Boulevard begins the Nassau Park Historic District. This two-block historic district consists of 18 one- and two-story Cape Cod Colonial Revival-style cottages built in the 1930s and ‘40s. This district extends to the Venetian Drive Historic District. A historic marker has been placed on Nassau Street near the corner of Venetian Drive.
Beachside, east of the sidewalk at 200 Ocean Blvd. and Bay Street is the most recently placed historical marker. It commemorates the dedication of the Delray Beach Municipal Beach, which was donated to the City of Delray by the Hunt and Gleason families in 1899. Sara Gleason held the title to the Delray Municipal Beach.
At 340 S. Ocean Blvd. is Anchor Park, so named for the ship’s anchor in front. Anchor Park is the home of the Ocean Rescue Division Headquarters. This park offers outdoor showers, a playground, picnic tables and a barbeque grill, making it an ideal place for a family outing.
On the beachside approach to Casuarina Road is the S.S. Inchulva Wreck State Marker. Wrecked by a fierce Sept. 11, 1903 hurricane, the S.S. Inchulva is scattered in five broken sections at the south end of the Delray Beach Municipal Beach. This is considered one of the best diving spots in Florida and is located only 150 feet off shore and in 25 feet of water.
The mile-long Delray Municipal Beach ends at this point. South toward Linton Boulevard are pristine beach properties, the backdrop for the magnificent homes found just east and west of the sidewalk on A1A/South Ocean Boulevard.
At the corner of Casuarina and A1A/Ocean Boulevard is the captivatingly luxurious British Colonial-style Seagate Beach Club. This private club offers to its members dining, swimming and beach privileges just across the street from elegantly appointed residences.
Prior to Linton Boulevard is the Atlantic Dunes Park, funded by a Land and Conservation Grant from the Department of Interior through the auspices of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. In the park is a serene, tropical forest with a path that leads to the ocean.
For a free copy of The Historic Sites Walking Tour brochure published by the Delray Beach Historical Society (DBHS), visit the DBHS at 3 NE First St. or the newly opened Ethel Sterling Williams History Learning Center at the 1908 Hunt House, located at 111 N. Swinton Ave.
This story is brought to you by McCall Credle Rosenthal, author of the best selling Florida history book, Images of America: Delray Beach. McCall serves on the marketing committee of The Destination Delray Beach Task Force and the Advisory Board of the Delray Beach Historical Society.