Clash With the Titan

June 9, 1899
Dear Capt. Dimick,
Hearwith I send you a copy of a letter, dated April 24th, written (to) my Private Secretary, Mr. Salter, by Mr. T.T. Reese.  It has been and is yet impossible for me to reconcile Mr. Reese’s letter with the favorable impression I have formerly entertained of him. His statement that the people living at Palm Beach look upon the Bradley Club House as an attraction, and are therefore, under obligations to give him any reasonable protection, is astounding.

    The great developer and railroad tycoon, Henry Morrison Flagler was furious. The 1899 three-month long social season in Palm Beach ended about ten weeks earlier when the last tourists boarded private Pullman railroad cars for the journey back to their homes up north.  Plans for the expansion of the Flagler hotels- the Royal Poinciana and the Breakers which served as the back-up hostelry for those unlucky enough to get a room in the Poinciana- were underway.

    The letter was addressed to Elisha Newton "Cap" Dimick (he was famous for wearing white caps,) town pioneer, builder and operator of its first hotel- the Cocoanut Grove House and later the town's first mayor.

     "Mr T. T. Reese" was Tommy Reese, the secretary of The Beach Club, Palm Beach's newest attraction which had opened its doors just as the first visitors arrived for the 1898-1899 season.

    The club was built,  owned and operated by Edward Riley Bradley and his younger brother, John. The brothers ran a similar operation in St. Augustine called the Bacchus Club right across the street from the Hotel Ponce De Leon (now Flagler College), one of Flagler's three hotels in the town he hoped to establish as "the Newport of the South." Alas, the resort town was hit by a string of bitterly cold winters. Flagler fell in love with the tropical appearance of the Lake Worth region and built the Hotel Royal Poinciana in 1894 amid the thousands of coconut palm trees that the area would soon be famous for.

A close-up of the Bacchus Club taken from the picture above.
The building later served as a funeral home owned by
 the family of local Palm Beach historian Jim Ponce.
"With this plain but strong statement, you perhaps may ask yourself why I do not interfere with Mr. Bradley’s gambling place at St. Augustine. My answer is that St. Augustine has a large population and is a municipality, and I do not feel that the traveling public have the same claim upon me for the protection of their sons and daughters at St. Augustine, that they do have while in my Hotels at Palm Beach." From the Flagler letter.

A view of the Bacchus club (above the green arrow obscured by trees) looking south. Library of Congress

  The Beach Club boasted the finest cuisine in the country, plein air dining overlooking a lakefront palm grove, fine Cuban cigars, a reading room  for the gentlemen and private dining for the ladies. Tea was served at sundown for guests who gathered on the verandas to watch the spectaular sunsets over the Everglades.

 Always sensitive to the needs and desires of the wealthiest members of society, the Bradleys even provided a complete Stock Exchange service with wires to New York and Chicago along with the usual trappings of a fine Men's Club - magazines, newspapers and fine cigars. All this luxury was just a brief bicyclechair ride from Flagler's famous hotel. 

    The Tropical Sun newspaper gushed:

     Nothing done on the east side this year that will prove more of a feature of an attraction than the erection of the Beach Club House, just two doors north of the post office...”
     "Every lover of club life will enjoy the ideal hospitality and comforts of this indispensable adjunct to social life in our first cities. These gentlemen have established their reputation as the most successful entertainers during their management for several seasons past of The Bacchus at St. Augustine.
     Provided with a cafe ladies and gentlemen at which the veriest epicure can find complete satisfaction, choice music, handsome and costly paintings of note and every luxury at hand to gratify the taste of the most fastidious, it would seem that success would be the return for such outlay and effort to please.
The Beach Club promises to become at once one of the features of life Palm Beach and certainly the cordial, hospitable and entertaining demeanor of the gentlemen conducting the Club will sure win favor with all who seek entertainment beneath its most hospitable roof."

     There was no mention in the article of the the card games or roulette wheels. If a man fancied a bit of gambling, the Bradley's had rooms for that too. Very hush hush, of course. Gambling in Florida was illegal after all. It was a popular feature in their Bacchus Club in St. Augustine as well.

"The “season” last winter was well advanced before I heard about the Club House. When I learned of the condition of the affairs, I sent word to Mr. Bradley that I was in the habit of fighting squarely and openly, and that I should spare no pains or expense to compel him to stop the gambling. This message was sent to Mr. Bradley by Mr. McQuire. Being in St. Augustine a few weeks later, I accidentally met Mr. Bradley at Mr. McQuire’s office. He wanted to discuss the matter with me, and I listened to his statement. He asked if he should abandon the sale of wines and liquors, whether that removed my objection. I said to him, no, positively, - that gambling was the worst feature." From the Flagler letter.

Coming Next:

"So he was operating and one night he went outside and he found some fellow peeking through his window, so he pulled out a gun and told him to come down. He asked him who he was and he said he was a detective from the hotel.
He asked him “do you work for Mr.  Flagler? Did Mr. Flagler send you?”  He said “Tell Mr. Flagler that if he wants to see m operating tell him to down here tomorrow at 10 o’clock or any time he wishes. I will be very pleased to stake him, show him around.”
So the next morning Mr. Flagler came over and introduced himself to Mr. Bradley. He went around and showed how everything was operating.  He did not have small time gambling. The people that came into the club supported gambling.
From that time on he and Mr. Flagler became best of friends.

Thomas Bohne, Col. Bradley' personal secretary weighs in.

No comments: