Traveling south on A1A in Broward County, a 3.2-mile stretch beginning at the SE 10th Street intersection and extending to the Hillsboro Inlet Bridge is known as the hyperbolic “Hillsboro Mile”. With its 60 mansions scattered along A1A, it is also referred to as Millionaire’s Mile or Florida’s Magnificent Mile, this according to Florida Luxurious Properties.
Hillsboro Mile is home to the most expensive mansion ever sold in Broward County, Playa Vista Isle, though it missed its mark of being the most expensive mansion sold in Florida, selling for “only” $42.5 million.
“Playa Vista has 11 bedrooms, 22 bathrooms, fixtures with 22-karat gold leaf gliding, 3D IMAX in-home theater, 20-car garage with secure tunnel access, 3,000-bottle wine cellar, 4,500-square-foot infinity-edge pool, large Jacuzzi, six waterfalls and a putting green… Its two deepwater docks can simultaneously accommodate a 220-foot yacht and a 150-foot yacht.”
At the southern point of the Hillsboro Mile, north of Hillsboro Inlet, is The Hillsboro Club, a 15-acre members-only private residence club. At the point where the club’s beach meets the inlet is the Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse, a 137-foot light built in 1907.
An approach to the security gate at the club for a visit the lighthouse will result only in a polite but stern response to turn around and leave (this based on a very recent, prior experience).
Public visits to the lighthouse are available only once a month through tours offered by the Hillsboro Lighthouse Preservation Society ($35 per person). For A1A travelers not able to do the tour on these specific dates (August 14, September 11, October 9, November 13, and December 11 are remaining 2021 dates), Hillsboro Inlet Park offers a distant, but excellent view of the lighthouse, and is home to the lighthouse’s museum, which is open Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
At the lighthouse is a statue memorializing a legendary group of men who took on the dangers of the then-undeveloped South Florida coastline in the late 1800’s for a contracted salary of $600 a year, a huge contrast to what is now the ultra-wealthy, swanky nature of the Hillsboro Mile—the Barefoot Mailmen, and in particular, James “Ed” Hamilton.
The bronze statue is of Hamilton, who lost his life while serving as a star route mailman of the 68-mile beach and inlet route between what was, from 1885 to 1893, a fully undeveloped, nearly uninhabitable coastline between Palm Beach and Miami.
The current statue replaced the original, now an underwater monument placed near the Deerfield Beach Pier by Dixie Divers.
Star Route #6451, which the United States Postal Service would contract out to the Barefoot Mailmen, was a 136-mile round trip route made up of 28 miles of water by rowboat and 40 miles by foot each way along the surf lines. It would take these men three days to deliver their parcel of mail to Miami, three days to get back to Palm Beach, rest for a day, then start again.
During each journey, the mailmen would spend two evenings at a house of refuge, one in Delray Beach (Orange Grove House of Refuge #3) and the other in Fort Lauderdale (House of Refuge #4). These two houses of refuge were among five built in 1876 and were meant to rescue and shelter shipwrecked sailors. Historical markers are located at 126 North Ocean Boulevard in Delray Beach and on A1A at the entrance to Bahia Mar Hotel in Fort Lauderdale Beach.
In Stuart, the House of Refuge Museum is housed in the only house of refuge that exists in Florida and is Martin County’s oldest building. Known as Gilbert’s Bar, it was House of Refuge #2.
Of these men, the most well-known is that of Hamilton, who is believed to have died at Hillsboro Inlet—by drowning, by sharks, or by alligators—while trying to swim for his rowboat which was located south of the inlet on October 11, 1887; while his body was never recovered, his belongings and mail parcel were found at the northern inlet side.
The Palm Beach Post article by Eliot Kleinberg, “POST TIME: Iconic Barefoot Mailman route ended 125 years ago this week” (January 17, 2018), provides a write-up on the history of the Barefoot Mailmen.
Saturday, October 9, 2021, is the next scheduled Barefoot Mailman Remembrance Day, sponsored by HLPS, the Saturday closest to the presumed date of Hamilton’s death.
Another statue honoring the Barefoot Mailmen is located just off the west of A1A/Hillsboro Mile at the Hillsboro Beach Town Hall and is accessible to all A1A travelers, as are several other related sites.
To add to the Barefoot Mailmen experience, a visit to the West Palm Beach Post Office allows visitors a chance to see six murals depicting the Barefoot Mailmen, all painted by famed muralist Stevan Dohanos.
Within Boca Raton’s Spanish River Park, along A1A, is a historical marker honoring the Barefoot Mailmen
“Along this beach in the 1880’s and early 1890’s walked United States mailmen on their sixty-six mile journey between Palm Beach and Miami. The trip required three days each way and they passed this spot the second day. They walked barefoot at the wet surf line, the hardest surface, with their mail bags and shoes slung over their shoulders. One of them, James E. Hamilton, drowned trying to cross Hillsborough Inlet.”
And for the complete Barefoot Mailmen experience, consider a stay at the Barefoot Mailman Motel in Lantana, an old-style Florida roadside lodging site with excellent reviews and very affordable prices; it is also walking distance to the self-claimed OLDEST waterfront restaurant in Florida and South Florida’s LARGEST tiki bar: Old Key Lime House.
So, when visiting any of the beaches between Palm Beach and Miami, let the sand get between your toes and your mind reflect on one of Florida’s most iconic figures—the Barefoot Mailmen.
Extra Note: Theodore Pratt wrote a novel, The Barefoot Mailman, which was released in 1943. A movie version was released in 1951, directed by Earl McEvoy and starring Robert Cummings, Jerome Courtland, and Terry Moore.