The Johnson Family
The Old Courthouse
Tom "Red" Johnson's 1st Boxing Match
Thomas H. Johnson
Tom Johnson, former county circuit court Judge
William A Johnson, my Uncle Bill
The Jupiter Lighthouse
The School on the Hill
The Johnson name is a familiar name within the membership of the Palm Beach County Bar Association. County Court Judge Laura S. Johnson recently administered the oath of admission to The Florida Bar to her son, Robert “Burr” Johnson. Burr is the 4th generation of his family to practice law in Palm Beach County. His great grandfather, A.R. Johnson, began practicing law in West Palm Beach back in the 1920’s. Burr’s Grandfather, Judge Tom “Red” Johnson, served as the elected State Attorney for Palm Beach County from 1964-1968, State Senator from 1970-1974, and as a Circuit Court Judge from 1976-1992. Burr’s father, William Johnson, great uncle William A. Johnson and Uncles Joseph R. Johnson and Robert L. Johnson are also lawyers in West Palm Beach.
|A.R. Johnson||Judge Tom "Red" Johnson||William A. Johnson||Robert Johnson||Joe Johnson|
Every morning after breakfast, my four brothers (Tommy, Joey, Bobby and Johnny); my cousin Woody; our neighborhood pals (the Salmons, Doyles, Griffins and Riccis); and I, would go straight to the beach. It was our playground.
We would surf and skim board all day long. When we needed to rinse off, we would simply jump into the pool at the Racquet Club, the Rutledge Inn or the Colonnades Hotel. We were unofficial guests.
When we got hungry, we would go home and my mother would make us peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. We wore no shoes, no shirts and no hats-nothing but our "Birdwell Beach Britches" which were hand sewn by Mrs. Butterworth at The Juno Surf Shop.
It was our daily uniform. We were a roving band of surf rats.
We were all brown as a coffee bean with peeling noses and shoulders and heels as hard as leather. In the back ground was the music of the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. It was a wonderful time to grow up in Palm Beach County. It was truly an Endless Summer.
William Johnson grew up across the street from the ocean on Singer Island. "There was no development on the beach back in the 1960's except for a handful of mom & pop hotels," he recalls. "Riviera Beach was a small fishing village and the main road of travel in Palm Beach County was U.S. 1. My mother did her grocery shopping at the Piggly Wiggly, and we carefully timed our trips to the mainland because the two lane draw bridge would rise on the half hour." Days were spent in the sand and on the water.
Johnson's grandfather was one of the early pioneers of West Palm Beach; and his father served as the State Attorney of Palm Beach County, State Senator and Circuit Court Judge. Johnson in an attorney in West Palm Beach where he practices law with his two brothers. He is married to Judge Laura Johnson. They have 3 children and live in Jupiter.
The Old Courthouse
After being unoccupied, neglected and on the verge of being demolished, the Palm Beach County’s historic courthouse has been restored to its neoclassical glory and will become the new home of the Palm Beach County History Museum.
The original courthouse, constructed in 1916 at a cost of $183,000, has a colorable history. When it was built in 1916, the old courthouse held all county government offices, including the jail. As the population grew and the county government expanded, so did the courthouse. In 1927, an annex that mirrored the original courthouse was built east of the existing structure with each building being connected by hallways on each floor. It was not until 1955 that the courthouse was air conditioned! As a child, I remember the day my mother took me and my brothers to the old courthouse to watch my father, the State Attorney of Palm Beach County, prosecute a 1st degree murder trial. After watching my father in trial that day I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. In 1968, the court system had outgrown the courthouse and once again further enlargement was needed. This was achieved to the dismay of many by constructing a “wrap around” addition which encased the free standing neoclassical structure. From 1968-2004, the stately old courthouse could not be seen by the casual observer because it was encased and hidden inside the “wrap around” addition. In 2004, at a cost of $20 million dollars and after four years of painstaking renovation by Hedrick Brothers Construction Company, the 1916 courthouse has been fully restored to its neoclassical glory, down to every detail, from its original columns to the limestone exterior.
As a native of Palm Beach County, I invite you to tour this glorious building and learn about the great history of our county.
The person who has influenced me the most throughout my life is my grandfather Red Johnson. My ‘Gramps’ taught me many life lessons, and was a man that will always be my hero and my role model. My grandfather taught me respect and humility, the values of kindness, and the meaning of hard work. First, my grandfather taught me the meaning of respect and humility. He was a state attorney, a state senator, and a well respected circuit court judge. He could hand pick any business he wanted to do, but always took the time to represent those that were less fortunate. Every now and then, my grandmother still receives sacks full of corn on her doorstep from the families that couldn’t afford a respectable lawyer. Next, my grandfather taught me that you should always be kind no matter what the situation. Even inmates that he sentenced to death row wrote him letters thanking him for his respect and his sense of humor. I’ve learned that no matter what the situation, being nice can get somebody a long way. Finally, my grandfather taught me that hard work is the key to success. Whether in the classroom, in the marines, or on the football field, my grandfather always excelled in whatever was at hand. From the day of his death, I made a promise to myself that I would try my hardest and would accomplish anything that I put my mind to. The lessons of respect and humility, kindness, and hard work all came from the person that I will always love and look up to, my grandfather Red Johnson.
Back in 1940 the Palm Beach Post held summer amateur boxing matches at the American Legion Arena on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach. We had a trainer in Lake Worth named Oscar Dradwy and we trained at the old American Legion Area on Lucerne Ave across from the post office in Lake Worth. We had never boxed before but we're willing to give it a try. We boxed in our bathing trunks and no shoes. One night when Tom "Red" Johnson was having his first boxing bout, at the end of the 1st round Oscar, our trainer, jumped into to the ring to sponge "Red" off and give him instruction. Oscar set the water bucket in front of the stool between "Red's" legs and "Red" not knowing that the bucket was used to spit in, looked at it and put his feet in it! That brought down the house in laughter!!
Red and I grew up west of Lake Worth, Red on Davis Rd and I on Deweese Rd, now Congress Ave. we would hitch hike home at night along with Bobby Adams who lived in Greenacres. When we got a ride I would sit between Red and Bobby Adams and when we got to Deweese Rd I would ask the driver to please let me off there.
Well, Bobby Adams and red would grab me and put their hands over my mouth and I would have to ride to Red's house on Davis Rd, a mile further west of town. I would then have to walk back to my house in the dark!
Tommy "Red" Johnson was my best friend and the best friend a man could ever have! Our families had some great times through the years...god bless him and his lovely family.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “Nothing shows a man’s character more than what he laughs at.” Thomas Johnson not only had a great character, but was quite a character as well. Thomas Johnson, my grandpa, is also known as, “Red”, your Honor, Senator, or, in my case, “Gramps”. My grandpa was full of life, spontaneity, and mischief.
When my grandpa was little he loved to eat watermelon. Conveniently, his next door neighbor had the most delicious watermelon growing right in their backyard. However, they made it clear that it was theirs and not his. So my grandpa would go over to their house, knock on the door, and ask, “If you guys are going into town today, would you be able to take my sister?” They would answer, not knowing that they had just given into one of his plans. This way he knew when they would be home or not. When they were not home, my grandpa and his friends would jump over their fence and steal watermelons from their backyard.
Back in the 1940’s, my grandpa went to Lake Worth high school. One day he and his friend, who I know as Uncle Butter, threw a cherry bomb down the hallway. This created a big commotion. The next thing they knew, they heard both of their names loud and clear on the intercom and were instructed to go to the principal’s office. They knew they had been caught and that they were going to get in big trouble. They sat down in front of the principal very timidly. The principal said, “As you two know, some prankster today threw a cherry bomb down the hallway.” They nodded their heads, knowing they were in for it. “Well since you are both seniors and leaders of the school, I need you two to crack this case for me.” Mysteriously the pranksters were never caught.
Senior class picture day at Lake Worth H.S arrived. As you might imagine everything was quite hectic that day. The teachers had escorted the entire class outside to the front lawn and the seniors were getting restless and anxious to graduate. The teachers were busy trying to get everyone’s attention so the picture could be taken and they could return to class. The photographer was trying to arrange who should stand where and get all of the kids to face the camera. During the commotion, my grandpa managed to sneak away from the scene. Right when the photographer put his head under the curtain of the old-fashioned
camera to take the picture, the sprinklers were unexpectedly turned on. My grandpa was the only one missing from the class picture.
As my grandpa grew older, nothing changed. His love for life and mischief stayed with him forever. He had a character like no other and that is what made him so successful. My grandpa was the State Attorney, Circuit Court Judge, and State Senator of Palm Beach County. My grandpa was a wonderful friend, dad, gramps, and someone whom we can all look up to.
Retired Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Tom Johnson, a former state attorney and state senator known for his sense of humor and folksy, informal style on the bench, died Tuesday. He was 76.
Judge Johnson was a native of Palm Beach County. His father, A.R. Johnson, arrived from East St. Louis, Ill., in 1922 and opened his law practice in the Comeau Building on Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach. He would become the patriarch of three generations of lawyers.
West Palm Beach attorney John Remsen, a childhood friend of Tom "Red" Johnson's since grade school, remembers well his friend's devious sense of humor. Both men intentionally held themselves back in high school for a second senior year in a bid to play another year of varsity football, Remsen said, but they were disqualified.
Judge Johnson, accompanied by Remsen, tossed a cherry bomb down a stairwell into the cafeteria of Lake Worth High School that year. It didn't land near anyone, but the explosion scared the daylights out of students. Remsen was class president, and the principal wanted him to find out who was behind it.
"I said, `I will get to the bottom of it.' He said, `You know that redheaded boy you hang out with? Get him to help you.' I said, `Yes sir, we'll get right on it,'" Remsen said, adding the perpetrator remained at large. "Never found him. Very mysterious."
Both men enlisted in the Army and Marines on the same day in 1946, but went with the Marines because they could go to boot camp together. After their service, they graduated from the University of Miami with law degrees, and Judge Johnson first joined his father's law firm and then Remsen's.
Judge Johnson served as an assistant county solicitor, a prosecutor for all crimes except murder and rape, beginning in 1955 and was appointed state attorney by the governor in 1964 and served a four-year term. He won all 35 of his murder trials.
"Tom was a real smart guy and a hard worker, and whatever he did, he did real well. He tried cases real well," said retired Palm Beach County Court Judge Dave Clark, who served on the bench with Judge Johnson and in the state Legislature from 1970-74.
"He really was an awesome guy to know and be mentored by," said Judge Johnson's son, West Palm Beach attorney Joe Johnson. "As we grew older, he became not only a father figure to us but a contemporary and almost another brother."
Judge Johnson won a circuit court seat in 1978 and retired in 1993. He recalled that his favorite trial was a two-day event that was marked by a complete lack of objections from the attorneys.
"Tom was a hell of a good judge," said West Palm Beach trial attorney Bob Montgomery, one of the lawyers in that case. "Really erudite but down to earth. He was the kind of guy you wanted as a judge."
Judge Johnson asked Montgomery how long his closing argument would be. Montgomery, who had practiced the night before, told the judge 29 minutes.
"After I was done, he called me up to the bench. He said, `You know, you were right on the button.' We had a lot of laughs," Montgomery said. "He was such a delight to practice in front of. They don't make them like that anymore."
Judge Johnson and his wife of 49 years, Audrey, raised five sons on Singer Island. Three of them went on to practice law. In addition to his wife and son, Judge Johnson is survived by sons Tom Jr., Bill, Bob, Joe and John; his brother William and seven grandchildren.
William A. Johnson practiced law for 59 years in Palm Beach County, but when people search for words to describe him, they use adjectives seldom heard in connection with attorneys: Honest. Gentle. Courtly. Polite.
"Lawyers today are so litigious... they have to one-up the other person. Bill Johnson was a true gentleman who believed in trying to resolve disputes by talking things out," said fellow attorney Wallace McCall. "He was the most wonderful, kind, gentle man I ever met."
A North Palm Beach resident, Mr. Johnson died Friday. He was 89.
Mr. Johnson was from a family of lawyers. His father was one of the first attorneys in West Palm Beach. His late brother, Thomas H. Johnson Sr., was a state attorney, state senator and circuit court judge. Some of his nephews are lawyers, too.
A graduate of Lake Worth High School, Mr. Johnson obtained his law degree from the University of Florida. He was a commander in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
He practiced civil law in West Palm Beach, volunteering many hours to the Braille Club of the Palm Beach County before finally retiring in 2000.
His wife of 31 years, Yoko, recalled that a judge once told her that her husband was "the most honest lawyer in Florida."
"I'm very proud of his character," she said.
The first paved road from Lake Worth Rd. south to the Big 14 canal south was Deweese Rd, named after the man who had built some houses there. That was the name of the road when my Dad bought the little white house on Deweese Rd. from Mr. Anderson in 1942 for $2875.00. There were six houses on that road in 1942 from Lake Worth Rd. to the B-14 Canal. The field were Palm Beach State College is now located was wide open and I used to shoot quail in it. South of the big 14 Canal was a dirt road to Lantana road. Across the Big-14 canal, where we used to swim, were the Mulberry farms, where in the 1940’s, Senator Phil Lewis's Dad raised silk worms to make parachutes for our WW II aviators. The Mulberry Farms area is now part of Atlantis and the JFK Hospital. When WW II started, they built a bridge across the PB Canal. And that small stretch of the road was called Congress Ave. to service the quarters they built for the servicemen flying planes over to England.
The area south of there from Southern Blvd. to Lake Worth Road was dry pasture where I herded cows one summer for Bryant’s Diary. For a 7 day work week, I was paid $5.00 a week and all the chocolate milk I could drink!! During WW II they began construction on Congress Ave., south to Lake Worth Rd., but was it not finished until after the war. My father was a Sargent of the Guards at Morrison Air field during the war and he would regularly pick up Tom “Red” Johnson, who later went on to be a State Attorney, Senator & Judge and Senator, and I while we hitchhiked home from downtown Lake Worth.
It was a fun time to grow up in Palm Beach County back in the 1940’s.
In 1965, a 450 foot Greek freighter named The Amaryllis washed ashore on Singer Island due to the gale force winds of Hurricane Betsey. The ship remained stranded on the beach for more than 5 years where it created great surf breaks and an endless summer of surfing, skim boarding and bon fires. What a great time to have grown up in the Palm Beaches! The ship is now an artificial reef off the Coast of Singer Island.
The Jupiter Lighthouse is located on the north side of the Jupiter Inlet. The site for the lighthouse was chosen in 1853. Work was interrupted from 1856 to 1858 by the Third Seminole War. The lighthouse was completed in 1860 at a cost of more than $60,000.
The lighthouse was built on an Indian shell mound. The top of the 105-foot tower is 146 feet above sea level. The light can be seen 25 miles at sea. The tower was left unpainted for the first fifty years, but had grown so discolored that it was painted red around 1910.
During the Civil War blockade runners brought supplies to the Confederacy through the Jupiter Inlet, while the Union Navy tried to stop them. Fearing that the lighthouse was an aide to the Union ships, a group of Confederate sympathizers disabled the light and removed the machinery from the lighthouse. A Union agent found the machinery where it had been hidden, and took it by boat to Key West, Florida for safekeeping.
The lighthouse was put back into service after the war. The lighthouse was very isolated. Supplies were delivered once a year by boat. The lighthouse keepers had to fish and hunt to provide food. They would also buy venison from the Seminoles for ten cents a pound.
In 1928 the mineral oil lamps and the weights that turned the lamp were replaced with electrical equipment, and a diesel generator was installed for emergency backup. The Okeechobee Hurricane in 1928 cut the electric power and damaged the diesel generator, so the keeper reinstalled the oil lamps, and his 16-year old son turned the lamp by hand through the storm. The top of the lighthouse swayed 17 inches during the hurricane.
Jupiter Inlet Light was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
As the population of West Palm tripled from 564 persons in 1900 to 1743 person in 1910, Palm Beach High School was built to encompass grades 1 thru 12. At the time, it was the largest school in South Florida. When Palm Beach High became integrated with Roosevelt High School in 1971, it was renamed to Twin Lakes High School. When Twin lakes High School closed in 1988, the school was abandoned until it was restored in 1997 as the Dreyfoos School of the Arts.