Deerfield Beach Historical Society shares the town’s past through new events and classes
It was a romance for the ages. Whoever helped build Deerfield Beach. The story tells of a couple who fell in love in the southern United States and decided to visit relatives in Florida. After spending some time there, they fell in love with the place and decided to stay there.
It’s an inspiring century-old romance that probably wouldn’t be told without the Deerfield Beach Historical Society.
Historian and storyteller Amie Kay Tanner is the daughter of the late Odas Tanner, a community leader credited with building City Hall in Deerfield Beach. She is passionate about telling the story of the love that helped build the town she grew up in.
And the Deerfield Beach Historical Society wants to share its treasure trove of information and stories about local culture and business history in the area.
TJ Eagen, the nonprofit’s new president, emphasizes spreading their offerings to educate the community about their past. They are also hosting more activities to engage the public and help build community at the former mid-century modern home of Robert and Martha Butler, which sits across from the historic Butler House. It has been transformed into a center for art, culture and community gatherings.
Eagen said he was excited to promote their storyteller and historian, Tanner. He said she is a great asset in telling the story of the town’s illustrious past, especially her knowledge of the life of the town’s pioneers JD Butler and his wife Alice.
The storyteller’s late father was also active in the historical society and was part of the story. Odas Tanner moved to Deerfield Beach as a young boy in the 1920s as the famous Butler couple settled into their new home.
Tanner likes to tell the story of the special couple’s romance that helped shape the small town of Deerfield, calling them “Uncle Jimmy” and “Aunt Alice.”
“Alice was from northern Ohio,” she said. “She was college educated and went to graduation school. Alice was well versed in literature, art, history and music. She played piano at the local Baptist church for 35 years. Alice wasn’t your ordinary lady, so I’m sure it has a lot to do with James being so fascinated by her.
At some point before they met, Alice and JD Butler separately migrated to Texas for their own personal reasons. JD moved from Georgia to Texas to work with a relative. Alice moved from Ohio to the Lone Star State for her own reasons. They met in a church, as many did 100 years ago.
“Alice and James were both Baptists,” Tanner said. “They met because the pianist at the church they both attended introduced them to. Uncle Jimmy was smitten from his first encounter with her. He basically asked her to marry him on the second date. It was she who held him back for a moment. But he was very persistent and they ended up getting married on a train.
Tanner said that after they got married, Alice asked Jimmy if he would take her to “that place in Deerfield” Florida where a relative lived. He accepted and the newlyweds went to Deerfield in 1910 from Texas. The town of Deerfield then had only about 250 inhabitants.
The butlers came to visit the relatives who were cultivating in the small town, which was a new livelihood for northerners in the arena. Farming had only been practiced since the construction of a railroad in the late 1890s. James was a Georgian farmer, so this occupation interested him.
According to Tanner, the couple stayed in Deerfield for a while and got to know some people while there. The couple took a liking to the place during their visit and James asked his new bride what she wanted to do.
“That last day in Deerfield when he gave her the option to stay or go. She ended up telling her husband that they had to stay,” Tanner recalled. “She said the people of Deerfield were their kind of people, that it was comfortable and that it was beautiful.The beautiful weather did not affect their decision either.
Tanner said that during the early years in Deerfield, the couple purchased a small wooden house near where they had built their own home. James opened a haberdashery, but he didn’t really like shopping. He was a farmer by trade, and that’s what he wanted to do.
“Interestingly, James wanted to farm and his friend Mr Thomas, who he originally came to visit, wasn’t really happy as a farmer,” she said. “Both of them decided to change jobs, so James became a farmer and Mr. Thomas became the shopkeeper.”
Tanner is full of praise for the pioneers who brought energy and effort to the Deerfield community.
“Alice and James were such a wonderful couple,” she said. “They helped build the first Baptist church with their bare hands. And Alice was one of the founding members of the Women’s Club of Deerfield Beach.
But the couple had their share of personal tragedies.
“Alice wanted a big family,” Tanner said. “Alice actually gave birth to three children, but unfortunately they all died in infancy or early childhood due to respiratory problems. They lost their children, so to replace the parenting experience, they ended up getting involved to do what they could for all the children in Deerfield at the time.
Tanner said the couple supports local youth-focused efforts.
“They supported sports activities as well as schools. They supported practically everything surrounding the children of the city. They loved children and they showed it with their actions,” she said.
Today, their home is the star attraction of the Deerfield Beach Historical Society and is known as the James D. and Alice Butler House. It was built for $10,000 in 1923, which equates to around $165,000 today.
“The couple lived there as a happy couple until their last days,” Tanner said.
Facilities: The Butler House, 380 E. Hillsboro Blvd.; The Museum and Cultural Center, 84 SE Fourth Ave.; The Old School House and Old Red Caboose, 323 NE Eller St.; and The Pioneer House, 380 E. Hillsboro Blvd.
Monthly activities at the new Museum and Cultural Center:
Driveway Fridays: a monthly concert
Saturday Lecture Series: A monthly lecture on the history of the region
International Film Night: A monthly screening and discussion of a foreign film
South Florida Chamber Ensemble: A classical music concert every two months
Art gallery: a public space showcasing local artists
Art lessons: Art lessons for children and adults
Meeting Space: The facility is available for meetings of nonprofit organizations, including Deerfield Beach Kiwanis and the Rotary Club.
For a complete visual history of 52 social media-style images of Deerfield Beach, visit deerfieldbeachhistoricalsociety.com/52moments.