Okeechobee County, 

Florida 

A Pictorial History--Page 8

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Conners_NJ_Exibit.JPG (93483 bytes)It was The Conner's Highway, built in 1924 that made the establishing link between Okeechobee and the East Coast of Florida.  It was at a party celebrating the opening of the Palm Beach Canal when W. J. (Fingey) Conner first heard of the Okeechobee Area.  Conner was a Buffalo, N. Y. paving contractor that had plans of turning land he had purchased near Canal Point into the largest farm in Florida.   When these farming plans failed he purchased several thousand acres of swamp and savanna land around the fledgling city of Okeechobee.  Still having money to spend in Florida, Conner then bought up all the land he could between Okeechobee and Canal Point on the East Side of Lake Okeechobee.  This last 12,000-acre land transaction cost him $700,00 and he had yet to have a return on the first dollar he had spent in Florida.

Conners_Hwy__Uptergrove.JPG (63605 bytes)At this point he decided to lobby Tallahassee with plans to build a toll road from twenty-mile bend in Palm Beach County, to the city of Okeechobee.  From all reports it took only two hours for Conners to get the bill approved for the franchise by the Florida legislature, and Governor Gary Hardee took only 20 minutes to sign it. 

Conners_Highway__Canal_Point.jpg (58279 bytes)Plans for the road were to traverse nineteen miles along the Palm Beach Canal, to Canal Point, and thirty-two miles along the eastern lakeshore to the city of Okeechobee.  Conners spent close to a million dollars in an effort to get the project started.  He then hired R. Y. Patterson, an engineer who was able to get Conners ideas into action, and the relationship was a successful one.   The first load of rock was placed on October 16, 1923, and just eight months later on June 23, 1924, the last load was dumped into place.  Two days later Conners began collecting tolls. 

Conners_Hwy_Toll_Gate.jpg (71400 bytes)The cost of traveling from Palm Beach County to the  tollbooth  at  southern  end  of  Parrott Avenue was  $ 1.50.   Conners not being a shy person had 30,000 leaflets dropped by airplanes in Palm Beach County inviting everyone to join him in a motorcade over the new highway.  Some 2,000 vehicles accepted the Buffalo, N. Y. millionaire’s invitation, and joined in the motorcade to Okeechobee.   Local estimates pegged the crowd at about 15,000 people at the event.   

Conners_Home_Okee.JPG (52707 bytes)Conners had built himself a large home at what is now the lakeshore curve, with porches all around and a observation deck on top, and this became the site of many parties in months to come, but none so great as the Fourth of July celebration in 1924.  Then-Mayor T. W. Conley, Jr. said during the celebration that,  “What Henry Morrison Flagler is to the East Coast of Florida, Conners is to Lake Okeechobee”.   Governor Hardee called him the “great developer”.   The highway was a larger success, to the promotions of Conners’ promotional skills.  Conners printed free road maps advertising the advantages of his highway connecting the east and west coasts of Florida.  As Conners knew they would, the maps brought more and more business to the lake area.  Daily toll receipts were calculated at an average of $2000 a day.  The highway's  engineer   K. Y. Patterson stayed on with Conners after the completion of the road promoting the sale of land along the roadway.   The land “boom” that went “bust in 1926 followed by the killer hurricanes of 1926 and 1928 presented large setbacks to Conners’ land sales.  In spite of this run of bad luck most of the land had been sold when Conners died on October 5, 1929.   The original cost estimates of Conners Highway was $1,800,000.  The residents of Palm Beach County wanted their county commission to purchase it in order to eliminate the tolls. The heirs to Conners estate were asking $600,000 to sell the highway.  Finally the counties of Palm Beach, Martin, and Okeechobee purchased the highway.  The tolls ended on June 10, 1930, but the counties later defaulted on their payments and the State of Florida became sole owner of the roadway.

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