Born on August 4th 1885 in rural Du Pont Georgia, Frank Bertran Butler came from humble beginnings. After a childhood growing up in Georgia, sometime after 1900 Butler moved to Florida’s Fernandina Beach. There he commenced upon his working life, and was hired as a barkeep under the employ of Sollecito Salvador, a tenacious Florida entrepreneur.
Sometime thereafter, Butler took employment from an Aunt and an Uncle, where he worked in their store running errands and cutting meat. However, for reasons unknown, he had a falling out with his relatives and his employment with them ended.
At about the same time, Sollecito Salvador moved to St. Augustine, where he opened a fish and a meat market. Butler followed soon after, and was rehired by his former boss as a butcher.
In 1914 Butler decided to venture out on his own. Renting a storefront at 87½ Washington Street in the Lincolnville district, he opened the Palace Market grocery. There he offered roasts, steaks, ham, sugar, milk, and other foodstuffs to St. Augustine’s residents.
With his prices reasonable, the quality of his food good, and free delivery services, Butler’s business quickly prospered in the community. With his business’ success, came an ability to save and invest his money.
Leveraging his savings, Butler entered into the real estate business the following year. His initial activities involved buying and selling parcels in Lincolnville, and making modest investments in properties.
As with his grocery store, his real estate activities soon proved profitable.
In 1925 Butler and a few associates pooled funds and established the College Park Realty Company, with Butler serving as president. One of their first projects was building the College Park subdivision, a planned neighborhood located and built in the west of St. Augustine.
On or about 1927 Butler purchased a significant portion of undeveloped property about 10 miles south of St.Augustine. Located on the Anastasia Island, property values had become significantly depressed due to recent real estate crashes. Seizing the opportunity, Butler acquired the land spanning between the Atlantic Ocean and the Matanzas River. Slowly Butler developed the area, creating a resort area for his local community.
Until that time, no beaches were open for black Americans between Jacksonville and Daytona. During those days Florida’s beaches were racially segregated, and his Butler Beach had the potential to become a very popular recreational destination.
At first local authorities were not keen on the idea of Butler’s endeavors to establish a beach area for black Americans. Initially they blocked attempts by Butler to clear a road leading to the property. But consistent with Butler’s determination and persistence, eventually they relented and approval for the new road was obtained.
As with Butler’s previous ventures, his beach resort became very successful. As he parceled out his beach properties, buyers quickly snapped them up. Where once sat undeveloped and unused property, a beach community arose and ensued.
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s Butler’s business holdings had greatly expanded. In 1937 he opened the Sea Breeze Kaseno. A few years thereafter, he opened the Butler Inn hotel. By the end of the 1940s he was selling lots, constructing properties, and landlording. By the 1950s Butler’s portfolio of holdings included his original grocery store, a real estate firm, the casino, the hotel, a cafe-restaurant, and vast stretches land interests.
In addition to Butler’s business ambitions, he was also an active member in Lincolnville’s civic, political, and religious community. During elections Butler was famous for encouraging citizens to vote, even going so far as having voting booths installed at his real estate office.
Frank B. Butler died in 1973. Esteemed as one of Florida’s pioneering black businessmen, the legacy of his accomplishments remain today. Butler’s beach is now a state park.
And downtown Lincolnville is experiencing a renaissance.
Below are several F.B. Butler scrip tokens. Struck circa 1917, they were issued by F.B. Butler’s Palace Grocery store. As customers made purchases, often these scrip pieces were provided as change. The practice encouraged repeat business by customers.
Notes and Sources
- The Book Lover’s Guide to Florida, Kevin M. McCarthy, Pineapple Press Inc., 1992, pg.81
- ‘Butler House Now A Historic Site,’ Peter Guinta, StAugustine.com, September 19, 2002
- ‘A Moment in Black History: Frank Butler,’ David Noland, StAugustine.com, February 21, 2003
- ‘St. Augustine Treasures Its African-American History,’ Mary Alice Powell, The Blade newspaper, February 15, 2004
- Legends and Tales: Remembering St. Augustine, Volume 2, Karen Harvey, The History Press, 2006, pgs.80-82
- African American Sites in Florida, Kevin M. McCarthy, Pineapple Press Inc., 2007, pg.244
- Pillars of the Community, Page 2, Augustine.com
- City of St. Augustine website, Great Floridians 2000, Frank B. Butler
- Florida Memory Digital Archives
- Steve Ratliff, Numismatist