Munyon’s Island was once home to Hotel Hygeia

April 16, 2010  Eliot Kleinberg's Post Time columns.

 

Near North Palm Beach stands the little-known and mostly untouched Munyon’s Island. Originally 15 acres, it was used in the 1930s and 1960s to dump fill from the dredging of the waterway, tripling its size to 45 acres.

From 1992 to 1997, Palm Beach County restored 20 acres of wetlands. As an environmentally sensitive tract, operated by the state park, visits to it are restricted, and it’s open only by day. Once, rising above the island was the glamorous Hotel Hygeia. Alas, its glory was fleeting. Here’s a 1990 look back by our friend and former colleague, Norv Roggen, who died in 2001:

No doubt Dr. James Munyon was heartbroken when his Hotel Hygeia on Big Munyon’s Island burned down in 1917. But he would be pleased to know the 21-room structure won’t be forgotten.

The five-story hotel was a popular overnight stop for boat-traveling tourists in the early 1900s. It was also the distribution point for Munyon’s Paw-Paw tonic, a mixture of sulphur water and papaya juice that sold for $1 a bottle as a cure for dozens of ailments.

But one night in 1917, tragedy struck Munyon’s utopia.

The hotel, named after the Greek goddess of health, burned to the ground.  Disappointed, Munyon sold the island to New York restaurateur Harry Kelsey, developer of Kelsey City, now Lake Park.

Later, sand was dredged from the Intracoastal Waterway and dumped there, burying the hotel’s remnants and foundation.

The North Palm Beach Village Council’s persistence had prevented the building of high-rises that would have obliterated the Munyon hotel site. Billionaire John D. MacArthur acquired the property from Kelsey in 1955 and planned to build a bridge to the island and develop it. The village objected, and after a lengthy court battle, MacArthur gave up when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal. After MacArthur’s death in 1975, the state acquired the island.

In 1900, he donated two million dollars to establish an industrial school for fatherless girls in Philadel-

phia, Pennsylvania, donating some of the land near his house. The school provided practical training and its operations were funded by Munyon. His policy was to give at least ten percent of his profit to charity.

He bought what is now known as Munyon Island in 1901 and completed construction of a hotel in 1903. The hotel was named Hotel Hygeia after the Greek goddess of health and it catered to wealthy north-erners who spent the winters in Palm Beach, Florida. The five-story hotel had twenty-one rooms and eight baths. The hotel burned to the ground in 1917.

Munyon also owned land in Palm Beach, Florida in an area known as the Styx. He rented out properties there mostly to African-Americans. He used sanitation as a cause to evict all of his 150 tenants in 1906 and later sold the land to Edward R. Bradley.

Personal

He was married four times and divorced three times. One of his ex-wives, Dora Harvey, authored the 1900 book Half Hour Stories, published by Abbey Press. She was also active in the Merion, PA chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

His third marriage was in 1908 when at the age of 60, he married Pauline Neff Metzger, who was 24 at the time. In 1913 she filed for divorce and returned to her career as an actress.  He had two sons. Duke Munyon and James Munyon Jr.

Dr. James Monroe Munyon was known for homeo-pathic patent medicines, some of which he prom-oted at his Hotel Hygeia on Munyon Island.

Career

His first career was as a publisher, but he soon moved on to creating homeopathic medicines in the early 1890s. He employed a staff of chemists and physicians, one of them Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen. Munyon was found guilty of fraud several times due to unsubstantiated claims for his medicines. Many of his medicines are said to have consisted mostly of sugar and alcohol. His most famous one was named "Dr. Munyon's Paw-Paw Elixir" and its main ingredient was fermented papaya juice. It was served at his resort, Hotel Hygeia, on Munyon Island. At the time his cures were highly regarded with the Philadelphia Times writing that "Professor Munyon is to medicine what Professor Edison is to electricity."