Clarence H. Geist

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Clarence Henry Geist
DiedJune 12, 1938(1938-06-12) (aged 71–72)
Occupationutilities executive, financier
Known forpurchasing Mizner Development Corporation's assets in Boca Raton, Florida
Spouse(s)Florence Hewitt Geist

Clarence Henry Geist (1866–June 12, 1938) was a financier who played an important role in the early history of Boca Raton, Florida.

He was born and raised on a farm in LaPorte County, Indiana. When he was 18 he left Indiana and spent five years in the far West working in cattle ranching, but returned to Chicago when he realized he "could not make money where there wasn't any". He worked for a year on the Rock Island Railroad, after which he entered the real estate business.[1]

His wife was Florence Hewitt Geist.[2] He walked with a cane and was an avid golfer, participating in tournaments.[2] From 1912 to 1938 he was the principal owner of the Indianapolis Water Company.[3] Geist Reservoir (1943) is named for him. He also founded in 1910 the company today known as South Jersey Industries, when the Atlantic City Gas and Water Company merged with Atlantic City Gas Company. He eventually owned over 100 utilities.[2]

Geist was a friend of Charles G. Dawes, who in 1925 became Calvin Coolidge's Vice-President. Geist left Indiana first to work for the Dawes family in Chicago.

In 1924 he had built in Palm Beach La Claridad, a mansion designed by Palm Beach architect Marion Sims Wyeth, who also designed Mar-a-Lago.[2] He was a member of the Everglades Club, and the mansion was built on the club grounds (which covered several blocks).

When Addison Mizner's Mizner Development Corporation went bankrupt in 1926 after trying to build the new resort of Boca Raton, Geist bought its assets in 1927 via an anonymous bid of $76,350. Included were the Cloister Inn, fifty houses, and 15,000 acres of land.[4][5]:173 He commissioned the New York architectural firm Schultze and Weaver to create an addition to the 100-room Cloister Inn, resulting in the 450-room Boca Raton Club, which accepted its first guests in December, 1929, ahead of its 1930 formal opening.[6]:117

Geist made a low-interest loan to Boca Raton to finance its first municipal water plant (which he convinced Boca Raton it needed) and provide water for the guests at his new hotel.[7] He built it in Mizner's style, for visual harmony. At the time, the handsome, Mediterranean-style plant was the most modern in the state.[6]:108 (It was replaced by a much larger plant in 1956, parts having become unavailable for the original equipment.[7] The building was demolished and the site currently houses Boca's City Hall.) He also paid for an elegant, Mediterranean-style depot on the Florida East Coast Railway (in 2017 operated by the Boca Raton Historical Society as a museum). Geist allegedly bought stock in the railroad in order to influence its choice of Boca Raton depot.[6]:114

The bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway on Mizner's Camino Real is officially the Clarence H. Geist Memorial Bridge (1939), replacing a temporary swing bridge built by Geist.[8][9]

A Clarence H. Geist Memorial Organ (1940) is located at the Overbrook Memorial Church in Overbrook, New Jersey.[10] Geist was the founder and owner of the New Jersey Seaview Country Club (1914).[11][12] He was on the Board of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company at the time of his death.[13] He owned a Philadelphia Main Line mansion.[14]


  1. ^ "C. H. Geist and Edward Hopkinson, Jr., Elected members of U.G.I. [United Gas Improvement] Board" (PDF). Spanish River Papers. 16. 1987–1988. First published in U.G.I. Circle (internal organ), August, 1930CS1 maint: date format (link)
  2. ^ a b c d Mayhew, Augustus (July 13, 2010). "Clarence Geist: Palm Beach & Boca Raton". New York Social Diary. Archived from the original on January 5, 2018. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  3. ^ Britt, Tom (2015). "Germantown: The Lost City Under Geist Reservoir". Town Poste Network. Retrieved January 2, 2017.
  4. ^ Historical Society of Palm Beach County (2009). "Clarence Henry Geist". Retrieved January 2, 2018.
  5. ^ Vickers, Raymond B. (1994), Panic in Paradise. Florida's Banking Crash of 1926, University of Alabama Press, ISBN 0817307230
  6. ^ a b c Gillis, Susan; Boca Raton Historical Society (2007). Boomtime Boca. Boca Raton in the 1920s. Arcadia. ISBN 9780738544434.
  7. ^ a b "Minutes from the City Commission meeting, June 16, 1928" (PDF). Spanish River Papers. 16. 1987–1988. p. (unpaged).
  8. ^ Chokey, Aric (July 20, 2017). "Boca's Camino Real bridge, one of 14 'deficient' in South Florida, up for repair". Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  9. ^ Streeter, Angel (December 3, 2011). "Historic status saves Camino Real Bridge in Boca Raton". Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  10. ^ "The Clarence H. Geist Memorial Organ". Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  11. ^ "Mrs. Clarence Geist Entertains" (PDF). Spanish River Papers. 1987–1988. Reprinted from Palm Beach Post, 4 April, 1925
  12. ^ Heritage Time Capsules (November 13, 2014). "Time Capsule Buried at Historic Site in New Jersey". Retrieved January 2, 2018.
  13. ^ White, Robert V. (1939). "ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTEENTH ANNUAL REPORT OF T H E BOARD OF MANAGERS OF The Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company TO THE STOCKHOLDERS FISCAL YEAR ENDED DECEMBER 31, 1938" (PDF). p. 8. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  14. ^ "Godfrey Residence". Philadelphia Architects and Buildings. Retrieved January 2, 2018.