History Happened Here

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Delray Beach

Palm Beach County

Year Founded: 1911 IncorporatedFounded by: William S. LintonPreviously known as: Town of Linton, Town of Delray, City of Delray

History

Delray Beach was a tropical wilderness in the 1890s. The only occupied dwelling at the time was the Orange Grove House of Refuge, a rescue station constructed on the beach in 1876 to provide shelter for shipwrecked mariners.

Research indicates that the first settlers, who were of African descent and originated from the Florida panhandle and the Bahamas, began to arrive in 1894. They established a settlement roughly one mile west of the ocean near Delray Beach’s current downtown. That same year Michigan natives US Congressman William Seelye Linton and David Swinton visited the area to look purchase land for speculation. The following year Linton, who named the town after himself, brought a small party of settlers to the area. In the spring of 1896, Florida East Coast Railway’s first train arrived in Linton, providing a means to transport winter crops to the northern states. The settlers were hopeful that the sale of their harvest would result in financial success.

The early settlers soon realized that the path to success would not come easy. Heat and insects plagued their efforts. Livestock to help with the work was limited and the first crop was killed by a freeze. To make matters worse, William Linton defaulted on his land payments in 1898. Some settlers left amid financial ruin and those who remained were required to pay Linton’s creditors a second time.

In November 1898, W.W. Blackmer, a former railroad clerk, brought the remaining townspeople together and proposed a new name, the Town of Delray, in the hope that this would inspire a new beginning of prosperity and growth. African American families who stayed provided stability for the young town and established a school, two churches and a Masonic lodge before the end of the 19th century. Delray grew into a strong farming community, shipping pineapples, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables to northern markets.

On September 4, 1911, a public meeting was held at the Ladies Improvement Association Hall to discuss the incorporation of the Town of Delray. An election was held on October 9, 1911, resulting in favor of incorporation [56 of 57 votes (one abstained)]. John Shaw Sundy served as the first mayor and held this position for seven terms. In the early 1920s, the Town Council changed the name from the Town of Delray to the City of Delray. In 1923 the land east of the Intracoastal Waterway was incorporated as Delray Beach and in 1927 the City of Delray and Delray Beach merged to form the City of Delray Beach.

Today, Delray Beach is a thriving culturally diverse community of approximately 60,000 residents. Its sub-tropical climate and award-winning beach attract visitors worldwide. Known for our vibrant downtown with gourmet restaurants, trendy boutiques, special events and arts/cultural opportunities, the City also promotes growth through economic development and sustainability initiatives. Delray Beach is a two time All-America City award winner (1993 & 2001), recognizing our “Village by the Sea” as a great place to live, work and play.

Story of City's Founding

In 1894, Michigan U.S. Congressman William Seelye Linton and his friend David Swinton traveled to Florida to establish a new community. Linton purchased 160 acres of land (at a cost of $25 per acre) in the area now known as Delray. Linton returned to Michigan and advertised acreage for sale in local newspapers. In October 1895, he returned to the Town of Linton with nine or ten men who had purchased five-acre tracts. One of Linton’s group was a civil engineer who drew a plat map of the planned town. Land was cleared and temporary housing was built. Linton then expanded his holdings and made a down payment on an additional 640 acres. He named the settlement after himself, and the area was officially recorded as the Town of Linton in 1896. The Town of Linton suffered a freeze the following February, destroying the financial hopes of early settlers. Many returned to Michigan and William Linton lost most of his land holdings through foreclosure. He returned to Michigan as well and lived there until his death in 1927. The settlers who remained worked diligently to bring new prosperity to the area and, in 1898, changed the name to Delray to signify a new beginning.

Little Known Facts

Historical Sites

Name: Cason Cottage Complex, Cason Cottage c.1915
Location: 5 NE 1st Street, Old School Square Historic District
Historical Significance: Home to Cason family, Delray pioneers, and today is a historic house museum.

Name: La France Hotel, 1949
Location: 140 NW 4th Avenue
Historical Significance: Hotel for people of color in the days of segregation.

Name: Old School Square Complex, 1913 & 1926
Location: 51 North Swinton Avenue, Old School Square Historic Distric
Historical Significance: City's first high school and gymnasium.

Name: S.D. Spady Cultural Museum, 1926
Location: 170 NW 5th Avenue, West Settler’s Historic District
Historical Significance: Converted home to prominent African-American civic/business leader and educator

Name: Colony Hotel, 1926
Location: 525 E. Atlantic Avenue
Historical Significance: Hotel is the last remaining hotel of the eight resorts from the booming years of the 1920s.

Key Historical Events

Event: Town of Delray Incorporated
Event Description:

An election was held October 9, 1911, resulting in 56 of 57 votes (one abstained) in favor of incorporation. John Shaw Sundy served as the first Mayor and held this position for seven terms.

Event: Merge – Two Incorporated Towns
Event Description:

The Town of Delray Beach and the City of Delray united to form “The City of Delray Beach.”

Event: Public Meeting to Discuss Incorporation
Event Description:

A public meeting was held at the Ladies Improvement Association Hall to discuss incorporating the Town of Delray.

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