History Happened Here

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Lake Clarke Shores

Palm Beach County

Year Founded: 1957Founded by: 1955 Lake Clarke Property Owners Association

History

“Florida Mango Grovelets” is what the tracts of land are called on the tax rolls and in the record books. What an odd little name! But what an odd little history those properties have had. They were once, long ago, a grove, then a marsh, then the “boondocks”, and finally a real town.

The Town of Lake Clarke Shores is located in Palm Beach County, Florida. It extends from Carambola Road on the north to Lateral No. 10 Canal (south of Mediterranean Road) to the south, and the West Palm Beach Canal on the east to Florida Mango Road on the west.

The Town developed from a community of a few homes on the shores of Lake Clarke in the 1940s. The improvement of Selby Road and connection to Forest Hill Blvd., eastward from Florida Mango Road (Selby Road was later renamed as the western portion of Forest Hill Blvd.) via a bridge over the West Palm Beach Canal in the 1950s encouraged large scale development.

The off-center connection of Selby Road to Forest Hill Blvd., explains the sweeping curve of Forest Hill Blvd., through the town. Large scale development also required dredging of canals and bulkheading nearly the entire shore of Lake Clarke. Development had occurred at such rate that by 1957, the Town of Lake Clarke Shores incorporated.

Many interesting examples of “retro” 1950s and 1960s architecture can be found on some homes, particularly close to Forest Hill Blvd. Other stately homes are located directly on the lake.

The Town is home to several parks which include pavilions, basketball courts, tennis courts, playgrounds for toddlers and older children, heart trails, exercise stations, bicycle/walking trails, and open play fields. The beautiful butterfly garden is maintained by the Garden Club. With all of its natural beauty, the Town is designated as a “Bird Sanctuary”.

Somewhat unusual for a community this size, the Town maintains its own Police Department. The Department’s Officers are each trained by certified instructors from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). Most Officers are also trained Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), which benefits the residents in medical emergencies and has saved lives.

The Town of Lake Clarke Shores now consists of approximately 1,500 dwellings with a population of 3,376.

Ask any of the eight (8) original residents who have been here since 1953 why they still live in Lake Clarke Shores and it is likely they will say “Well, it’s just the best place to be”.

Story of City's Founding

Profitable ventures always appealed to John Clarke. As the son of Palm Beach pioneer Charles Clarke, he had the means to invest in them. When the pineapple business looked promising throughout south Florida in the early 1900s, Clarke bought five acres just south of the present Hillcrest Cemetery on Parker Avenue. There he planted a grove and built a packing house to prepare the fruit for shipment to northern cities. By 1909, business was thriving from Cape Canaveral to the Keys, but a blight destroyed most of the crops the following year. By 1915, Clarke, like most others, had abandoned his fields. Growing pineapples was hardly Clarke’s main motive when he bought the property. He and his brother had designed and were building the first shaft-driven car at their plant in Pennsylvania. Business never permitted John to spend an entire season with his family in Palm Beach. When he was here, the land provided him a place to do what he loved best. An avid fisherman, he could escape the pressures of business catching all the bass and bream he wanted in a lake on the western edge of his land. Clarke jokingly named the lake after himself because there was no one around at the time that particularly cared what it was called, Lake Clarke simply became accepted. In 1917, the boundaries of Lake Clarke were changed because of the efforts of Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward. He believed that the Everglades could be drained by cutting a few canals from Lake Okeechobee to the ocean. Any land exposed due to drainage would become state property and could be sold to increase state revenue. He convinced the legislature to pass a comprehensive drainage law. The West Palm Beach Canal opened as a result of Broward’s law. For produce and sugar growers in the Glades, it did provide the only direct route between the coastal and western sections of Palm Beach County, but it also forever altered Lake Clarke. No longer the clear clean lake John Clarke had known, most of the area transformed into a marshy sanctuary for life attuned to that environment: alligators, ducks, dove, quail, herons, owls, raccoons, frogs, snakes, and insects. It remained that way for almost thirty years. Zeb Vance Hooker and his family became the first known residents of what would become Lake Clarke Shores. In the early 1930s, they squatted on government owned land near the southeast end of the lake. Hooker raised a few chickens and goats and lived in a wooden shack until development began in the late 1940s. Those who knew Hooker remembered him as a friendly “Florida Cracker”. A few of the Town’s earliest buyers were vaguely aware of him, but because they never knew him, they simply called him “The Hermit.” In the late 1940s, local attorney, Walter Travers, learned about Lake Clarke through Zeb Hooker. He and his wife went out to take a look. Mrs. Travers recalled first seeing “just a bunch of weeds.” The south shore of the “main lake” ended just below Gregory Road. Unlike the lowlands surrounding most of the lake, a green pasture hugged its southern shore. Travers even kept a few cattle in the pasture, but raising livestock was never his intention. Instead, he envisioned a waterfront community. Jim Carlton, who would later become the first Town Engineer, tried to discourage Travers. Mrs. Carlton recalled that one of Jim’s favorite stories resulted from the day Travers took him to the top of the Southern Boulevard overpass. As they looked south over the marshland, Carlton warned that the land was simply too low for development to be economically feasible. Undaunted, Travers pursued the idea against Carlton’s better judgment. He bought property from shoreline owners and then approached the state about procuring land which had been exposed during the drainage project some thirty years before. At first he was told it was not for sale. Apparently, there had been a similar situation in Broward County just prior to Travers’ request. Travers persisted and traveled to Tallahassee to meet with the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund which holds title to state-owned lands. When he asked what price would put the property on the market, he was finally told $300 per acre. Travers offered $300 per acre but only for land which was four to five feet above the water. He was willing to pay $200 per acre for the land at water level but only $100 for land underwater. When the State advertised the sale, Travers was the only bidder. With $10,000 he borrowed from a friend, he purchased his first 250 acres on the northwest side of the lake. Once he had acquired the property, Travers hired Jim Carlton as the Engineer and Surveyor to lay out the land to get the maximum number of waterfront home sites. His goal was to develop the most desirable place to live in the area. By 1949, Travers brought in dredging equipment to transform the lowlands into a marketable commodity. Around the rim of the lake, he set up a dragline which dug down, scooped up sand from the bottom, and piled it up to be used for fill. The first few years were slow ones for the developer. By the end of 1952, only three homes had been built. Mr. and Mrs. Travers lived in the one on the north side of the boat ramp. The other two stood immediately south of the ramp. Access was still limited, though Selby Road had been extended in the early 1950s from Congress Avenue to the Palm Beach Canal. Travers knew that the only way to attract buyers would be to connect Selby Road with Forest Hill Boulevard. County plans included a bridge across the canal but there was no particular need for one at the time. Travers knew he could not wait so he decided to construct a one-lane wooden bridge. Before he could do so, Lake Lytal, then a Palm Beach County Commissioner, wisely intervened. Knowing that Travers was willing to contribute the $10,000 he had already allocated, Commissioner Lytal helped convince the County to proceed with its planned construction. As a result, County taxpayers saved money, Travers got his bridge, and Selby Road became Forest Hill Boulevard. After the bridge opened in 1953, development and building increased rapidly. The Oens, the Langfords, the Lytals, and several others built in 1954. By April 1956, there were 150 registered voters living in “Lake Clarke Isles”. After the original development on the northwest side of the lake was complete, Travers turned his attention to the northeast side. As he realized profits on one section of land, Travers invested in another. He continued his dredging operation and extended the “main lake” south to where it is today. He dug canals and piled up the dirt to create buildable lots. He built roads and bridges, and even a water company at the corner of Pine Tree Lane and Forest Hill Boulevard. With the environmental regulations in existence today, such major alterations of wetlands would never be permitted. Travers’ interest in waterfront lots left “dry” parcels in the western section of Town to be developed later by several others, including L. Phillips Clarke, John Clarke’s nephew, who platted Clarke Road north of Gregory. Travers was undoubtedly responsible for the majority of development. Eventually he developed all the land north of Forest Hill Boulevard and on the east side of the lake. On its west side, he developed most of the land along West Lake Drive. By 1960, he sold his remaining lots to builders and left the area but not before realizing his dream of a waterfront community. About sixty people united to form the Lake Clarke Property Owners’ Association in the fall of 1955. Residents discussed their problems and appointed a ten man steering committee to suggest possible solutions. Meetings continued regularly at the Meadow Park School. Although some residents were unconcerned about the fate of the area, most felt that the only way to get things done, and in their own way, was to be self-governing. If a town was to be formed, residents had to vote on a name. In a heated debate, owners of “dry” property opposed “Lake Clarke Isles” or “Lake Clarke Shores”. Also, some feared that Lake Clarke would be confused with Lake Park. Finally, a vote was taken, but there was not a majority. In the second vote, the “Town of Lake Clarke Shores” was approved. With the name settled, residents met at Meadow Park School on April 10, 1956, to decide if the community would be incorporated as a municipality. Because the State Legislature did not meet in 1956, a town could be incorporated only under the General Laws of the State of Florida. This simply meant that two-thirds of the 150 registered voters had to approve the measure by signing a petition, and could later apply for a State Charter when the Legislature met the following year. When the Homeowners’ Association became a Town, the real work began. At first there was no election. People simply volunteered to fill the necessary positions. The first Council had the task of laying the foundation of the Town. Ordinances had to be formulated, services had to be provided, building codes had to be established, and decisions had to be made regarding collecting funds to manage the Town. Council passed the first ordinance on May 14, 1956. For the safety of residents, it declared speed limits within the Town to be 25 mph. Fred Hardekopf was appointed Chairman of the Finance Committee. Though building permits and occupational licenses supported a portion of the Town’s financial needs, the Committee advised that assessments might become necessary to fund the balance. Since it was illegal to assess for only a portion of a year, Council decided to request voluntary payments of $15 for each residence and $1 for each vacant lot. By October, 80% of the residents had paid voluntarily and Mr. Hardekopf reported going door-to-door to collect the remaining 20%. After talking with the townspeople, Hardekopf further informed the Council that the majority were clearly in favor of voluntary assessments instead of taxes. Other financial needs were met through the extraordinary efforts of the citizens. They organized a Canasta Club, a Pinochle Club, a Bridge Club, two Garden Clubs, and a Women’s Club. When the Town had a need, members of the clubs held dinners, bazaars, plant sales, rummage sales, and Tupperware parties. These contributions were a significant part of the Town revenue. Everyone’s favorite fundraiser was the Town’s barbecues. Most were held on a vacant lot at the southwest corner of Forest Hill and West Lake Drive. They were so popular that a standing joke emerged: the Town would disband as soon as an ordinance forbidding the barbecues was passed! Between April 1956 and April 1957, the first Council passed seventeen ordinances. They provided for public safety, defined building codes, and even established the Town as a bird sanctuary. During the first few years, Councilmen were a “shirtsleeve group” who were able to conduct business on a handshake. Town meetings were enjoyable affairs since most of the townspeople turned out. Helping the Council were many volunteers who studied and advised on various issues. There was a Finance Committee, Beautification Committee, and a Zoning Committee which had studied sites for a town hall. There was even a Hyacinth Committee which studied various means of controlling weeds in the lake. Thanks to Bill and Betty Diemer, mail was delivered to street addresses rather than to rural delivery boxes by the summer of 1957. With a map of the Town spread on their dining room table, they spent hours numbering the lots and houses on each street. There was an unmistakable spirit of civic pride and responsibility present in the citizenry. At one time or another, nearly everyone pitched in to do whatever needed to be done. During the early years, Bill Diemer recalled, “There was at times a surplus of volunteers, and the Council had the regrettable task of choosing among them”. With the granting of the State Charter on July 1, 1957, the Town’s authority was expanded to include a Municipal Judge. Though the term Alderman was changed to Councilman, the spirit of the Town remained unaltered. It was about to experience growth, and with that, came change. William Blythe, jeweler, volunteered to be the Town’s first Marshal. The following year, Everett Hatfield took over and remained a vital part of the force until 1964. It was the Marshal’s responsibility to persuade some of the men in Town to help out. All the men held other jobs so police duties were performed as time permitted. The volunteers were sworn in as officers of the law by the Sheriff’s Department so that they could legally make arrests. The Marshal saw to it that street signs and stop signs were erected as necessary, and advised Council on ways to improve safety of the Town. Hatfield was also the driving force behind establishing voluntary crossing guards on Forest Hill Boulevard so that children could safely walk to school. The Marshal’s Department was in charge of handling violations of city ordinances, and the main violation was speeding. It was the Marshal who trained his men to perform their duties. Deputy John Riggs recalled that his training consisted of spending a couple of evenings with Hatfield catching speeders on Forest Hill Boulevard and then he was on his own. Riggs said of Hatfield, “Without a doubt, he had a natural ability to hold a smile even while giving the crankiest person a ticket. I never saw Hatfield get upset or frown about anything.” Bill Diemer, however, remembered one incident in which Hatfield later told him he had never been so scared in all his life. One evening there was a shooting on Venetian Way. In a domestic dispute, a man shot and killed his brother-in-law. As a volunteer, Hatfield was the first to admit he knew nothing about real police work, so his first reaction was to call the Sheriff’s Department for assistance. By the time they arrived, Hatfield had made the arrest and the suspect was sitting in the car. At first, the Marshal and his deputies carried their own weapons and wore second hand uniforms donated by the West Palm Beach Police Department. They didn’t mind driving their own cars and paying for their own gas. When insurance companies refused to cover their cars while on duty for the Town, Hatfield finally convinced the Council to carry insurance for them. There was enough police activity by 1960 to warrant the purchase of radio equipment. In 1962, the Town bought its first police car. Both items were made possible through the hard work and generosity of the townspeople. The ladies in the clubs raised all the money for the radio and donated handsomely toward the car. A special barbecue was held to make up the difference and the deputies went door to door for contributions. With 498 homes to protect by the end of 1963, the volunteers had their hands full. John Alge, a 28 year veteran of the West Palm Beach Police Department was hired not only as the Town’s first paid officer, but also as its first officer with any training in real police work. At the June 8,1964 Town Council meeting, Councilman Flanagan who served as Police Commissioner, reported that the name had been changed from Marshal to Police Chief and that the Chief was John Alge and Everett Hatfield was the Captain. Other volunteers continued as deputies. When Alge resigned in 1967, Ralph Hendrickson became Chief. At that time, all police business was conducted from his home. A special red phone and radio unit was installed and Mrs. Hendrickson, by virtue of the fact that she was married to the Chief, became police dispatcher. Hendrickson said, “It was a 24 hour a day job. Though an additional paid patrolman had been added to the force, the rest were volunteers”. When one of the men had a conflict, the Chief had to take over, whether it was to investigate a robbery, arrest a speeder, or even remove a fish hook from a duck. Hendrickson, at the time, had his own business to run. Though Alge returned in November 1969, he died the following March. In his honor, “The John Lester Alge Causeway” on Pine Tree Lane commemorates his hard work and accomplishments. Hendrickson took over again, but only temporarily. Times were changing and the State had passed a “Minimum Standards Act” requiring all police departments to meet certain selection and training requirements. By November 1970, the volunteer police department was phased out and a fulltime paid staff took its place. Though it meant additional costs for the Town, policemen were available to patrol the Town 24 hours a day for the first time. With 2,328 residents in 1970, speeding tickets were no longer the primary violation of Town Ordinances. Police had to handle thefts, larceny, drug dealings, disorderly conduct, assault, vandalism, and even suicides. Winning respect from other departments was not easy in the beginning. Former Police Commissioner Richard Krauss recalled an incident which occurred shortly after the Police Department was formed. On a stakeout in the north end of the Town, the Sheriff’s Department posted a deputy in a resident’s yard. When the resident summoned the Town Police to report a suspicious person, they arrested the Deputy because they had no idea who he was or what he was doing there. After that, said Krauss, the Sheriff’s Department cooperated with the Town’s Police Department. In 1974, the State tried to abolish all police forces with fewer than ten men. Through the combined efforts of communities throughout the State, the movement failed and small departments survived. The Police Department finally got its own headquarters. The building, on the Town Hall property, opened in May 1987. As in earlier years, residents again rallied to help when there was a need. Spaghetti dinners and pancake breakfasts helped to fund the building. During its history, the Town of Lake Clarke Shores has had its share of squabbles. At one time or another, politics has pitted friend against friend, neighbor against neighbor, the north side of Town against the south, the east side against the west, sewers against septic tanks – and just about any other conceivable combination! The issue of sewers vs. septic tanks was resolved by a vote of the Town residents on June 30, 2005 with a vote of 655 in favor of septic tanks vs. 141 in favor of sewers. There have been two attempts to recall Council members, and even one effort to disband the Town. Small Town politics? You bet! Closer examination reveals at least two reasons why various elements in Town sometimes disagree. First, the Town of lake Clarke Shores is no longer as independent as it once was. As Florida has grown, so has external bureaucracy. Federal, State, Regional Taxing Districts, and County regulations mandate all but a few phases of Town government. Those, and many other external influences have constantly been at work to change and shape the community, and every Council has had to learn to work within the framework of the ever-expanding legal encroachments over which they have little or no control. Secondly, constant development and expansion brings newcomers with new ideas and methods. The fact that they have not always been welcomed is neither surprising nor unique to the Town. Despite the changes which have taken place over the years, the Town of Lake Clarke Shores is still a friendly, laidback sort of place far from the frenzied pace of the big City. Just ask any of the original residents why they still live here and it is likely they will say “Well, it’s just the best place to be”.

Little Known Facts

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