History Happened Here

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Palm Beach

Palm Beach County

Year Founded: 1893Founded by: Henry M. Flager

History

When the first settlers arrived in what was to become Palm Beach, the entire area was known as “Lake Worth”, named for Major General William Jenkins Worth who fought in the Second Seminole War.  Pioneers struggled to clear land for their houses and to make room for their crops.  The first of the permanent pioneers arrived in 1872.  According to early settler accounts, Palm Beach received its name from a shipwreck named the “Providencia.” The ship washed ashore in January 1878 with a load of coconuts bound from Havana to Barcelona. Early settlers lost no time claiming salvage and planting the coconuts, which were not native to South Florida, in an effort to launch a commercial coconut industry.

Word of the area’s beauty spread northward and by 1880 the first hotel, the Cocoanut Grove House, opened to accommodate tourists.  By the early 1890s the island community was well established with several hotels, businesses, and winter residents.  The pioneer era ended in 1894 with the opening of Henry M. Flagler’s Royal Poinciana Hotel and the arrival of the Florida East Coast Railroad in 1896. The railroad tracks crossed Lake Worth so trains could deliver their passengers directly to the Flagler System hotels, which included the Palm Beach Inn directly on the ocean.  Soon renamed The Breakers, because so many guests wrote asking for a room “down by the breakers,” fire destroyed the hotel in 1903.  Henry Flagler ordered a larger, more luxurious hotel built at the same location, which opened for business the following year.  The hotel was again destroyed by fire in March 1925 and was replaced by the magnificent stone structure which continues to serve as a Palm Beach landmark today.

The Town of Palm Beach was incorporated on April 17, 1911.  Thirty-five men (women did not have the vote yet) met at the Palm Beach Hotel that night and voted to incorporate what was only the second recognized municipality in Palm Beach County.  They also elected the first officials: Elisha N. Dimick, Mayor; John P. McKenna, Town Clerk; Joseph Borman, Marshal; and J. B. Donnelly, William Fremd, John W. Doe, Enoch Root, and J. J. Ryman, Councilmen.  In 1929, the Garden Club of Palm Beach sponsored the preparation of a Town Plan.

After over 80 years of graceful evolution, Palm Beach today is a fully developed community, world-renowned for its beauty, quality of life and small-town character.   It is led by a Council-Manager form of government and provides a full range of municipal services.  It is home to “Captains of Industry” and the world famous Worth Avenue.  Approximately 9,000 citizens make Palm Beach their year-round home, and about 20,000 more have a seasonal home in Palm Beach where they enjoy the winter months.  Together, these residents of Palm Beach donate more money per capita to charities than any other community in America.  The Town has an active historic preservation program and strict zoning standards, provides high levels of public safety and public works services, and offers over 3 miles of public beaches and a wide array of recreation programs, including award winning golf and tennis facilities.

Story of City's Founding

At an age when the average man of the late 19th century had reached the end of his life expectancy, Henry Morrison Flagler retired from his day-to-day responsibilities at Standard Oil, the company he co-founded, and devoted all of his considerable resources and creative energy to building Florida. From St. Augustine to Key West, Flagler built a series of luxury hotels that quickly established tourism as a mainstay of Florida’s economy. His Florida East Coast Railway not only connected his hotels but opened the state to growth of all kinds. Through his Model Land Company, Flagler encouraged the agricultural development of millions of acres, thus establishing agriculture as another mainstay of the state’s economy. Flagler undertook and accomplished one of the most ambitious engineering projects ever attempted by a private citizen: the building of the Over-Seas Railroad, covering more than 155 miles from Miami to Key West. Along the way, Flagler fell in love with Palm Beach, where a lush grove of coconut palms had grown up following the shipwreck of the Providencia in 1878. On the lakefront, he built the Hotel Royal Poinciana, which was both the world’s largest resort and the world’s largest wooden building. On the ocean, he built The Breakers. He also built his winter home (“Whitehall”) in Palm Beach. Today, Whitehall is open to the public and the National Historic Landmark is known around the world as one of America’s great historic house museums. While a great many have helped to make The Town of Palm Beach the beautiful and special place that it has become over the last century, Palm Beach owes its existence and character more to Henry Flagler than to any other individual. More important to Flagler, without a doubt, would be the fact that so many have come to share his love of the place he thought of as “Paradise.”

Little Known Facts

Historical Sites

Name: Palm Beach Town Hall
Location:
Historical Significance: National Register of Historic Places

Name: Palm Beach Hotel
Location:
Historical Significance: National Register of Historic Places

Name: US Post Office Building
Location:
Historical Significance: National Register of Historic Places

Name: Paramount Theatre Building
Location:
Historical Significance: National Register of Historic Places

Name: Vineta Hotel (Chesterfield Hotel)
Location:
Historical Significance: National Register of Historic Places

Name: Via Mizner
Location:
Historical Significance: National Register of Historic Places

Name: Cocoanut Grove House of Refuge
Location:
Historical Significance: Florida Historical Marker

Name: Palm Beach Daily News Building
Location:
Historical Significance: National Register of Historic Places

Name: The Breakers
Location:
Historical Significance: National Register of Historic Places

Name: Mar-A-Lago
Location:
Historical Significance: National Register of Historic Places

Name:
Location: Henry Morrison Flagler Museum (Whitehall)
Historical Significance: National Register of Historic Places

Name:
Location: Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea
Historical Significance: Florida Historical Marker

Name:
Location: William Gray Warden House
Historical Significance: National Register of Historic Places

Name:
Location: Royal Poinciana Hotel
Historical Significance: Florida Historical Marker

Name:
Location: Rabbit Hill House
Historical Significance: Florida Historical Marker

Name:
Location: Little Red Schoolhouse
Historical Significance: Florida Historical Marker

Name:
Location: Sea Gull Cottage
Historical Significance: Florida Historical Marker

Key Historical Events

Event: Providencia Sinks
Event Description:

1878: The Providencia wrecks off the coast of Palm Beach, full of 20,000 coconuts – they were distributed and planted.

Event: Henry Flagler in Palm Beach
Event Description:

1893: Henry Flagler, Standard Oil Tycoon, declares Palm Beach a “veritable paradise”

Event: Royal Poinciana Hotel Completed
Event Description:

1894: Flagler’s Royal Poinciana Hotel is completed. It is the largest wooden structure in the world.

Event: FEC Railway Arrives in Palm Beach
Event Description:

1896: Flagler’s FEC Railway arrives in Palm Beach.

Event: Palm Beach Inn (Breakers) Opens
Event Description:

1896: Flagler opens the Palm Beach Inn which becomes The Breakers in 1901.

Event: Whitehall Completed
Event Description:

1902: Flagler’s winter home “Whitehall” is completed.

Event: Palm Beach Incorporated
Event Description:

1911: Palm Beach incorporated as a Town.

Event: Royal Park Bridge Opens
Event Description:

1911: Original Royal Park Bridge opened.

Event: Town Hall Opens
Event Description:

1925: Palm Beach Town Hall opened.

Event: Plan of Palm Beach
Event Description:

1929: “The Plan of Palm Beach” is sponsored by the Garden Club of Palm Beach.

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