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192 pagine
52 minuti
Sep 18, 2012


Palm Beach is known internationally as a winter resort where the wealthy enjoy life in a tropical paradise. More than 100 years ago, Palm Beach was far different from its well-kept beaches, estates, and fabulous Worth Avenue shopping mecca of the 21st century. When the first permanent settlers arrived, they found the area covered by thick jungle that had to be tamed before they could carve out a new life for themselves. The settlers ended up with a paradise, and when Henry Flagler decided to build a grand hotel in Palm Beach, he planted the first seed for the creation of a modern winter retreat for the rich.
Sep 18, 2012

Informazioni sull'autore

Authors Richard A. Marconi and Debi Murray both have strong ties to Palm Beach County. Marconi has been with the Historical Society of Palm Beach County since 1999, first as an intern and volunteer, and now as the curator of education. Murray is a native of the county. She joined the historical society in 1999 as a research assistant and is now the director of research and archives. The authors have scoured the historical society’s nearly two million photographic images to bring the early history of Palm Beach to life.

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Anteprima del libro

Palm Beach - Richard A. Marconi



The name of Palm Beach is probably one of the best and most widely known in the world, but it also evokes a variety of mental images depending on each person’s relationship to the island. For the native, it is their hometown with favorite places to walk, dine, swim, and shop; for the historian, it is a wildly romantic, adventurous, hardscrabble kind of place; for the average tourist, it is a driving tour where the most one can see is a quick glimpse of magnificent houses through the hedges and perhaps enjoy lunch at one of the celebrated restaurants where sometimes one can get lucky and run into a celebrity such as singer Jimmy Buffett, author James Patterson, or businessman Donald Trump. But for the wealthy visitor or seasonal home owner, it is a place to escape cold winters, raise money for their favorite charities, and shop along the fabulous Worth Avenue. Despite how one views Palm Beach, it is a never-ending topic of interest to one and all.

Palm Beach’s history begins in the mid-19th century with a Confederate deserter who built a shack on Lake Worth in the 1860s and planted edible and decorative plants nearby. A few of these were coconut trees; far more came later. The pioneer era continued after the Civil War with the addition of families and single men to the lake. One of the ways the pioneers survived was to use the beach as their bank. There were frequent shipwrecks along Florida’s Atlantic Coast and debris from those doomed ships littered the beach. Sometimes the pioneers never saw the ship itself, but they were grateful for the materials that washed ashore.

When the settlers needed supplies from the nearest store in Sand Point (today’s Titusville), they would walk the beach and collect copper and other metals they could use in place of hard money. Shipwreck debris, including ship’s timbers, sail cloth, and other materials they found on the beach, was used to construct their homes. Most often, the roofs were made of palmetto thatching, a technique learned from the Seminole Indians.

One of the shipwrecks led to the name Palm Beach. A storm drove the aging, damaged Spanish ship Providencia ashore in January 1878. Included in her cargo were nearly 20,000 coconuts. The pioneers, hoping to create a cash crop from this bounty, planted these giant seeds in groves. When it came time to name the newest post office and the name Palm City was rejected by Washington, D.C., someone suggested the name Palm Beach, and it stuck.

When visitors discovered the delights of Palm Beach, it became necessary to provide a place for them to stay. Elisha Dimick opened the first hotel when he added rooms to his house for the purpose of boarding guests. He also ensured they would have things to do such as hunting in the nearby Everglades, fishing in the lake and the ocean, picnicking and sailing along Lake Worth, and listening to music as the moon rose over the Atlantic Ocean.

By the mid-1880s, wealthy Northerners began to have homes built on the island. Permanent residents such as William Lanehart and George Lainhart (cousins who spelled their names differently) were able to apply their carpentry skills on these houses. Unlike the pioneers, the seasonal home owners had their building materials shipped to the island. This also gave work to the men who ran the supply ships between Jacksonville, Titusville, and Palm Beach.

Henry M. Flagler had built the Florida East Coast Railroad as far south as Titusville by the early 1890s when he first visited Lake Worth. He was charmed by what he called the veritable paradise. Flagler soon sent his agents to start purchasing property along the lake, which fueled the first land boom in South Florida. In May 1893, construction started on the Royal Poinciana Hotel, and the railroad was on its way south. The hotel opened for its first guests, all 17 of them, on February 11, 1894, and the railroad arrived in West Palm Beach that April.

From then on, Palm Beach was the destination for high society. As word spread about the beauties of Palm Beach, more and more people visited, which required more hotel space and more entertainment choices. Some of the diversions included Alligator Joe’s, which was a wheel chair (a single- or double-seated wicker chair pushed by an attached bicycle) ride away on narrow pathways through dense jungle. It was not uncommon to see wildlife along the paths, including rattlesnakes longer than the paths were wide.

Eventually, people tired of staying in hotels, and repeat visitors had their own winter homes built. At first, these were constructed in the Craftsman style, but an architectural revolution quietly started in 1918. At that time, a gentleman by the name of Paris Singer and his friend Addison Mizner came to town for some relaxation. Singer asked Mizner to design a convalescent hospital for traumatized officers returning from World War I. The war ended before the buildings could be completed, so Singer turned the project into an exclusive, private social club. The revolutionary aspect was in its design—a combination of Moorish, Spanish, Gothic, and South American styles. People were soon vying for Mizner’s services to design and decorate their houses.

This new architectural trend gained popularity in the Roaring Twenties. The largest land boom to ever occur in Florida brought more architects to Palm Beach, who added their own talents to help create the town’s unique flavor. Unfortunately, the boom was shattered by two devastating hurricanes in 1926 and 1928. Palm Beach suffered damage from both storms, but the economic downturn in South Florida in general caused Palm Beachers to once again change architectural styles in the 1930s. No longer were they building colossal homes. But, unlike other areas, they were still building, though on a smaller scale.

Palm Beach was a beehive of activity during World War II. Officers and enlisted men alike lived, played, and trained in Palm Beach during the war. The Breakers was turned into Ream General Hospital for the army, and the Biltmore became a training center for SPARs (Semper Paratus, Always Ready) and then became a naval convalescent hospital. Socialites entertained men at the V for Victory Club on Worth Avenue and County Road, and everyone went to the beach, where the U.S. Coast Guard built watchtowers and rode horse patrols.

The town of Palm Beach was not founded until 1911. It might not have incorporated then if West Palm Beach had not been looking to annex the island. When town fathers learned about the attempted takeover, they hired a Miami attorney to draw up the appropriate papers. After the public notices ran for 30 days, 35 men met at Orangerie, Elisha Dimick’s home, where they voted to incorporate. The official date of its founding is April 17, 1911.

From the start, the town of Palm Beach has worked to preserve a way of life. Since its romantic beginnings and with the help of Henry Flagler and the vision of the town’s

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