Seminoles, Sand, and Sawgrass: A Brief History of Palm Beach County
Thoughts of the wide expanse of South Florida are likely to conjure images of coconut palms standing firmly along coastlines, swamplands dripping down a warm horizon, and gnarled mangroves sipping brackish water. History has a habit of being forgotten, but these picturesque landscapes tell a story that stretches back thousands of years.
The history of Palm Beach County is one that begins humbly with a thriving population of Native Americans some 10,000 years ago . Long before the discovery of the New World by the Europeans, the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes called South Florida home. Their rich cultures and mastery of their harsh Everglades environment allowed their legacy to endure and influence what would become present-day Palm Beach culture and way-of-life.
It is worth noting that parts of the Second Seminole War were fought in Palm Beach County, most notably the Battle of Jupiter Inlet, or Powell’s Battle, in 1838 . This battle is significant as it is notoriously known as both the longest and costliest of the Native American relocation conflicts in United States history . The dispersal efforts of these Natives would go on for several years. Today, the Natives in Palm Beach County live on reservations and maintain thriving local casino and tobacco industries.
Palm Beach boasts an interesting story to its namesake. Although not officially founded until 1909, it was only a couple hundred years ago in 1878 that a Spanish cargo ship bound for Spain from Cuba with a load of coconuts wrecked along the coast of what is now modern-day Mar-a-Lago . The cargo was quickly claimed by the locals who intended to eat what they could and plant the rest. Thus, the coconut palm came to America and continues to exist only in tropical South Florida . The salvaged palms quickly grew and spread giving Palm Beach its distinctive look and name.
Henry Flagler is a name synonymous with Palm Beach County, and he first appeared on the scene down here back in 1893 in the Lake Worth area. That same year, Flagler mapped out the site for what would become the modern-day city of West Palm Beach . Those who do not know who he was need simply pay a visit to the Royal Poinciana Hotel, take a walk along the tracks of the Florida East Coast Railway, or stay a night at the Palm Beach Inn. Henry Flagler is everywhere because he was everywhere during the inception and creation of what would become modern-day Palm Beach County. Unfortunately, Flagler met his demise when he fell to his death from a flight of stairs in his popular Whitehall Mansion in 1913. He was 83 .
Since Flagler’s death, a few major events occurred that continued to shape Palm Beach County beyond Flagler’s initial efforts but none quite as influential. Hurricanes were the typical catalysts of change. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all. Following the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 and the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928, the Herbert Hoover Dike was created to control flooding from natural disaster . The area soon sank into a depression.
The impacts of both positive and negative global and local events alike proved to shake the great county to its knees at times yet always persevered. During WWII, the US Military built numerous bases in the county which served as housing for personnel and ample space to launch aircrafts to patrol the eastern coast of Florida. One such place, Morrison Field, was converted into an air field by the military. After the war, in 1947, this air field went on to become modern-day Palm Beach International Airport . The effects proved to help the population of Palm Beach County grow significantly over the next hundred years or so, resulting in the bustling metropolitan area we know today.
From small beginnings to full realization, the growth of Palm Beach County is certainly one to behold. Today, Palm Beach County claims a population of nearly 1.5 million people, ranking it third in population when compared to its metropolitan sister counties of Broward and Miami-Dade . With the population steadily on the rise, it’s no wonder that so many people are beginning to put down roots in sunny Palm Beach County. Recently, in 2019, the Chamber of Commerce released a list of the best cities to live in Florida; Palm Beach Gardens, a city within Palm Beach County, took the cake at number one .
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