Q: What’s the oldest city in Palm Beach County?
A: Although “Lake Worth Region” settlements date to the 1840s and a colony grew around the Jupiter Lighthouse around the time of the Civil War, the oldest incorporated city is West Palm Beach, “born” Nov. 5, 1894.
Henry Flagler had decided he needed a place “for my help” – the blue-collar workers who served the rich and famous of Palm Beach. He carefully laid out the city, naming the streets for native plants – Clematis, Narcissus, Datura – and making sure it had a waterfront park and a church.
On Nov. 5, 1894, 87 of the town’s 500 or so residents, including blacks, gathered “atop the calaboose” (the jailhouse) at Poinsettia (now Dixie) and Banyan streets and voted 77-1 to incorporate “West Palm Beach.”
Founders rejected the name “Flagler.” The area had originally been called Westpalmbeach, a single word, then split into three words. In 1896, after the city was ravaged by three major storms and two fires – one caused by a drunken tailor who tipped over an oil lamp – numerologists blamed the fledgling city’s woes on its name; it contained 13 letters.
Again and again, the people rebuilt. And Flagler stuck to his prediction that “in a few years, there’ll be a town over there as big as Jacksonville.” He was right in concept but not location; a town he founded would become a metropolis, but it was Miami, just down the road.
Read More: Pioneers in Paradise, by Jan Tuckwood and Eliot Kleinberg.
Historical Society of Palm Beach County: 832-4164.