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Indians were the first to live in Highland Beach

Walter C. Weyl, whose family moved to Highland Beach in 1961 when he and his brother were small boys, asked about the town’s history.

Walt came to the right place; this writer covered the town for 17 years.

The 3.25-mile-long island community east of Boca Raton and Delray Beach, with a year-round population of 4,155, is six decades old, incorporated June 2, 1949. But its story goes back millennia.

In the 1970s, archaeologists found large collections of human remains from the Tequesta, indigenous peoples who lived as much as 1,000 years ago.

The town is named for an anomaly: a coastal ridge that rises nearly 25 feet.

Behind it ran the original Spanish River, now part of the Intracoastal Waterway.

At the water’s edge, the Barefoot Mailman walked from Palm Beach to Miami.

In its sand, turtles laid eggs, as they still do, now with protection.

Nearby, the short-lived Yamato Colony of Japanese grew pineapples; at the site at the south end of town where Palm Beach County plans to build Milani Park, Yamato members fished at the promontory still bearing the offensive moniker “Jap Rock.”

In the early 20th century, what’s now Highland Beach was a sparsely settled colony of mostly beach rental homes.

With salt intruding on wells, Boca Raton and other neighboring communities were hesitant to supply water. Then residents heard a trailer park was planned. So 21 residents formed the town.

At first, it was a haven of oceanfront mansions, but condo towers soon began sprouting. In 1992, it was hit with a $31 million judgment in a zoning suit. That penalty was reduced but the town was forced to allow the three 18-story, 400-plus unit Toscana condominiums next to town hall. In the mid-1940s, land went for $45 a foot; the west side of State Road A1A, fronting the Intracoastal Waterway and lined with swamps and mangroves, was considered worthless. By 1950, land on both sides was going for $125 a foot. It now runs $80,000 per “front” foot.

The new $139,333 town hall was being built immediately south of the existing one when this photo was shot Nov. 30, 1972. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg March 18, 2010 at 9:13 am.

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