Each year at this time, we mark the most profound event ever in Palm Beach County: the great Sept. 16, 1928, hurricane, which killed as many as 3,000 people.
Most died when a 6-foot muck dike failed and the storm pushed the waters of Lake Okeechobee into the countryside.
It’s the second-deadliest natural disaster in American history.
One of the storm’s victims wasn’t a person, but a place — a place called Geerworth.
The 16,000-acre tract was about 10 miles east of Belle Glade, at a spot at Senter Road and State Road 880′s “Nine Mile Bend.”
It had been founded around 1918 by Harvey G. Geer (above), who developed much of the West Palm Beach area and helped build the first Royal Park (middle) bridge to Palm Beach.
The first buildings went up on April 13, 1921. By December, more than 100 acres had been cleared.
Geer sold 20 tracts, of 10 to 50 acres each, mostly to a colony of Brits, set to leave Liverpool the following February.
An article echoed the hopes of developers of homes and farms sprawling from the coast to the big lake: “This is just a beginning and demonstrates what will happen as soon as the roads into the Glades are completed.”
And, it said, “every resident of Palm Beach County should make this trip and familiarize himself with this coming great domain which lies at their very door.”
In 1922, much of the settlement was swamped by floods.
But by 1925, Conners Highway was about to link the Glades to the coast. An article from April 1925, two months before the road opened, said, “already the new town of Geerworth has been laid out with a hotel, packing house, several good dwelling houses and county school. Crops are now growing and daily shipments of produce are being made.”
That resurgence was brief. In March 1928, with the countryside tinder-dry following a drought, a grass fire roared through, burning down several buildings.
The 1928 storm washed out Geerworth forever. The former site now is part of the area’s expanse of sugar cane and muck.
Geer died at 83 in June 1939.
The annual service to victims of the 1928 hurricane who are buried at the cemetery in Port Mayaca, is at 10 a.m. Friday, the hurricane’s 83rd anniversary.
Special thanks to archivist Debi Murray, Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
This photo taken in Belle Glade after the devastating hurricane of 1928 shows the damage to the Everglades Experiment Station. A 6-foot muck dike around Lake Okeechobee failed, and much of the nearby countryside was flooded. (Photo courtesy of the University of Florida)