Top 5 Historical Moments for Palm Beach
Palm Beach is the sunny beach town that I’ve called home for many years. Although this city is a popular destination town for tourists, there is certainly more to it than pristine beaches. From memorable fires to German u-boats, it turns out there’s some interesting (and surprising) history behind Palm Beach, Florida.
Here are the top five most iconic historical moments for Palm Beach.
- Earning Its Namesake — In a Non-Conventional Way
The iconic coconut palm trees lining the streets of Palm Beach (hence the name) are actually not native to Florida at all — or anywhere in America, for that matter. Rather, they found their Florida home when the Spanish ship Providencia wrecked on the coast of Mar-a-Lago in 1878 en route back to Spain from Havana with a large cargo of, you guessed it… coconuts (20,000 of them, to be exact).
Being the ingenious and enterprising people they were, the early settlers saw the tragedy as an opportunity to make money: no time was spared before retrieving the coconuts from the wreckage and planting them onshore in hopes of starting a commercial coconuts industry. We can thank this entrepreneurship for the beautiful palms enjoyed today.
- The First Hotels
Today, Palm Beach is known for its exquisite beachfront hotels and resorts. But when did these emerge? Well, when early settlers realized the sheer beauty of our beaches, they (again) saw an opportunity. The first hotel, the Coconut Grove House, opened in 1880 from a converted house on Lake Worth, and the rest is history — including the 1894 opening of Henry M. Flagler (prominent oil industry mogul)’s Royal Poinciana Hotel, which took the title as the largest wooden structure in the world.
Two years later, he opened the Palm Beach Inn, which later changed names to The Breakers because of the popularity of the rooms by the breakers. After the hotel burned down in 1903, Flagler simply rebuilt a bigger, better version in 1904 — which burned down again in 1925. But third time’s a charm; the hotel was rebuilt more extravagantly than ever in 1926, complete with stunning Italian influence, accounting for the world-renowned, luxurious beachfront resort still open today.
- The Birth of the FEC Railway
A true transformation for Palm Beach was the installation of Flagler’s Florida East Coast (FEC) Railway in 1896. The railroad even extended onto a thousand-foot-long pier above the ocean so that incoming cargo ships could easily transport goods from the ship to the train. Unfortunately, a raging hurricane 32 years later completely destroyed the pier and the tracks along with it. Despite no longer offering passenger service as of 1968, the FEC runs nearly the exact same route up and down the Florida coast today as it did during Flagler’s time.
- World War 2: German U-boats Invade
Palm Beach County had a more up-close and personal World War 2 experience than most places in the whole country. Not only were pilots trained and military planes tested in Palm Beach prior to America’s official involvement, but once America became involved overseas, the shores of Palm Beach and neighboring cities became sprinkled with U-boats and submarines from Germany itself.
With the goal of stopping freight ships from traveling with supplies to the European Allies, German torpedoes sank 24 ships along the Florida coast, 8 of which were in Palm Beach County. Since most ships were relatively close to shore, residents watched from the beach as ships went up in flames. Some locals even claim to have witnessed a few German soldiers coming ashore during the invasion. The overall military presence, both pre- and post-war, brought the county’s population from 80,000 to over 115,000 in 1950.
- Being voted the #1 place to live in America
With such pristine beaches, high quality of living, beautiful architecture, unbeatable accommodations and authentic community feel, it’s no wonder Palm Beach was voted America’s “Best Place to Live” in 2003 by Robb Report magazine. And with such a rich, strong and resilient history, who can argue with that?