Rockefeller Wm A.

Visiting Henry Flagler’s “paradise” on Florida’s east coast

The Everglades along I-75, with a typical south Florida summer sky above

The Everglades along I-75, with a typical south Florida summer sky above–clouds gathering for an eventual thunderstorm

Sorry to have disappeared for a month! We just returned from our own road trip around the vast state of Oregon, taking in places like Columbia Gorge, Mt. Hood, Hell’s Canyon, Wallowa Lake, the John Day Fossil Beds, & Crater Lake and Upper Klamath Lake. From Upper Klamath Lake, we veered down into northwest California to take in the majestic beauty of the giant coastal redwoods there, before traveling up about two-thirds of the Oregon Coast. Once the dust settles, I will put together a post with my top 10-15 images from our trip.

Meanwhile, I will leave you with a little post I started, before leaving on vacation, about a jaunt we took to the Florida’s east coast not long ago…to Lake Worth, a fun, friendly, and eclectic little town wedged between Palm Beach to the north and Boynton Beach to the south. Lovely beach, fun downtown shops and restaurants, fabulous little Mexican food stand called Lupita’s, and plenty of nature and water activities. We stayed at a B&B called the Mango Inn, which was very peaceful and pleasant and within easy walking distance to the downtown and the lagoon. The signature breakfast dish “mango-stuffed French toast” proved to be disappointingly soggy, but perhaps the chef just had a bad day.

If you feel like taking a hike (we didn’t, given what time of year it is), you could easily walk to the ocean beach, which is clean and well cared for, by heading over the big bridge that crosses the 22-mile-long Lake Worth lagoon and deposits you close to the public beach parking lot. The old, historic casino building there has been renovated and offers a cool and pleasant spot to shop for souvenirs, grab an ice cream, or sit down for a meal.

casino

The Casino today as viewed from the pier

The Casino on the beach

The Casino on the beach, 1930s?

If you like to fish, the Lake Worth pier supposedly gets you closer to the Gulf Stream than anywhere else on Florida’s east coast; we saw some very big fish swimming below. The Snook Islands restoration project is underway in the Lake Worth lagoon which is part of the Intracoastal Waterway. The fishing is supposed to be very good here as well. We gave it a try one evening and walked away empty-handed, but have heard good things about the location. You can launch a kayak from this spot too. Studies of the lagoon and its inlets over the last twenty years have registered a whopping 261 species of fish!

Day's fishing, Palm Beach, Fla. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Day’s fishing, Palm Beach, Fla. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

But the Lake Worth area of yesteryear was considerably different. While the fishing was probably just as good, if not far better, the population was vastly smaller. In 1920—only about 1,100. Today some 35,000 live in this small town which is surrounded on three sides by a sprawling metropolitan area that includes over five million people.

For a glimpse of how this area of Florida looked 100 or so years ago, you can view the Library of Congress images to the left and below. Most were taken in Palm Beach which is adjacent to where the town of Lake Worth lies today. The 1890 map below shows Lake Worth, the town, positioned north of Palm Beach, but today’s town is definitely to the south. But back in 1890, the entire area around the twenty-two-mile-long Lake Worth lagoon, was referred to as Lake Worth, so I suppose it did not really matter where the mapmaker plopped their little Lake Worth circle on the map.The current town was incorporated in 1912, twenty-two years after this map was created.

Township map of Peninsular Florida issued by the Associated Railway Land Department of Florida. 1890 ... Copyright, 1890, for the Associated Railway Land Department of Florida, By D.H. Elliott, General Land Agent. Matthews, Northrup & Co., Buffalo, New York.---segment showing Lake Worth and Palm Beach on the East Coast (Credit: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection - www.davidrumsey.com)

Township map of Peninsular Florida issued by the Associated Railway Land Department of Florida. 1890 … Copyright, 1890, for the Associated Railway Land Department of Florida, By D.H. Elliott, General Land Agent. Matthews, Northrup & Co., Buffalo, New York.—segment showing Lake Worth and Palm Beach on the East Coast                                                    (Credit: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection – http://www.davidrumsey.com)

In 1892, millionaire oil tycoon/industrialist Henry Flagler discovered this corner of Florida, declaring it “paradise” and deciding that it would make an ideal tourist destination for super-wealthy northerners (such as the Wm. A. Rockefeller family—see clipping below). And, with that, the ‘Flagler Era,’ which was well underway in places further north in Florida, stretched south to encompass Lake Worth. In 1894, his east coast railway was extended south to reach West Palm Beach, ensuring a steady flow of tourists. That coincided with the grand opening of his Royal Poinciana Hotel, a luxurious winter haven on the barrier islands on the Atlantic side of the lagoon, where the beaches are. You can see pictures of the Royal Poinciana Hotel below; it was built to face the lagoon. A train track constructed over Lake Worth lagoon delivered guests straight to the hotel. Gargantuan in size (allegedly becoming the largest wooden structure in the world), it was able to accommodate up to two thousand guests; bellhops made deliveries on bicycles. A daily three-mile walk could be achieved just by traversing the hotel’s labyrinth of corridors. Two years later, Flagler opened the nearby Palm Beach Inn (today known as the Breakers, so named because of its position on the beach where the sound of waves breaking can be heard). It has undergone numerous renovations over the years and is still welcoming guests today.

1926-movie-poster

Poster for 1926 film starring Bebe Daniels: The Palm Beach Girl

Like many massive and grand Victorian hotels, the Royal Poinciana Hotel did not survive. It fell into decline in the 1920s and a 1928 hurricane and the 1929 stock market finished it off. The palatial hotel, an icon of the Gilded Age, was demolished in 1935.

I’d love to travel back in time to catch a glimpse of life in and around the hotel during its heyday, and of early Palm Beach / Lake Worth in general. Unfortunately, it appears that hardly any films exist from that period. Two directed by accomplished actress Pearl F. White (1889-1938), one in 1916 (Island of Happiness) and one in 1917 (Isle of Tomorrow), have apparently been lost—for an interesting article about them, click here. Also lost to the sands of time was the 1926 film starring actress Bebe Daniels, The Palm Beach Girl. It and some other early films (all lost, apart from one which is in a private collection) were mentioned in the Palm Beach Past blog. For that article, please click here. Perhaps Hollywood will some day produce a film that captures that era, in all its grandeur. Until then, I guess we just have to view the existing images and use our imaginations!

CLICK ON THE FIRST IMAGE, AND THEN USE THE ARROWS; for an interesting article containing more images and information about early Palm Beach, click here.

TO VIEW AS A SLIDE SHOW, CLICK ON THE FIRST IMAGE, AND THEN USE THE ARROWS.

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