The History of Paradise: 10 must-see stops to appreciate The Palm Beaches’ past
Photos and artifacts bring history to life at these museums in The Palm Beaches.
Did you know coconut palms got their first foothold on Palm Beach because of a shipwreck? Or that the Jupiter Lighthouse has a direct connection to the North’s victory during the Civil War? Learning the history of The Palm Beaches is fun and fascinating for any family. Here are 10 historical landmarks that will introduce you to our entertaining past!
The City of Boca Raton takes pride in its beautifully designed old town hall. With a domed bell tower and gabled roof, this building hails back to 1926 and flaunts the elegant Mediterranean Revival style of design. But there’s more to this landmark than just its exterior. Inside, you’ll find exhibits that touch on many important moments in Boca Raton’s history, including early personal computer technologies from IBM and a study of celebrity architect Addison Mizner. There are special “museum hunts” for small children and families, and the kids are sure to enjoy a visit to Boca’s restored 1930s train depot, complete with steam train and passenger car.
Just a short drive up the road from Boca Raton is Delray Beach, a city with a sense of history and appreciation for the pioneers who created it. There certainly is a lot of history here, with the first evidence of settlement dating back to 1841, four years before Florida became a state. The charming Cason Cottage House is the home to the Delray Beach Historical Society and its permanent exhibits. The carefully preserved 1924 craftsman cottage is beautiful to see, and the grounds are carefully landscaped.
This Palm Beach landmark was originally built as a wedding present and winter retreat for Henry Morrison Flagler and his third wife, Mary Lily Kenan. The 75-room Gilded Age mansion, also known as Whitehall, was built in 1902. The building façade is breathtaking even today, with massive marble columns and a red barrel-tiled roof. Today, Whitehall is a National Historic Landmark and is open to the public as the Flagler Museum, featuring guided tours, changing exhibits and special programs. During your tour, learn about Palm Beach’s beginnings, including the wreck of the Spanish brig Providencia in 1878. The ship was carrying 20,000 coconuts when it ran aground, and the lost cargo soon filled the island with its first generation of palm trees. Henry Flagler named the island “Palm Beach” two decades later.
A few minutes’ drive north from Palm Beach is Jupiter, home of the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum. The construction of the lighthouse dates back to 1853, when a young Army lieutenant named George Gordon Meade selected the site and created the original design. Meade went on to defeat Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the Battle of Gettysburg, a campaign that changed the course of the war and American history. The museum contains interactive exhibits of the area’s Native Americans, early pioneers, lighthouse keepers and much more. And yes, you can climb up the 105 steps to the top of the lighthouse for a breathtaking view of the Inlet!
1916 Palm Beach County Courthouse/Johnson History Museum – West Palm Beach
Near downtown West Palm Beach is the beautiful and painstakingly restored 1916 County Courthouse building. This is the home of the Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum, packed with displays and rare photos from The Palm Beaches’ earliest days. One gallery focuses on the area’s natural environment, and the other looks at the pioneers who made The Palm Beaches what it is today, including railroading entrepreneur Henry Flagler, architect Addison Mizner and sports figures like Jack Nicklaus and Chris Evert. Video presentations as well as special exhibits make a visit here a fun afternoon for the entire family.
Lake Worth Historical Museum – Lake Worth
Located in the Lake Worth City Hall Annex Building, the Historical Museum preserves the history and culture of Lake Worth with a collection of books, photographs and documents. Displays show how pioneers lived and dressed in the late 1800s, a time when air-conditioning and insect control were nonexistent. Local ethnic groups contribute to cultural displays, showing Lake Worth’s colorful past.
Lawrence E. Will Museum of The Glades – Belle Glade
Drive inland through the vast western sections of The Palm Beaches and find yourself in Belle Glade, a community with many historical tales to tell. The Lawrence E. Will Museum of the Glades acts as a research center and document repository. Indian artifacts, photos and letters tell the story of the area’s earliest settlers. You’ll learn about the challenges faced by pioneer farmers and the notorious 1928 hurricane, a storm so powerful it changed the Glades forever.
An important historical resource in Delray Beach is the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum. The facility is dedicated to discovering, collecting and sharing the African-American history and heritage of Palm Beach County. The museum has exhibited shows highlighting the talents of many Americans with ties to Africa, Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean. A trolley tour is available, as well as photo galleries and other minority-focused shows.
Located at the South Florida Fairgrounds, Yesteryear Village is less a museum and more a living history demonstration. Built on nine acres, the park showcases buildings originally constructed in The Palm Beaches between 1895 and 1945. Interpreters in period clothing tell stories of life in simpler days, and the kids will find out what it was like to live without air conditioning or indoor plumbing (the horror!).
Other Museums for Family Fun
After your family has learned about the area’s past, look at some of the unusual and quirky museums that can be found right here in The Palm Beaches.