© Courtesy The Palm Beach Post
The “Gateway to Lake Okeechobee” was originally known as Hillsboro when it was established in 1918 at the head of the Hillsboro Canal. The Torry Island post office served residents until they agreed on Belle Glade as a name, short for “Belle of the Glades.”
Belle Glade’s population was less than 500 when the city was incorporated, five months before the Hurricane of 1928. The city’s first fire chief was Lawrence E. Will, author of six histories of south Florida and the son of Thomas E. Will, founder of Okeelanta. In the 1930s black author Zora Neale Hurston lived here while writing Their Eyes Were Watching God. Hurston was befriended by Sarah Lee Creech, who created the first anatomically correct dolls for African Americans, modeled after Belle Glade children.
For nine months in 1945 during World War II, about 250 German prisoners of war (POWs) were interred at a camp just east of Belle Glade, next to the Everglades Experiment Station. The men worked in a bean-canning factory, on the Lake Okeechobee Dike, or in sugarcane fields, for which they were paid 80 cents a day. Local farmers sometimes had to be convinced to hire the POWs by county agricultural agent Marvin V. “Red” Mounts.
© Courtesy Florida State Archives
Today Belle Glade is the largest city on the southern rim of Lake Okeechobee. The city’s motto is “Her soil is her fortune,” the same soil that rose from the swamplands to create other communities, most of which did not endure. On Torry Island, now part of Belle Glade, the state's last manually operated swing bridge crosses the Rim Canal inside the Herbert Hoover Dike.