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Palm Beach Gardens

John D. MacArthur, ca. 1970s.

John D. MacArthur, ca. 1970s.

By 1955, John D. MacArthur had accumulated thousands of acres of land in northern Palm Beach County through foreclosure and purchase. Five years later MacArthur incorporated 4,000 of his acres as the City of Palm Beach Gardens. His first name choice, Palm Beach City, was refused by the State of Florida as too similar to the Town of Palm Beach. The final name matched MacArthur’s plans for a garden-themed community, with winding streets named for the flowers and trees to be found throughout.

Palm Beach Gardens grew to 1,800 residents in just over a year. Arthur Rutenberg, who built homes on the east and west coasts of Florida from 1953 to 1969, constructed many of the first houses. By 1970 Palm Beach Gardens had a population of over 6,000 people; slow but steady growth throughout the ‘70s more than doubled the number of residents by 1980 to 14,400.

Howell L. Watkins Junior High School (now Middle School) opened in 1962 on Garden Boulevard (now MacArthur Boulevard). Edward M. Eissey, the first principal, later recalled how the school became the first Palm Beach Gardens City Hall: 

“The Skipper,” as John D. MacArthur was known, … said, “We need a place to house the mayor.” I said, “I didn’t know we had a mayor.” He said, “Well, I’m gonna name one,” and he named a gentleman named Harry Miller. … I gave him a small room in the school for the “mayorship.” The Skipper was so grateful for that, it helped us down the road [when Eissey was the first principal of Palm Beach Gardens High School.]

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