The first inlets – openings between Lake Worth and the Atlantic Ocean – were shallow and unreliable, but over time they were deepened and widened. Today four inlets connect Palm Beach County to the Atlantic Ocean; from north to south: Jupiter Inlet, Lake Worth (or Palm Beach) Inlet, South Lake Worth (or Boynton) Inlet, and Boca Raton Inlet.
Reaching Lake Worth in 1876
Ella J. Dimick, from one of the first families of settlers, described the lagoon as she saw it in the 19th century:
When I first came to Lake Worth in 1876, there were but two methods of reaching here. … From Jupiter one could take his choice, either going out of Jupiter Inlet a distance of ten miles at sea, or through the sawgrass route a distance of eight miles, rowing or poling, as it was impossible to sail through owing to the narrowness of the channel. … This was a hard day’s work, getting through to the “haulover,” where several men were needed to drag the boat across to Lake Worth, a distance of 250 yards. Difficult as it was, our freight and supplies were often carried through this way. …There was an inlet at this time, near the middle of the eastern shore, which was gradually closing ... so in June, 1877, nineteen determined men, comprising the entire male population of the lake section, located and opened the present inlet through what was then a dense hummock [sic].
The natural inlet at Jupiter is part of what has made Jupiter Island a barrier island. It was first called Jobe (Ho-bay) for the nearby Indian tribe. When the English arrived, the word evolved into Jove (Ho-vay), and then Jupiter. Jupiter Inlet first appeared on explorers’ maps and navigation charts in 1671. A 1770 map shows it as “Grenville Inlet, formerly Jupiter.”
This inlet was the nearest to the Loxahatchee River, Lake Worth Creek (running south from the river), and Jupiter Sound, but it opened and closed frequently, such as during bad storms. The inlet’s location also shifted at times to several hundred yards south of its present site, as shown on an 1855 map of the Fort Jupiter Reservation. The first manmade structures, rock jetties, were added in 1922. Regular dredging since 1947 has kept the inlet open.
About ten miles south of Jupiter Inlet, Michael and George Sears of Biscayne Bay were sailing along the coast in 1867 when they discovered a new opening from Lake Worth. Sailing into the lake, they met its first white settler, Augustus Oswald Lang, who had dug the trench that had expanded and lowered the lake to sea level. Lang’s Inlet began to change the landlocked freshwater lake into a brackish lagoon (salt and fresh water mixed), but it closed and opened frequently. In 1877 settlers hand-dug Lake Worth Inlet about a mile further north, introducing more salt water, and then returned to the original location. During the 1890s, a section of the Florida East Coast Canal (now the Intracoastal Waterway) connected the north end of Lake Worth Lagoon to Jupiter Inlet, releasing fresh water once again into the lagoon. The inlet was first stabilized in 1918.
In 1917 the South Lake Worth Inlet was created at Boynton Beach in a failed effort to improve tidal circulation and water quality. While this new opening brought more salt water into the lagoon, the West Palm Beach Canal (C-51) was cut, adding significant fresh water from Lake Okeechobee.
Between Lake Boca Raton and the ocean, a natural inlet opened and closed, shifting its location over time. Many early maps show no inlet in that area, while others show one named Rio Seco (Dry River) in the 1700s, when the Spanish were in residence. After 1838 it was called “Boca Raton Inlet.” The 1871 Florida Gazetteer reported how the changing location created a rapid cycling back and forth between salt and fresh water and aquatic life in the lake. About 1930 the inlet was improved structurally to keep it open.