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Introduction

The first pioneers who settled in what is now Palm Beach County
were not wealthy but they found their “tropical paradise” despite its
“millions of mosquitoes to the square inch.”

Early settlers to Palm Beach

Early settlers to what is now Palm
Beach is the midst of a dense jungle,
ca. 1880.

Palm Beach County is a diverse community of people who came from many parts of the United States and the world. Most of the first settlers made their way from the North and the Midwest in the latter part of the 19th century, and for various reasons, from improving their health to seeking adventure. But they all faced the same hardships: a wilderness that was beautiful but daunting, and what pioneer Lillie Pierce Voss described as “millions of mosquitoes to the square inch.” There were few people, no post offices, and no roads to transport goods to northern markets. Once settlers arrived, they were virtually cut off from the rest of the world. With ingenuity and grit, the county’s earliest permanent residents gradually found ways to meet these challenges and connect with the rest of the world. 

This place was nothing but a wilderness when we came here in 1876, but how beautiful that wilderness was. When my husband landed from his sailboat, he crawled on his hands and knees through the jungle to find a place to build our house. The people who first settled Palm Beach were not people of means, no means at all, hardly. But they didn’t need money much.

— Ella Geer Dimick

The first white settlers in Palm Beach County lived around 22-mile-long Lake Worth, then an enclosed freshwater lake, named for Colonel William Jenkins Worth, who helped to end the Second Seminole War in Florida in 1842. During the pioneer era, the entire area was known as Lake Worth; the town by that name would not exist until 1912.

Colonel William Jenkins Worth

Colonel William Jenkins Worth
(1794-1849), last commander of
U.S. forces in Florida

The first arrivals made their homes on Hypoluxo Island, near the south end of Lake Worth, and on the east side of the lake, now Palm Beach. Although the Palm Beach homesteads stretched from the lake to the ocean, most settlers built not on the oceanfront but on the lake. The middle of the island, and their property, was a swamp full of alligators and mosquitoes. The white settlers laid planks across it to make their way to the ocean, which they used for bathing and fishing. TheSeminole Indians before them did not live on the barrier island, but rather inland.

The mosquito as seen by pioneer artist George Potter

The mosquito as seen by pioneer artist
George Potter.

 

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