How a shipwreck and a tycoon put Palm Beach on the map


Anyone strolling through Palm Beach today, with its fabulous shops, marvellous hotels and well developed amenities, would probably be surprised to learn than the town was only founded 100 years ago! General Manager of the Chesterfield Palm Beach, Francine Boissonneault, gives some intriguing insights into how it came to be created in the first place.


18th March 2011

The Chesterfield Palm Beach
francine boissonneault

Francine Boissonneault

The area around the island that is now known as Palm Beach was, from the early 18th century, home to the Seminole Indians. By the end of the 1700s their numbers were swelled by slaves who escaped from rice plantations in South Carolina and Georgia, becoming known as Black Seminoles.

During the American Revolution, the British—who controlled Florida—recruited Seminoles to raid frontier settlements in Georgia. The confusion of war allowed more slaves to escape to Florida and the British promised slaves freedom for fighting with them. These events made the Seminoles enemies of the new United States and over time these tensions led to a series of conflicts, known as the Seminole wars, which rumbled on between 1817 and 1858. Over the course of the wars most Seminoles were forced to relocate west of the Mississippi River in a process of Indian removal. fewer than 200 Seminoles remained in Florida and they fostered a resurgence in traditional customs and a culture of staunch independence


Co-ee-há-jo, a Seminole Chief

Despite these hostilities a few Europeans had settled along the coast around the island now known as Palm Beach. The name arises from an incident in 1878, when the Providencia, a brigantine carrying a load of 20,000 cocoanuts harvested in Trinidad, was washed ashore. Since the weather was calm it has been suggested the captain intentionally ran aground to collect on the insurance. The locals claimed salvage rights then they joined the captain and crew in consuming the ships provisions, which included large quantities of wines and cigars – the party lasted two weeks! Once everyone sobered up they started planting the cocoanuts (which were not native to these shores) in a bid to establish a commercial cocoanut industry.

The very same year enormously wealth industrialist, Henry Flagler, visited Florida for the first time, then again in 1883. Noting the lack of good hotels and transportation he also recognised the area’s potential as a tourist destination. In 1885 he began constructing the 540 room Hotel Ponce de Leon (named after the Spaniard who claimed Florida for Spain in 1513) in St Augustine. Realizing the need for a sound transportation system to support his hotel ventures, Flagler purchased the Jacksonville, St. Augustine & Halifax Railroad, extending it to West Palm Beach by 1894.

On August 24, 1901, Flagler married his third wife, Mary Lily Kenan, and the couple soon moved into their Palm Beach estate, Whitehall. Built as a wedding present to Mary Lily in 1902, Whitehall was a 60,000 square foot, 55-room winter retreat that established the Palm Beach season for the wealthy of America’s Gilded Age. Shortly afterwards, on April 17th 1911, the town of Palm Beach (taking its name from those salvaged cocoanuts, which were now thriving plantations) was incorporated – and has never looked back.

The centenary programme is already underway. Don’t miss these events:

Worth Avenue

Worth Avenue

Historical Walking Tour of Worth Avenue

Wed, 23 March, 11:00 – 12:00, 256 Worth Avenue, Palm Beach (map). Also 13th and 27th April.

Led by noted historian, Jim Ponce and sponsored by the Worth Avenue Association, join Mr. Ponce in the Gucci Courtyard (256 Worth Avenue) for a 1 hour walking tour of wonderful Worth Avenue. For further information call 561-659-6909 or visit their website at

Paris, 1911 – a Century Celebration

Sun, 27 March, 15:00 – 16:00, The Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach (map)

Mr. Siegel will perform enduring and engaging masterpieces written exactly 100 years ago. This event is sponsored by The Society of the Four Arts. For further information or to purchase tickets call 561-655-7226.

2nd Annual Barrett-Jackson Road Rally

Friday, 1 Apr

The rally begins at 3:00 p.m. and will travel from the Palm Beach County Convention Center to the Gucci Courtyard on Worth Avenue. The event will be the 2nd Annual Road Rally at the 9th Annual Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in Palm Beach which will take place April 7 – 9 at the Americraft Expo Center at the South Florida Fairgrounds.

Citibank book signing

Fri, 1 April, 15:00 – 17:00, 400 Royal Palm Way, Palm Beach, FL 33480 (map)

Citibank located at 400 Royal Palm Way, will have on display from 10:00 to 5:00 important works of art by Deborah Pollack. From 3:00 – 5:00 they will host a reception for Ms. Pollock who will be available to sign books. Champagne and light refreshments will be served at that time. For more information please contact Elizabeth Guiles at 561-835-4571.

Palm Beach Theatre Centennial Follies

Fri, 1 April, 20:00 – 22:00 Henry M. Flagler Museum (map), also 2nd April

The Centennial Follies is a book musical that follows a young couple on their second marriage who come to Palm Beach to celebrate the Centennial – Directed by Barrie Ingham. For more information please call 561-366-8980 or visit

Garden Club of Palm Beach Flower Show

Sat, 2 April, 10:00 – 16:00

Presented by the Garden Club of Palm Beach at the Esther B. O’Keefe Gallery – The Society of the Four Arts, 2 Four Arts Plaza. Hours open to the public: April 2, 10 am – 4pm and April 3, 12 noon – 4pm. For more information call 561-837-6635 or visit their website at

A Salute to America – Gala Dinner Dance

Sat, 2 April, 19:00 – 20:00, The Beach Club, Palm Beach (map)

In Honor of the Palm Beach Centennial and 79th Anniversary of the Palm Beach Round Table this event will be held at the Beach Club and is being hosted by the Palm Beach Round Table. The public is invited. For reservations and more information please contact Barbara Anderson at 561-832-6418.

All-Town Celebration

Sunday, 17 April.

The Town of Palm Beach’s All-Town Celebration takes place at Henry Flagler’s magnificent mansion, between 6pm and 9pm – there’s going to be a spectacular parade, followed by an awe inspiring sound and light show. It’s free to the public so why not come and join the party?!

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