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Lake Worth

Where The Tropics Begin

How The City Was Born

At the dawn of the 20th century, Lake Worth was an unpolished jewel. In fact, that was its name - Jewel. In 1911, a year after former slave-turned-proud-landowner Samuel James died, his wife Fannie sold the core area of their land to Palm Beach Farms Company when Harold Bryant and William Greenwood started to formulate plans for a City along the water.

The name Jewel was changed to the Townsite of Lucerne and the platting began. In January, 1912, Lake Avenue became the first street to be graded and rocked, but because there was no train station nearby, developers had to haul the material 2½ miles from Lantana. As the townsite began to grow, residents saw the need to construct a dock at the foot of Lake Avenue that extended 1,000 feet into the Intracoastal Waterway. Next came Bryant Park, a park that is still beautifully active today, complete with a modern Bandshell where people enjoy Concerts in the Park on Thursday nights.

As settlers came to the untamed wilderness that was South Florida of the early 1900's, they built their homes, a grocery store and a restaurant. They even had their own town pump where all the residents met to obtain their water and share in the events of the day as they formed Lake Worth.

The first woman to come to Lucerne was Mrs. Lockwood. She looked around at the pioneer conditions and she did what she did best - she gave a party. The custom in those days was to hold a dance in every new building just before it was occupied and she had her hands full as the new buildings popped up. Lucerne's oldest house was, until just recently, the home of the Greater Lake Worth Chamber of Commerce.

During the summer of 1912, the newly-developing City experienced a thunderstorm and it flooded everything. As settlers fought to rescue their new City from the water that covered it, people in neighboring communities shook their heads predicting a very short life for Lucerne. By August, the water had dried, the City's survey was completed and it provided for 55 miles of streets, and nearly as many miles of alleys, as well as 7,000 lots.  


The entire waterfront was deeded to the City by Palm Beach Farms and that included riparian rights that extended 1½ miles long. As the City was being platted, representatives from Palm Beach Farms were negotiating with the Florida East Coast Railway to provide transportation facilities. Arrangements were made for the company to give the railway a block for a small tract of land near a section house. Today, that property is the Lake Worth Utilities Plant.

J.O. King was the first Town Marshall. He used his shotgun, not to catch criminals, but to catch fish for his dinner. He used his stopwatch to make sure those with motor vehicles did not exceed the eight-miles-per-hour speed limit. In the City's early days, the mail went through Lantana since the City's post office was not open until August, 1912 with F.H. Billups serving as the first postmaster. In October, the City's name changed from Lucerne to Lake Worth after post office representatives learned there was already a town in Florida called Lucerne. During the fall of 1912, Lake Worth became a thriving City with its first school, a 24-foot by 36-foot building constructed of Florida pine on "M" Street between Lake and Lucerne Avenues where Amanda Snyder was the first teacher.

As the City continued to grown, the first church sprang up known then as the Union Church and today as the Congregational Church with A.H. Shipman as the first pastor. The first organization, the Social Club, was formed and is still in existence today as the Pioneers of the City of Lake Worth. The first business club, the Board of Trade, is now known as the Greater Lake Worth Chamber of Commerce and the City's first business, the Lake Worth Herald began as the Lucerne Herald and still operates today.

The City's first barber, Mr. Regal, started his business using a soap box for a chair. Mr. Waltz owned the first automobile in Lake Worth. The year 1912 ended with the publication of the City's first census showing 308 residents, 125 houses, 10 wagons, seven automobiles, 36 bicycles and 876 fowls. In 1913 concentrated efforts were being made to organize the Lake Worth Light, Water and Ice Company at the same time the Lake Worth Herald was calling for donations of books to start the City's first library and books poured in from all over the continent.

The first bathhouse, a two-story building made of Florida pine, was built just north of the present Casino building. The City's first band was formed that year called the "First Marine Band" and the first Roman Catholic church, headed by a group of people who moved to Lake Worth from Michigan started. Just a few months after they established a building fund and the church opened its doors in time for Easter Sunday services.

The first Clubhouse, later called the Auditorium in 1916, was built on Dixie Highway between Lake and Lucerne Avenues, which is the site of the present City Hall. In April 1916, A.E. Detweiler became the first contributor to the fund that was set up to pay off the outstanding debt against the Clubhouse in the amount of $800.  


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Politics began to creep into Lake Worth in 1913 when the first vote was taken to decide whether the City would have a franchise granting a Commission form of government. The first City Officials were elected in April 1913 when the City received its first Charter. J.W. Means, President of the Lake Worth Bank, was elected by acclamation to the Office of Mayor. A.H. Shipman was elected Vice-Mayor and K.L. Hifner was elected Town Clerk.

In June 1913, the first girl was born in Lake Worth. Her name is Jean Childs Addison and she still proudly makes Lake Worth her home. Also that month, ground-breaking was held for the erection of the Florida Hotel and work on Ocean Avenue was assured after $85,000 in bonds was given to the banks.

Improvements were made to the FEC Railroad, road work upgraded the streets, a 600-pound bell for the Fire Department was purchased in October, 1913, the first sugar cane quantity raised in Lake Worth was produced and on October 17, the official opening of the Bank of Lake Worth was held when $16,018.76 was deposited. City Commissioners promised to build sidewalks in the business section and in November the first street signs were erected.

In 1913, City Commissioners voted that no buildings would be erected in the future unless a permit was obtained. The necessity for street lighting became so great that the people didn't want to wait for electric service and kerosene lamps were provided on Lake Avenue from the railroad tracks to the lakefront between 17th Avenue and 6th Avenue. Soon, Lake Worth built its own power plant. The first ferry was used to cross the Intracoastal Waterway in 1913 to reach the Atlantic Ocean and beachgoers were charged five cents to take the ferry.

By the start of 1914, improvements were being made at Ocean Beach where the water temperature on January 1st was 75 degrees. Bids were advertised for a telephone franchise. On March 20, 1914, the first carload of paper ever consigned to a newspaper in this part of Florida reached the Lake Worth Herald containing 20 tons of paper 35 inches by 48 inches. In May, 1914, the City held its first municipal election and James Love was elected Mayor with a total of 44 votes.

At 6 p.m. on May 18, 1914, the electric current was turned on. Lake Worth had modernized and the kerosene lamp was relegated to the past. In 1914, the City's first baseball team was formed and they had an undefeated first season. Work began on the new Episcopal Church at the corner of "P" Street and Lucerne Avenue where Episcopalians still worship at St. Andrew's and the Brophy, the City's first movie house was open. That year, the City fathers voted to pay the Marshall a small salary.

In Oct. 1914, moving pictures of Lake Worth were taken to advertise the City and surrounding area. The idea originated with the Lake Worth Herald and the work was donated by H.J. Bryant of Bryant and Greenwood. The pictures were shown in hundreds of cities and towns in the United States.  


Between 1914 and 1915, the first municipal building was constructed and was a combination City Hall, Fire Station and Library. It also held two jail cells, but those cells were not used until 1917. In early 1915, the first lighted sign was installed across Lake Avenue and Dixie Highway. Its job was to advertise the City of Lake Worth, but it had one minor error - Lake Worth was spelled "LakeWorth" in one word.

In August, 1915, the City's first twins, Irvin and Irvene Childs were born. In 1916, as more children were born, the City's first school house moved and the second school was dedicated at the site currently known as the City Hall Annex.

By the end of World War I, City Commissioners, with a firm belief in Lake Worth's future, levied higher assessments against properties to pay for the many improvements. The first bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway was built in July, 1919 and was one of the longest wooden toll- free bridges in the United States.

A permanent Fire Chief was appointed in 1921 and in 1922 the Lake Worth Casino was opened where gambling was legal until the mid-1930's and bathers enjoyed a salt-water swimming pool. Lake Worth High School was dedicated in 1922 and the first graduating class in 1923 was made up of seven girls. There were approximately 439 graduating seniors in Lake Worth High School's Class of 1998.

In 1924, the Oakley Theatre opened on the site of the current Lake Worth Playhouse. It had to be remodeled after the 1928 hurricane. The first stop light was installed in 1925 at Lake Avenue and Dixie Highway. The Lake Worth Golf Course opened and the Gulfstream Hotel was dedicated. Both are still fully operational today.

The first Fire Station was built in 1925 at 1020 Lucerne Avenue with the second floor used as the Police Department. The outer shell of that building is still being used by the Fire Department today until the City's new Public Safety Complex is completed in the summer of 1998.

In 1926, North Grade and South Grade Elementary Schools were dedicated. Both schools are in operation today with North Grade still an elementary school and South Grade as a high school, is being reconverted into an elementary school. The hurricane of 1928 destroyed much of the City, claiming one life, while 2,000 people were killed in the county. In 1934, the WPA Auditorium was dedicated at 7 North Dixie Highway and today the Moorish-Mediterranean style building is the Lake Worth City Hall. In 1937, the second bridge was constructed in concrete over the Intracoastal Waterway replacing the wooden structure that was destroyed in the hurricane.  


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In 1939, the Lake Theatre opened on Lake Avenue and the art deco building is now the home of the Palm Beach Community College Museum of Contemporary Art. In 1941, the Lake Worth Post Office and the fourth home of the Lake Worth Library were dedicated. The Casino pool was converted to a fresh water pool and in 1954 the Lake Worth Pier, one of the longest municipal piers on Florida's Atlantic coast, was opened to the public. In 1961, the Tom G. Smith Municipal Power Plant was placed into operation and in 1970, the shuffleboard courts moved to the location of the first power plant.

The Ira Van Bullock Hall of Justice was dedicated in 1972 as the City's new Police Station and in 1980, the Fire Department's Station II opened at 1229 Detroit Street. In 1982, the Museum of the City of Lake Worth was established with Helen Greene as its curator on the second floor of the City Hall Annex. The Osborne Community Center was dedicated in 1990 and in 1991, the Second Avenue North Utilities Complex was dedicated. In 1996, Lake Worth voters approved a bond issue for a new Public Safety Complex which will streamline the efforts of the Police and Fire Departments.

The downtown area, Lake and Lucerne Avenues, as well as Dixie Highway, underwent extensive renovations by the Florida Department of Transportation by repaving the roadways, extending the sidewalks and installing bicycle paths.  


Palm Beach County's Focal Point For Art

Evoking images of gallery-lined streets not unlike the Village and Soho of New York - Lake Worth is emerging as Palm Beach County's focal point for the area's contemporary artists. The artists and their works, displayed in the Palm Beach Community College Museum of Art, represent a wide range of diverse cultural images.

With its international series of contemporary exhibitions featuring paintings/sculptures, as well as extensive glass and ceramic art, critically acclaimed artists have found a venue to display their works. Because of the location of the Palm Beach Community College Museum of Art in downtown Lake Worth, new galleries will soon be opening and veteran galleries will soon be moving to Lake Worth from other locations.

Lake Worth offers artists a premiere location to reach upscale buyers in an elegant and charming atmosphere. Because of the City's many attributes, Lake Worth has attained a rich and vibrant gallery life in recent years.

Lake Worth may be small, but it is a cosmopolitan city. Now, the Lake Worth Art League is adding to the city's reputation by creating a positive and cohesive environment for artists. Founded in 1941 to "further studies of arts and their development as a part of the cultural life of Lake Worth," the League offers classes taught by qualified professional artists; members exhibits as well as guest artists in the Gallery, located at 416 Lake Avenue; Outdoor Shows on the grounds; monthly membership meetings with demonstrations by well known artists, and lectures on specific topics.

Above the Lake Worth Art League Gallery is the Museum of the City of Lake Worth. Each room in the Museum tells a story about specific people and events at a certain time in history. The Museum is a blend of Lake Worth history and special donations. It is dedicated to the Pioneers of the City, and to those who have made events happen, change take place, and visions become realities.  


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