A native American tribe known as the Jaega were the earliest reported inhabitants of the section of the Florida Atlantic coast in the areas of Martin and Palm Beach Counties. Remains of shell mounds can be found near the Jupiter inlet, inland in what is now Boynton Beach and just south of the Boynton Inlet, indicating pre-Columbian Jaega habitation.
The city’s first settlers were Samuel and Fannie James, an African American couple and ex-slaves, known as the Black Diamonds, who settled on the shores of the Lake Worth Lagoon in 1883, as recorded on stone monument located at the northwest corner of Lucerne Avenue and J Street. The couple made a claim for their land under the Homestead Act in 1883 and received a receipt for their claim on February 1, 1887. Their holdings, which doubled over time and came to include the area between Lake Avenue, 12th Avenue South, the FEC tracks and the Lake Worth Lagoon, were subsequently sold to the Palm Beach Farms Co. in 1910.
The initial name for the post office was Jewel (sometimes spelled Jewell). Fannie James was the first postmaster. The post office was located in a small dry good shop which the couple operated to serve the lake traffic which connected the small pioneer homesteads located along the banks of the Lake Worth Lagoon. Area pioneers report that Jewell was included as a stop on the route of the Barefoot mailman via the Celestial Railroad by July 1889.
After Henry Flagler extended his rail line south from West Palm Beach to Miami in 1896, a land development scheme was created to plant a townsite between the railroad and the lake. Purchasers of agricultural lots, west of town, would also receive a small 25 foot lot within the City of Lake Worth, closer to the beach. The developer, Bryant & Greenwood, proposed to name the town Lucerne, however the United States Postal Service refused to accept the name because there already was a Lake Lucerne post office north of Miami in Dade County. Therefore, the city fathers settled on the name Lake Worth, for the lake on which the fledgling town was sited. One of the main streets was named Lucerne Avenue instead.
In April 1911, “A solitary Indian mound surrounded by wild woods marked the spot where flourishing Lake Worth is now growing beyond the most vivid imagination”, according to a promotional article published in the Lake Worth Herald, The population of the nascent city stood at 38 in July 1912. During that busy year, the library, schoolhouse, newspaper, Women’s Club, Chamber of Commerce and first church were established. By year end, publication of the “city’s first census showed 308 residents, 125 houses, 10 wagons, seven automobiles, 36 bicycles and 876 fowls.”.
The town was growing so fast that a new addition was platted in that inaugural year. The area along the Intracoastal from 5th Avenue South to 15th Avenue South still bears the name Addition 1. “In the new addition, the Lake front has been divided into large lots covered with palm and tropical growth, where we expect to see charming villas and winter homes spring up as by enchantment. It will be the fashionable part of town, where the wealthy of the earth can display their artistic taste and make ideal homes. These lots are selling so fast that but very few are left.” Included in the new addition were South Palm Park, a boat dock and P Street (now South Palmway) with its vibrant, green median and collection of 31 species of palm trees.
Lake Worth was incorporated as the “Town of Lake Worth” in June 1913. Many of the first residents were farmers from other parts of the American south and mid-west, looking to benefit from the growing winter vegetable market of the time. The city benefited with the rest of south Florida during the Florida land boom of the 1920s. A wooden automobile traffic bridge over Lake Worth was completed in 1919. The first casino and municipal beach complex was completed shortly thereafter. The 1920s also saw the completion of the Gulf Stream Hotel, now on the National Register of Historic Places.
The city was severely damaged in the 1928 hurricane, toppling the bell tower on the elementary school (today the City Hall Annex) and destroying the beachfront casino and automobile bridge over Lake Worth. This led to a severe economic decline within the community, during the Great Depression. Things were so dire in the city in the 1930s, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration built a striking, moorish-styled “City Gymnasium” on the corner of Lake Avenue and Dixie Highway. The building today serves as City Hall.
First National Bank of Lake Worth was issued their National charter on May 14, 1920 and fell into receivership on April 2, 1927. The First National was located at 803 Lake Avenue in Lake Worth. Only 5 notes are known on this rare short lived bank which was the only bank to issue currency in Lake Worth.
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Notes & Currency
- 18__ Fernandina $3 Obsolete Note
- 1882 $50 Jacksonville Note Charter #3869
- 1902 $10 Punta Gorda Note Charter #10512
- 1882 $5 Palatka Note Charter #3223
- 1902 $5 Key West Note Charter #7942