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Palm Beach, Florida

Highways and Byways of Florida


Palm Beach, the best known of all Florida resorts, is on this sandy peninsula, which only a few years ago was an almost barren waste. Now Palm Beach is a national institution with a reputation that is worldwide. It is often called the "millionares' playground." Here is the largest hotel for tourists in existence, six stories high, and nearly a fifth of a mile long, with accommodation for two thousand people. One of the hotel's features is a corridor lined with fashionable shops. The people who throng it include not only those from every part of our own country, but, in normal times, many foreign diplomats and persons of wealth from abroad.

Palm Beach is a gem in a jungle. There are those, however, to whom the jungle is the gem rather than what man's imagination and labor have produced in a fashionable resort. Wilderness merging into the Everglades begins to the westward almost with the lake shore, and large game is found throughout the region.

The Palm Beach that human ingenuity has brought into being is a tropical paradise. Unlimited wealth has conveyed thither warm-climate trees and shrubs from the ends of the earth and set them in bewildering profusion. In January, 1879, a Spanish bark was castaway on the coast, and her cargo of cocoanuts was distributed by the waves for miles up and down the beach. Thousands of the nuts were picked up and planted with the hope, rather than the expectation, that they would grow. The planting consisted of laying the nuts on the ground in rows, in circles, singly and in groups, with the result that now the cocoa palm trees lift their graceful fronds above every roof, and line the walks and avenues of the entire vicinity with the gray columns of their trunks, and stand in stately swaying rows along the shore. Of all the alien trees they are the most distinguished. At maturity a tree will bear two hundred nuts a year. The ungarnered nuts strew the ground and you can pick up one when you choose, beat off the husk, bore a hole in the one soft spot at the stem end of the shell, and drink the cool delicious milk. Young fruit is constantly starting, and nuts are coming to maturity and falling all through the year.

Palm Beach is essentially a society resort, and practically all the social activities are out of doors. The official day begins at eleven, when a multitude of people assemble on the beach, and everywhere are color and movement. The whirl of gayety continues until late in the night. The three months from New Years to April are the height of the season.

One of the institutions of the place is the Beach Club, famous for its restaurant, but principally for its gambling. No man under twenty-five is admitted to membership, and occasionally a person of great wealth, whom you would naturally expect to be welcomed, is rejected; but an action of this kind now and then only makes the demand for admission more insistent.

The chief place south of Palm Beach is the "Magic City," Miami, at the mouth of a little river of the same name that flows down to the sea from the Everglades. It is on the site of old Fort Dallas, which was a considerable military post in the Seminole War, established in 1838 and abandoned twenty years later. Miami consisted of several houses and a store in 1895. The store was essentially an Indian trading station where the Seminoles bartered alligator hides and such other trophies of their rifles as were not needed for home consumption. It was not uncommon to have two or three canoes moored to the wharf with an indefinite number of squaws and papooses on board together with a supply of fresh meat in the shape of turtles and a live pig or two. The river can be ascended in small boats to its outlet from the Everglades, about six miles from where it enters Biscayne Bay.

The bay is a lagoon protected from the ocean by numerous coral islands. A two and a half mile bridge, the longest roadway bridge in the world, connects Miami Beach with the mainland. Occasional stretches of beach along the bay afford good walking. On one of these beaches, about a dozen miles south of Miami and a half mile north of Shoal Point, is a bed of "singing sand" that emits a musical sound under foot. Another marvel of the bay is a spring of fresh water that wells up off the southeast coast from the salty ocean. All that a thirsty mariner has to do to supply himself and his companions with drinking water, is to dip it up at this spot.

Excerpt from "The East Coast and the Indian River" Highways and Byways of Florida, 1918.


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