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Historical Hidden Gem Museums Tracing the Growth and Development of West Palm Beach

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

This article was originally published in Up and Away Magazine. It is reprinted here with permission. To view the original article visit this link: Up and Away Magazine.



Shipwrecks, trains, hurricanes, “Black Gold,” the search for a better life, and tourism all contributed to the development and growth of West Palm Beach, Florida. It is a story that has developed over the past three centuries. History lovers can visit these eight small, yet intriguing museums to gain insight and knowledge about the historical roots of West Palm Beach. Begin at The Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum, which gives you an overview of West Palm Beach History. The other museums allow you to gain in depth knowledge on specific factors that contributed to the growth and development of West Palm Beach. Each is a hidden gem and many of these museums are free.

Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum - West Palm Beach, Florida

To gain an overview of growth and development of West Palm Beach, start at The Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum in downtown West Palm Beach. The Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum is located in the historic 1916 Courthouse at 300 N Dixie Highway. The restoration of this historic building is a marvel, with details available at the museum. The museum is operated by the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.


Through interactive galleries, this museum tells the story of the earliest days of inhabitation by Native Americans and shipwreck survivors through the post Civil War population influx, the 1920’s land boom, the impact of fertile agriculture fields west of the city around Lake Okeechobee, and how tourism drove growth from the beginning of West Palm Beach’s development. This history museum is open Monday to Saturday 10:00am to 4:00pm. Admission is free.


SD Spady Cultural Heritage Museum

Delray Beach, Florida

For more information on how people of African descent arrived and thrived in Palm Beach County visit the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum. It is dedicated to discovering, collecting, and sharing Black history and heritage in Palm Beach County. It is housed in the former house of Solomon David Spady, a prominent African-American educator and community leader in Delray Beach from 1922 to 1957. It is a destination for people of all cultures seeking information about Florida’s early black communities and way of life.


These populations established themselves during the pre-Civil War period due to immigration from the Caribbean Islands, and the post Civil War period due to the influx of freed slaves from bordering States. The museum galleries artfully exhibit the talents and influences of Palm Beach County African-Americans, Caribbean-Americans, and Haitian-Americans in medicine, education and the arts. Located at 170 NW Fifth Avenue in Delray Beach, the museum is open Tuesday to Saturday, 11:00am to 4:00pm. The museum hosts Ride & Remember Trolley Tours and Walking Tours. Contact the museum for more information on these tours at 561-279-8883 or email spadymuseum@gmail.com.


Essential Online Links For Booking Your Trip to Southeast Florida


Logistics:

There are 3 airports that service Southeast Florida, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach: Uber and Taxis are available. Tri Rail and Brightline trains service Fort Lauderdale and Miami Airports. Private and Multiple Passenger Transfers are available from all three airports: ☆Transportation Service Miami Hotel - Miami International Airport


Advanced Tickets for the Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi.


Save on entry fees: If you plan on visiting multiple museums or attractions, it is more economical to purchase a Miami Sightseeing Pass to save money, you can buy this pass for 1, 2, 3, or 5 days.


Top-rated Southeast Florida Tours and Experiences:

Seven Isles of Fort Lauderdale Kayak Tour (one of my favorite Southeast Florida experience)

Downtown West Palm Beach Food Tour (great for foodies)

Wynwood Graffiti Golf Cart Small-Group Tour (perfect for art lovers)


Top Places to Stay in Southeast Florida:

1 Hotel South Beach (Luxury, Miami)

Yotel (Budget Friendly, Miami)

Hollywood Beachside Boutique (Budget Friendly, Fort Lauderdale)

The Pillars Hotel (Luxury, Fort Lauderdale)

The White Elephant (Luxury, Palm Beach)

The Canopy (Budget Friendly, West Palm Beach)

Crane's Beach House Boutique Hotel & Luxury Villas (Amazing Tropical Vibe, Delray Beach)


My favorite Guidebook for Florida: DK Eyewitness Florida

My favorite Novel about Southeast Florida: The Last Train to Key West



Lawerence E. Will Museum

Belle Glade, Florida

If you are interested in how the early Native Americans lived and the impact of agriculture on the growth of Palm Beach County, visit the Lawerence E. Will Museum. The museum is located about an hour west of West Palm Beach at 530 Main Street in Belle Glade, FL. This Museum brings to life the entire "Glades" experience, from the earliest Native Americans to the agricultural prosperity of today. The Glades region, which is centered around the southern rim of Lake Okeechobee, is the entryway to the Florida Everglades and home to fertile soil called “Black Gold.” From early years of community growth to survival and rebuilding after massive hurricanes, from pivoting to sugarcane production to developing pro and collegiate football players, Belle Glade has contributed to the financial stability and evolution of the region.


The Will Museum has a large collection of prehistoric artifacts from the early Native American settlers, referred to as the “Water People.” The history of agriculture in the area is detailed through a series of displays. These displays chart the evolution from small winter vegetable farms to large acreage farms of sugar cane and vegetables. Also there is an exhibit of the aftermath of the 1928 hurricane, which killed an estimated 3,000, flooding the area and putting much of the Glades underwater for weeks. The museum is open 10:00am to 2:30pm Monday to Thursday.



Henry Morrison Flagler Museum

Palm Beach, Florida

Creating a railroad that would carry people from as far north as Michigan to South Florida and building several palatial hotels to welcome tourists was the vision of Henry Flagler. These two factors, trains and tourism were the biggest contributors to the growth and development of West Palm Beach. To explore their impact visit the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum on Palm Beach Island.


Also known as Whitehall, this mansion was Henry Flagler’s personal winter residence for himself and his second wife. Built in 1902, the 100,000 square foot Gilded Age mansion is a monument to the opulent days of the early 1900s in Palm Beach. The museum has an exhibit dedicated to the railroad, including Flagler’s own railway car. Guided and self guided tours are available for visitors to learn about the early days of Palm Beach and how a shipwreck filled with coconuts was the reason Henry Flagler gave Palm Beach its name. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 1:00am to 5:00pm and Sunday, 12:00pm to 5:00pm. The admission is $26.00.


The Schmidt Boca Raton History Museum

Boca Raton, Florida

If you are interested in the role architecture and tourism played in the growth of Palm Beach County, visit The Schmidt Boca Raton History Museum. This museum is owned and operated by the Boca Raton Historical Society. The museum has an entire room devoted to architect, Addison Mizner. The Schmidt Museum brings to life the mind of this man who dramatically impacted the architecture of Boca Raton, West Palm Beach and Palm Beach. It includes architectural drawings and images of the architect’s plans for a resort enclave that grew into the town of Boca Raton.


The museum also contains informative galleries describing the role of agriculture, Native Americans and people of African descent in the history of this area.The Schmidt Boca Raton History Museum is located in the historic Town Hall, 71 N Federal Hwy, Boca Raton, FL. This museum is open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 10:00am - 4:00pm The admission price is $12.00 for adults and the first Saturday of each month is free.


Jupiter Lighthouse and Museum

Jupiter, Florida

Shipwrecks played a major role in how Europeans came to West Palm Beach and the surrounding county. To learn more about their impact, visit the the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum. The Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the 120-acre federally designated, Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area. Climbing tours of the lighthouse are offered daily at 12:00pm and 2:00pm, Tuesday through Sunday.


The Lighthouse is located just off US Highway 1 in Jupiter, Florida, on the north side of the Jupiter Inlet. As of March 13, 2023, the US 1 Bridge is closed for replacement. Due to the bridge construction the museum building is closed for renovations. The admissions and gift shop is located on the east side of the museum parking lot. Admission to the lighthouse is $12.00 for adults with discounts for seniors, veterans and children. Children must be 48” tall to climb the lighthouse. The lighthouse is open Tuesday through Sunday 10:00am to 4:00pm.


DuBois House

Jupiter, Florida

Just across the Jupiter Inlet in the center of DuBois Park sits the Dubois Pioneer House. Does the daily life of the first European settlers to this area interest you? This is the place to visit. Built in 1898, the DuBois Pioneer Home is one of the last remaining homesteads of its type. It is an example of a self-sufficient south Florida pioneer homestead. Built atop of a Native American shell midden by the DuBois Family, this homestead is rich in history and archeological interest.


The midden dates back 6000 years, making it older than the Egyptian Pyramids. The midden is a remnant of one of the last coastal shell mounds in southeast Florida. Discovered at this site are glass beads created in the 1500’s in Murano Italy. They are believed to be used by Ponce de Leon to trade with the Native Americans. The Dubois Pioneer Home is open for docent lead tours Tuesdays - Thursdays, 10:00am to 1:00pm. If you are interested in a tour, please email PARK– duboishome@pbcgov.org to confirm the schedule.


Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

Delray Beach, Florida

Boca Raton was home to a Japanese enclave in the early 1900’s, attracted to the area by agriculture. The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens is the place to go and learn more about the life and spirit of these Japanese Pioneers. Visitors will discover a century old link between Japan and South Florida, where a group of young Japanese farmers created a community intent on revolutionizing agriculture in Florida.


Their history and experiences in south Florida are documented in a fascinating 15 minute, continuously running film. The museum where you can view the film sits in the middle of a serene Japanese Garden. Make sure you allot time to enjoy the gardens and have a refreshment in their cafe. The museum and gardens are open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00am to 5:00pm. Admission is $15.00 with discounts for seniors, children and active duty military.


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