Delray Beach has been occupied for approximately 12,000 years. Prior to the Civil War (1860-65), tribes of Africans, Seminole Native Americans, and Black Seminoles were already living in South Florida along with white Europeans hunters, trappers and farmers. Runaway slaves fled to Florida in antebellum times and freed slaves entered Florida after the Civil War to begin new lives as farmers. Florida became the 27th state to join the Union in1845. Military maps of the Seminole Wars (1850′s) depict a natural barrier island. The beach area, called Orange Grove Haulover, named after a nearby orange grove, is now the City of Delray Beach. The Orange Grove House of Refuge, built by the United States Life-Saving Service (a predecessor of the United States Coast Guard), was to assist survivors of shipwrecks off the coast. By 1894 the African-American community was large enough to establish the first school in the area. The Linton/Delray area was then part of Dade County until 1909 when Palm Beach County was established.
The Lieutenant Governor of Florida from 1868 to 1870, William Gleason and his wife Sara purchased land here. Their sons, W.H.H. and George, operated a real estate business. In 1885, Henry Flagler purchased the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Halifax River Railway to build a railroad that would connect the entire east coast of Florida. Flagler was granted millions of acres of land from the State of Florida to build his railroad. Flagler also purchased many thousands of acres of land under the name of Model Land Company along the east coast of Florida including hundreds of acres in Delray Beach. The Florida Coast Line Canal (Intracoastal Waterway) was made navigable in parts in 1890 allowing easier access to areas along the southeast coast. By 1894 a number of people of African decent had settled here from north Florida, other nearby southern states and the Bahamas. Their population grew as they encouraged their relatives to relocate to the area.
William S. Linton, a U.S. Congressman for Michigan (1893-1897) arrived in the area in 1894 along with David Swinton and Major Nathan Boynton. Congressman Linton bought tracts of land and named the town Linton. He began selling plots and soon the Linton settlers began to achieve success with truck farming of winter vegetables for the northern market. In 1895, E. Burlsem Thomson, a civil engineer who arrived with Linton, drew the plat map of the Town of Linton, including about a mile along the beach. Adolf Hofman, a German native of a prosperous farming family bought land from Flagler’s Model Land Company in 1896, which stretched from NE 4th Street and westward from the canal (Intracoastal) to Swinton Avenue. In 1896 Henry Flagler extended his Florida East Coast Railroad south from West Palm Beach to Miami with a station in Linton to ship produce to the north. When a cold winter killed most crops in 1898, many of the settlers left, including William Linton. As part of an attempt to change the community’s luck, the farming settlement of Linton changed its name to Delray in 1901, derived from a Detroit neighborhood across from Windsor, Canada. In 1902 the Ladies Improvement Association was established and led the effort for many of the town’s amenities such as a cemetery, public library, Atlantic Avenue improvements, and a town hall.
Unfortunately, a cold winter killed most crops in 1898 and many of the settlers left, including William Linton, who defaulted on his land payments. As part of an attempt to change the community’s luck, the farming settlement of Linton changed its name to Delray in 1901. W.W. Blackmer, a town leader suggested the name “Delray” which was derived from a Detroit neighborhood across the channel from Windsor, Canada. In 1902 the Ladies Improvement Association was established and this small group of women led the effort for many of the town’s amenities such as a cemetery, public library, Atlantic Avenue improvements, and a town hall. In 1903, hurricane winds wrecked the British ship, SS Inchulva, near the south end of Delray’s municipal beach. Early settlers of African decent who emigrated from the Bahamas initiated the rescue of the survivors. In 1904, a Japanese agricultural colony was established south of Delray and Jo Sakai, the leader, named it “Yamato.” Henry Flagler recruited the first group of male Japanese settlers and in later years, their wives and children as well as relatives and friends joined them including George Morikami. Mr. Morikami donated more than 200 acres of land to start construction of the now renowned Japanese Gardens in West Delray Beach. Early Japanese settlers came to Delray for shopping, recreation and participation in civic events. Their children attended grade school in Yamato, but came to Delray to attend Delray High School.
With the town gaining in population, telephone service became available in 1908. In 1909 Palm Beach County was created from the northern portion of Dade County. By 1910, Delray had a population of 250. In 1911 the area west of the Intracoastal Waterway was incorporated as the Town of Delray. John Shaw Sundy became the first Mayor and served seven terms. That year the first bridge was built over the intracoastal, connecting the barrier island with the Town of Delray. Also in 1911 the area was chartered by the State of Florida as an incorporated town. In the same year, pineapple and tomato canning plants were built. Pineapples became the primary crop of the area, as reflected in the name of the present day Pineapple Grove neighborhood near downtown. The Delray School, built in 1913, now houses the Cornell Museum, part of Old School Square in Delray Beach. In 1914 the first city electric and water plants were built. Cason Cottage, built in 1915, is now operated by The Delray Beach Historical Society. By 1920, Delray’s population had reached 1,051.
In the 1920s, growing pineapples became harder when part of the Everglades was drained, lowering the water table. The extension of the Florida East Coast Railway to Key West resulted in competition from Cuban pineapples for the markets in the north. Delray’s economy shifted from farming to tourism and real estate. Modern utilities, sewer lines, paved streets, sidewalks and roads were constructed as hotels sprang up. At that time Delray was the largest town on the east coast of Florida between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. In 1923 the beach area was incorporated as Delray Beach. In 1927 Delray and Delray Beach merged into one town named Delray Beach. In 1925 a new separate building for the Delray High School was constructed, which is now the Crest Theatre at Old School Square. The collapse of the land boom in 1926 left Delray saddled with high bond debts and greatly reduced income from property taxes. The town struggled through the Great Depression until WWII, but rebounded favorably after the war and has been growing steadily since 1945. Delray Beach has a total land area of 15.37 square miles (not including West Delray, which is still growing). The city’s population is estimated to be about 65,000, and West Delray Beach has approximately 50,000 and growing.
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