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 reported to be ex-slaves, known as the Black Diamonds, who settled on the shores of the Lake Worth Lagoon near the current 5th Avenue South in 1885. (The stone monument located at the northwest corner of Lucerne Avenue and J Street inaccurately uses the date 1883, due to a transcription error). The couple made a claim for their land under the Homestead Act in 1885 and received a receipt for their claim on February 1, 1887. Their holdings, originally 187 acres, increased over time and came to include and additional 160 acres south of Lake Aveune between M and F Streets, 160 acres in College Park where Fannie ran a pineapple farm, and 160 acres to the south including the traditional Osborne Colored Addition. were subsequently sold to the Palm Beach Farms Co. in 1910.
The initial name for the post office was Jewell (sometimes spelled Jewel). Fannie James was the first postmaster. The post office was located in a small dry goods shop which the couple operated to serve the lake traffic that connected the small pioneerhomesteads 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 theCelestial 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 inDade 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.