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History and Landmarks of Delray Beach

Delray is a very interesting city that not a lot of people might know about. This section will tell you briefly the sequential development of Delray, the important people involved, and some landmarks that are still around today.

According to the Delray Beach Historical Society, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, there were most likely Native Americans or runaway slaves who settled in the area we know as Delray Beach.  Unfortunately, there is minimal recorded history about these people.  The area was originally known as Orange Grove Haulover.  It got that name from the old orange groves, most likely planted by Spaniards, including the famous explorer, Juan Ponce De Leon.  As noted in Delray’s main website, the Spanish sailors planted citrus along their trade routes to prevent scurvy, a disease that occurs when you have a severe lack of vitamin C in your diet.  The first recorded history of this land was back in 1876 with the Orange Grove Houses. These 10 houses were set up on the South Florida coastline and were there to help and rescue shipwrecked sailors from the treacherous Florida shore.  One of the houses, House of Refuge #3, was built in Delray.

Settlement began around 1884 with a group of African Americans who purchased some land from the Orange Grove Houses so they could farm. Ten years later, in 1894, their community was large enough to build the first school.

Also in 1894, a Republican Congressman, William Linton, moved to this area and bought a big chunk of land west of the Orange grove. He paid $25 per acre for this mosquito-infested tract of swampland and then sold individual plots for farming hoping to create a farming community. The community was named Linton but after a hard freeze in 1898, and many settlers leaving, including William Linton himself, the area was renamed Delray, meaning ‘of the king’ in Spanish.

Before 1909, Delray was part of Dade County but then Dade was split at the top which created Palm beach County. Later in 1915 they both contributed land to create Broward County which is now in between the two.

By 1910 Delray’s population grew to 250 people. Also, in that year pineapples became Delray’s main crop.  In 1920, the drainage of the Everglades really hurt this industry by lowering the water table, making it harder to grow pineapples.  Also around that time, there was ‘the Florida Land Boom’ which helped Delray with tourism and real estate. Water lines, sewage lines, sidewalks, roads, and hotels were built and Delray became the largest town on the East coast of Florida just over 1,000 residents.

In 1927 Delray changed its name to Delray Beach and the same year, the original House of Refuge burned down.

In 1930, Delray’s population had grown to 2,333 residents. One of the largest crops now grown in Delray was Gladiolus flowers. Architecture thrived with cottage style homes and it became a winter colony for artists and writers.

In 1940, census grew to almost 4,000 people. During WW2, many Delray residents volunteered in the war effort and attacks on ships could be seen from the coastline.

From then until today, Delray continues to grow as an Arts and Cultural city that honors its past even as it makes room for modern living. Now I am going to talk about some of the most famous landmarks in Delray.

According to the Sundy House main website, the Sundy House was built in 1902 by John Shaw Sundy, Delray’s first mayor who served for 7 terms.  He and his family lived in the house for almost 80 years.  The Sundy House was the first church, bank, and one of the first schools. It is the oldest house in Delray Beach.  Starting in 2002, the house became a restaurant with an acre of lush botanical gardens.

The next landmark is the Colony Hotel. This bright yellow, 3 story hotel was built in 1926 and is just 2 miles from the beach.  Gangsters like Al Capone stayed at The Colony Hotel for a much needed rest from his illegal and murderous activities.  Throughout the years when The Colony Hotel was closed for the summer season, people saw odd activity happening inside the dark, empty hotel, especially after 12 midnight. A few examples are shadow people that have been seen walking or running through the dining room and hallways and dark figures moving around the rooms by the windows on the 2nd floor.  Weird lights have been seen floating inside the hotel and some have heard melodies of 1920’s and 30’s jazz music. It is one of the first hotels built that is still standing and in business today.

Old School Square was constructed in 1913 and was originally called Delray Elementary School.  In 1925, because of the growing population, Delray High School was constructed, where Crest Theatre is now.  Delray bought and transformed the old and beaten down buildings in 1988 after it was abandoned by the Palm Beach School Board. The buildings were made into a new cultural arts center, and are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It is now called the Cornell Museum of Art and American Culture.

According to the Morikami Park main webpage, the history of Morikami Park began in the early 1900’s when young settler George Sukeji Morikami joined the Yamato Colony and farmed pineapple and winter vegetables.  Near the end of the war, he bought land in Delray Beach and farmed it for almost 30 years.  George Morikami found prosperity here, but despite his wealth he had simple tastes.  He lived close to nature in a mobile home on the nearly 200 acres of land that would later become Morikami Park.  Twenty years later, in 1973, he chose to give his land away to the city of Delray Beach.  He passed away in 1976 and his ashes were returned to his homeland of Miyazu, Japan.  Miyazu was named the sister city to Delray Beach in 1977 in honor of George Morikami.   Morikami Park opened to the public in 1977 and is one of the most beautiful Japanese gardens you will ever see.

The last landmark I’m going to talk about is the S.S. Inchulva Wreck, aka the “Delray Wreck”. The S.S. Inchulva sank on September 11th 1903 from an intense hurricane. The storm broke the ship into five sections and can still be viewed today at the south end of the Municipal Beach near Casuerina. It is one of the best diving spots in Florida and is about 150 feet out from shore and 25 feet deep.  As the story goes, the 386 foot steel-hulled British steamship was sailing from Texas to Virginia.  It carried wheat, cotton, lumber, as well as a crew of 28 men.  The severe wind tossed the ship, caused the cargo to shift, and made steering impossible.  The ship grounded and the hull ripped apart.  Nine crew members were lost.  When the sun rose the next day, the remaining crew saw that land and a town were just a short distance away.  They built a raft from the debri and floated to shore.  They were taken in by the owner of the Chapman House, a local hotel at the time.

In conclusion, this was a bit of interesting history about Delray Beach and some historical landmarks that are worth a visit.  We are lucky to live in such a beautiful place, one that has been recognized by the National Civic League as the All-America City in both 1993 and 2001.  Our city is the only city in Florida to have won this award on two occasions.  Delray Beach is truly a wonderful and unique “Village by the Sea”.

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