PBC History pages

Palm Beach County Created

Map showing Dade County was before Broward and Palm Beach counties were founded 

This 1904 map of Florida counties illustrates how large Dade County was before Broward and Palm Beach counties were founded.

The Florida Legislature established Palm Beach County on July 1, 1909, and it became Florida’s 47th county.[1]  The headline from The Tropical Sun read, “PALM BEACH COUNTY – Legislature Makes New County.” [2]  The name, Palm Beach, came from numerous coconut palm trees that were originally planted with coconuts from the shipwreck of the Spanish ship Providencia that crashed in 1878 close to shore in what is now Palm Beach.  The vessel was on journey from Cuba to Spain with a shipment of coconuts from Trinidad.  They were sold for two-and-a-half cents each, and within a few years coconut palm trees were thriving. [3]

Initially, the county was carved out of what was the northern part of Miami-Dade County (founded as Dade County in 1836) and included parts of current Okeechobee, Broward, and Martin counties and all of Lake Okeechobee.  In 1915, Broward County was founded and acquired a southern area of Palm Beach County and a northern portion of Dade County.[4]  In 1917, a northwestern section became part of Okeechobee County when it was incorporated.  In 1925, a northern area became part of Martin County when it was founded.  In 1963, approximately three-quarters of Lake Okeechobee was allocated to Glades, Hendry, Martin and Okeechobee counties.  This was the last change to the county’s boundaries.[5] 

First Commissioners Try to Get Rolling

At the first meeting on July 6, 1909, commissioners started to establish the fundamentals for governing the new county.  

At the first meeting on July 6, 1909, commissioners started to establish the fundamentals for governing the new county.

In 1909, the county’s population was less than 5,500[6], and West Palm Beach was selected as the county seat. On May 6, 1909, C. W. McPherson, E. F. Bowers, W. H. Dacamara, R. H. Rousseau and H. J. Niblack became the first Palm Beach County commissioners. At the time, McPherson and Rousseau were commissioners for Dade County.[7] (For a list of all the Palm Beach County commissioners from 1909 to the present, click here.)

Records indicate that the first Palm Beach County commissioners meeting took place in West Palm Beach on July 5, 1909. Minutes state (in cursive writing), “On the above date there appeared at the County Seat of Palm Beach County, County Commissioners C. W. McPherson, W. H. DaCamara and R. H. Rousseau, who had secured their commissions, but as County Commissioners H. J. Niblack and E. F. Bowers, who were also present, had not secured their commissions, the organization of the Board of County Commissioners in and for the County of Palm Beach was postponed to 10 o’clock of the next day, the same being Tuesday, July 6th, 1909.”[8]

County Commission Starts from Scratch

The minutes of the first meeting read, “The Board of County Commissioners of Palm Beach County met this day for the purpose of effecting a permanent organization, and make arrangements for temporarily carrying on the County government of the above named County in accordance with the provisions of the Bill passed by the last Legislature creating the County of Palm Beach.”[9]

The first order of business was to elect a chairman (W. H. DaCamara) and clerk (Fred. E. Fenno.)  Next, the board established boundaries for five commission districts, seven justice of the peace districts and seven election precincts.[10]  Since there was only one application received for the position of attorney, C. E. Chillingworth was unanimously selected. Commissioners adopted the design of the official seal for the board “to consist of two concentric rings with the words Board of County Commissioners between said rings, and within the inner ring shall be the words Palm Beach County Florida.” The board also agreed to designate The Tropical Sun as the official organ for the county where advertisements for bids, meeting minutes and public announcements would be published.[11]

The board then approved surety bonds for county officers including the tax collector, treasurer, clerk of the circuit court, sheriff and county judge.  The clerk was instructed to advertise for bids for books, office supplies and furniture for the offices.  Motions were carried to buy a fire-proof safe from the Diebold Safe & Lock Co. for the judge and appoint T. J. Campbell as census enumerator for Palm Beach County. The commissioners decided that the regular board meeting day would be the first Tuesday of each month except when that day fell on a legal holiday which would move the meeting to the next day. They also agreed that the clerk would receive $75/month for his services, and the old school house at the corner of Clematis Avenue and Poinsetta Street in West Palm Beach would serve as the temporary courthouse until further arrangements could be made.  A janitor was appointed for the courthouse and its premises at a compensation to be fixed later.[12]

The following actions were also taken at the first meeting:

  • A petition signed by 16 individuals was presented requesting that the county secure a road in Deerfield.  Three gentlemen were asked to inspect the road and present a report at the next board meeting. 

  • An application from F. Egerton & Co. for a permit to sell liquor, wine and beer in Election Precinct No. 3 was received and ordered advertised.

  • The board granted an application for William Blackmer, with two other individuals as sureties, for a permit to carry fire arms. 

  • The board approved a salary of $75 a month for each man employed to transcribe the Dade County clerk’s and judge’s records for use by Palm Beach County.  

  • The last business of the day was to authorize and instruct the county auditor to go to Miami to obtain Dade County’s financial records up to and including June 30, 1909 and make a report to the board as early as possible. [13]

Commissioners Tackle Fundamentals

The Board of County Commissioners meeting minutes from July 5, 1909 to July 10, 1912 are archived in a book with a canvas cover and leather corners. 

The Board of County Commissioners meeting minutes from July 5, 1909 to July 10, 1912 are archived in a book with a canvas cover and leather corners.

At the next meeting on Thursday, July 22, 1909, the board adopted the following items as the regular order of business:  roll call, minutes, reports, communications, unfinished business, new business and adjournment. Commissioners reviewed bids for creating books of county records, including one with canvas covers and leather corners.  A motion was carried to pay the sheriff $2/day for his services while attending the board meetings.[14]  Board meetings typically included the five commissioners, clerk, sheriff and attorney.            

At subsequent meetings in 1909, the board spent a great deal of time addressing requests (petitions) from residents and approving pension claims, while trying to also fulfill fundamental tasks such as setting salaries (e.g. $25 a month for the attorney), establishing official positions (e.g. Fish and Game Warden), constructing a vault for the clerk’s office, approving payment of bills from the General Fund (e.g. $132.75 for stationery for the county judge, $9 to individuals under the category of charity), approving payment of bills from the Fine and Forfeiture Fund (e.g. $1.05 to jurors, $1.10 to witnesses), approving payment of bills from the Road Fund (e.g. $75.21 to the Delray Market for supplies for convicts, $2 to the City of West Palm Beach to rent a road roller,[15] $2 to W. L. Bracknell to hire a horse and wagon[16]) and approving surety bonds for personnel.  They also reviewed bids for numerous items including bookkeeping supplies, one of which included an Elliott Fisher Book Record writing machine for $175.[17] 

Continue reading...