A Brief History Of Highland Beach | Highland Beach Real Estate

a brief history of highland beach

Highland Beach - A town of less than 4,000 headquartered on a tiny shimmering strand of coastline that stretches barely more than a mile. This beautiful and unique town is almost entirely residential, featuring sprawling beachside mansions dotted by a handful of municipal structures. With Delray Beach directly to the north and Boca Raton due south, some may be wondering why a separate town exists at all. Read on to learn more - from our first historical discoveries to the state of the town today! Here is a brief history of Highland Beach.

Pre-Settlement History

calusa indian territory

Before the arrival of Spanish settlers, and well before the flight of Seminole Indians southward due to the Seminole Wars, this area was dominated by the Calusa Indians. The Calusa tribe were the first humans to be encountered and recorded and likely developed from centuries of archaic Everglades peoples. In their native tongue, Calusa translates to "fierce people," a reputation they backed often. 

Also known as "shell Indians" much of their crafts utilized the small and larger shells found throughout the region. In fact, the term "conched" on the head may have stemmed from the mace-like weapon Calusa Indians would wield - a stick with a vine-tethered shell of a lightning whelk. This jagged conch-like mollusk leaves behind a shell that is perfect for this purpose. A Calusa dart was responsible for the death of famed Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon. Calusa Indians were much taller and stronger than many northern indigenous tribes, lending to their fearsome reputation. Over time, the Calusa's were either killed off, enslaved, or died from a string of deadly epidemics that ravaged the area through the 1600s and 1700s. Today, there is no representation of the descendants of the Calusa tribe. Very few people at all can claim ancestry, as the tribe was systematically destroyed through war and disease. It has been postulated that the Tequesta or Jeaga tribes could have also inhabited the area, but unlikely as the Tequesta were far closer to modern-day Miami, while the Jaega were slightly northward.

A Pirate's Legacy

pirate ship on sunset horizon

Florida's vast peninsular coastline jutting out into the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico provided as much of an advantage to pirates as it did to more legitimate seafaring interests. The Tampa Bay area may be best known for its legacy in pirate history, but the state's entire eastern coastline has been a haven for pirates. On the Atlantic side, Spanish galleons were frequently traversing the Caribbean, allowing for Highland Beach, and South Florida as a whole to provide the perfect launchpad for clandestine raids. The area between the Treasure Coast and Highland Beach allowed raiding as far north as the Carolina and Virginia colonies, and deep into the Caribbean. 

The Barefoot Mailmen (1885-1892)

barefoot mailman statue

The Barefoot Mailmen were the first U.S. mail carriers in the Highland Beach area. While the term "Barefoot Mailman" wasn't coined until the 1940s, the original 68-mile route from Palm Beach to Miami was known early as the "barefoot route." With no official road connecting the counties, the Barefoot Mailmen had to carry mail by foot along the beaches and various connecting boat channels. 28 miles of the trip took place by the water, with the remainder along the firm sand near the coastline. These mailmen stopped at houses of refuge, such as the Orange Grove House of Refuge in present-day Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale. The route was replaced when a rock road was built in 1892, but the legacy of these uniquely Floridian mail carriers lives on. An annual Boy Scout hike, covering much of this route takes place in tribute, from Pompano Beach to South Beach.

The Early Days of Civilization

flagler railroad in the Florida Keys

In 1896 famed railroad developer Henry Flagler completed the East Coast Railway. Homes popped up where wild swamp once existed. This coincided with the famed Yamato community at the turn of the 20th century, where a group of Japanese immigrants attempted to experiment with subtropical crops, becoming early cultivars of the land - growing pineapple and other vegetables. While numbers were incredibly sparse for much of the early 20th century, these intrepid travelers would comprise some of the earliest incorporated towns in the Boca Raton, Highland Beach, and Delray Beach areas. Things would pick up exponentially following the ending of World War II,  a time when mechanized warfare rapidly accelerated technological development and a population boom ensued.

Highland Beach Gets Its Name

vintage photo of family walking on beach

It was in the year 1949 that Highland Beach would become what it is today. The initial question of "why not just stay part of Boca?" is answered here. While a bit more peaceful than other noted "secessions" in American history, the autonomy of Highland Beach was voted on by 21 free voters for two primary reasons.  Firstly, the freshwater supply that the community depended on was suffering from a saltwater intrusion. Neighboring communities were unwilling to provide support by supplying water from their wells. Secondly, citizens had heard rumors of a trailer camp being planned for the area, which they did not approve of. Highland Beach gets its name from the unusual rise of 20 to 25 feet above sea level here. The topography allows for the waterfront mansions we see today and the notably steep driveways that slope up to these homes. The community to this day is still almost completely residential, with the Delray Sands resort being the only well-known business with a Highland Beach address.

Highland Beach Today

highland beach waterfront mansion

Highland Beach is a largely upper-class community sitting almost exclusively on A1A, with barely any inland presence and almost no local businesses. The median household income as of 2019 is more than $115,000 - far surpassing the national average of $68,703. Highland Beach has expanded on its cause celebre, building its own water treatment facility and expanding its municipal staff from 1 full-time employee in 1966 to 37 full-time and 12 part-time employees. The town works hard to provide for itself but does not have an acrimonious relationship with its neighbors.

Our A1A office is just a few steps south of Highland Beach! Contact or visit us today, and be sure to enjoy the scenic views that are this beautiful strand of historic coastline.

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