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Palm Beach History

Though his Florida East Coast Railroad served the entire Atlantic coast of the Florida peninsula all the way to Key West, Palm Beach is where Henry Flagler—pioneer of Florida tourism and partner with John D. Rockefeller in the Standard Oil Co.—decided to make his home. He built a grand mansion, Whitehall, in 1902 as a wedding present for his third wife and began entertaining his Gilded Age industrialist friends, establishing Palm Beach as the center of Florida’s winter social life. As Flagler intended, they, too, built homes in the area and Palm Beach soon had a constellation of the rich and famous in residence: stockbroker E.F. Hutton and his wife, Marjorie Merriweather Post (Post cereals heiress), Madeleine Astor (wife of JJ Astor IV) and Horace Dodge (Dodge cars). Later, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were frequent guests and Joseph Kennedy established the famous “Kennedy Compound” on the island. More recent homeowners have included Donald Trump (who owns Post’s former mansion, Mar-a-Lago), John Lennon, Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart, Vera Wang, novelist William Burroughs and corporate barons such as John Sculley (PepsiCo, Apple), Malcolm Glazer (Manchester United) and the infamous Bernie Madoff. Today, Palm Beach is still largely a winter haven, where many who can afford to choose to spend the “season.” Meanwhile, the county, which includes nearby West Palm Beach, Delray and Boca Raton, has developed into the state’s third-largest, attracting more than a million residents who live near this elite playground.