It was here that in the 1200-1300s inhabitants made their home - the eight-foot tall Caloosa Tribe. What a place this was! Imagine, if you can, complete wilderness and swamp with the old Spanish River hidden from the roar of the Atlantic to the east. Here, food was in abundance: fish, wild animals, fruit, sweet potatoes. Fresh water was found at the base of the tree trunks, and from streams back in the bush, with salt water everywhere for boating, fishing, and swimming.
During the 1500-1600s, pirates and buccaneers made the area their home. Here the living was easy; safety from storms and pursuit and easy access to plunder the gold-laden galleons of old Spain.
In the 1800s, the barefoot mailmen carried mail from Palm Beach to Miami, walking the entire distance along the sandy beach where at intervals were crude structures known as refuge houses. Food consisted of hard biscuits and coffee carried in the mail sack, fish caught in the ocean, and oysters clustered at the roots near the water, together with sweet potatoes, wild oranges and small bananas. Palm fronds were used as “plates”.
Over the centuries, huge green turtles slowly made their way from the waters to the beach to lay their eggs. The birds and pirates would devour the eggs, and the men would slaughter the turtles for food. The turtles still come to the beach to lay their eggs today, but are strictly protected by law. The beach was a treasure of relics from ships broken by storms…legend has it that a load of coconuts washed ashore started the growth of our palm trees; there were casks of lard, kegs of wine, enough fittings to build a complete house. During this period, the first Seminole Indians came to these shores from Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.
It wasn’t until 1896, when Henry Flagler completed the East Coast Railway, that civilized progress began. People traveled in greater numbers and established homes where swamp and jungle had once existed. In the early 1900s a group of Japanese immigrated to Florida and settled just west of the Intracoastal Waterway, naming their little community Yamato. Here they successfully raised pineapple and vegetables.
More Recent Times
The history of present day Highland Beach began in 1949 when it was incorporated with 21 free voters for two prime reasons. First, a fresh water supply was imperative as there was salt intrusion in the existing wells. Neighboring communities were not amenable to supplying water from their wells, therefore funds were required to build a water plant. Secondly, the residents at that time heard rumors that a trailer camp was contemplated in the area, which did not meet with their approval. The name “Highland Beach” was chosen because at that time the land rose 20 to 25 feet above high tide, relatively higher than other portions of the dune crest in the area.
Land values in 1945 were $45 a foot, including the land opposite on the Intracoastal, as that was considered valueless because of the swamp and mangroves. In 1950, it sold for $125 a foot, excluding the west parcel. Presently, the value is in excess of $80,000 a "front" foot!