History of Incorporating Palm Beach County
Founding Palm Beach County
Palm Beach County was carved out of Dade County in 1909 becoming Florida’s 47th county. The first county government meetings were held in an old four-room school house at the corner of Clematis Street and Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach. At the time, only about 5,300 people lived in the new county comprised of portions of what are now Broward, Martin and Okeechobee counties. Broward County was established in 1915, Okeechobee County in 1917 and Martin County in 1925.
The official battle to create a separate county out of the northern portion of Dade County began on February 8, 1907 when a group of concerned citizens gathered in the hall over the Free Reading Room in West Palm Beach to discuss the pros and cons of division. With 4,424 square miles, Dade was the second largest county in the state and had an assessed valuation of $5,700,000 for the 1905 tax year. The group in favor of the county's division wanted Dade County split just south of Fort Lauderdale so the new county would have approximately 2,500 square miles, or about sixty percent of the land.
The group's biggest complaint was that the area between Fort Lauderdale on the New River and Stuart on the St. Lucie paid sixty percent of the taxes, but few of those dollars were spent in northern Dade County. The men wanted a more equitable distribution of tax dollars, especially in the matter of roads and schools. Many of the roads in the southern portion of the county had been paved and were seen as attractive to outside investors. Yet roads north of New River were either incomplete or only finished after levying additional taxes and with help from Henry Flagler who provided free shipments of road materials on the Florida East Coast Railroad. In addition, less than thirty-seven percent of the school budget, or about $15,000, was spent per year for the segregated schools in the northern section of the county.
In view of these inequities and other injustices and after discussion of how the new county would be able to function on the tax monies available, the group passed a motion to establish the Executive Committee of the County Division Movement. The seven men chosen to serve on the committee were empowered to do anything necessary to see that a new county was created out of the northern half of Dade County. At yet another mass meeting the following week, the Committee resolved to take their petition for a new county to the appropriate officials in Tallahassee. At the time, the state legislature only met every other year and it was due to meet in April 1907, so time was of the essence.
Reactions to the petition for division were varied and many were acrimonious. The people in north Dade were seen as ungrateful agitators by those in and around Miami. Newspaper editorials reflected their readership's geographic location; The Daily Tropical Sun and the Palm Beach Daily News, both north county papers, were pro division and The Daily Miami Metropolis was against.
Four Division Committee members, Mr. L. W. Burkhardt, Mr. M. E. Gruber, Mr. George Butler, and Mr. W. I. Metcalf traveled to Tallahassee to lobby for division. T. J. Campbell, later to be the tax collector for Palm Beach County, acted as a messenger for the legislature that year and kept the delegation apprised of the progress of the petition. On May 8, 1907, Campbell advised that the “Palm Beach county bill passed senate 20 to 11.” Unfortunately, it did not pass in the House of Representatives where it was defeated 39 to 21 on May 22, 1907.
The division committee members were not idle during the two years they had to wait for the next legislative session in order to resubmit their petition. They searched for and found a candidate for the House of Representatives who would support splitting Dade County. Consequently, when George O. Butler, the agreeable, successful candidate from Miami submitted the petition for division, it was quickly approved on April 30, 1909. When it became effective July 1, 1909, Palm Beach County became the forty-seventh county in Florida.