History of Pompano Beach

Today the city of Pompano Beach is a beautiful community in South Florida with a population of over 100,000. It was, of course, not always like it is today. The area has an interesting history and one that is well worth exploring. Let's take a look at some of the events that made this place a special one in the State of Florida.

La Florida

Juan Ponce de Leon

Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de Leon

Since you may not find any evidence of Spanish presence in current Pompano Beach, it is easy to forget that for over 300 years this area along with all of Florida was under the control of Spain. Juan Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer, landed somewhere near the present day site of Cape Canaveral in 1513. He called the area "La Florida" and claimed the land for Spain. He explored many portions of the eastern coast of the state. Many other Spanish explorers followed and with the exception of a short period of time from 1763 to 1784 when England ruled Florida, it remained a Spanish possession until it was sold to the United States in 1821. There may not be any trace of Spain on the land, but as we will see, there are legends, but little proof, of Spanish galleons sunk off the coast at Hillsboro Inlet due to the Atlantic storms.

The Fish

Pompano Fish

Art located at Pompano Public Beach

Pompano is a popular and delicious fish found in abundance off the coast of Florida. Its scientific name is Trachinotus carolinus. Its colors include blue, green, silver and yellow. The fish has a short snout and a small body. When you hear the name of the fish and the name of the town, you wonder what came first. Well, the pompano fish had its name before Pompano Beach or Pompano existed.

The story goes that a surveyor named Frank Sheen working for the railroad had the fish for dinner one night. He wanted to remember the name so I suppose he could order it again. He wrote the name "pompano" on a map of an area he was surveying which includes the current town. Apparently someone thought the name of the area must be Pompano. There is no way to know if this is true or a folk tale, but no one else has come up with any other reasonable explanation for the name. Just say that Pompano Beach is named for a popular fish and remember that fact when you order pompano for dinner.

The actual town of Pompano was founded as a result of people brought to the area by the railroad. This was truly a town built by the railroad. It was not until 1947 that Pompano joined the beach to become the present day city of Pompano Beach.

Railroad

Train

As noted above, modern Pompano Beach owes its existence, at least in its earliest days, to the railroad. Specifically, the Florida East Coast Railway built by Henry Flagler opened the area up to settlement. Prior to the railroad being extended from West Palm Beach to Miami, the area around Pompano Beach was a wilderness that was difficult at best to access. Only hardy settlers were able to find their way to the area. A railroad brings people and opens up settlements. Pompano Beach is located about halfway from Palm Beach to Miami, thus making it a popular location for train travelers to relocate.

As with places all over America, the location of a railroad dictated where people would settle. Before the automobile, it was the sole means of speedy transportation. The date of the first train arriving in the place now known as the town of Pompano was February 22, 1896. The area was now connected to the rest of Florida and the United States and life in south Florida would never be the same again. You can trace modern day Pompano Beach to the day in 1896.

Lighthouse

Hillsboro Lighthouse

Part of the history of Pompano Beach is the Hillsboro Lighthouse. It was erected as part of a series of lighthouses along the Florida coast. The idea was to have one in view of ships at all times. This lighthouse was placed in order to fill a gap in coverage. It was first illuminated in 1907 and placed at its current location. It has stood there as a beacon for sailors and has stood the test of time. For many years after its construction, there was a lighthouse keeper who lived on the property and maintained it. He made sure its light continued to shine. Today the Hillsboro Lighthouse is fully automated with the stories of the keeper as part of its charm. Visitors today can tour the lighthouse and get a glimpse of a way of life that used to exist while watching how it still functions for the modern Florida coast.

Wreck Capitol

Shipwreck

Part of the lore of Hillsboro Inlet is the location of many shipwrecks. This has led to the area receiving the name of the "wreck capitol" of Florida. It is of interest today as there are tours that allow you to dive in the waters of the Atlantic and look for these wrecks along with the beautiful reefs that dot the coastal waters. The combination of wrecks and reefs is a strong attraction for Pompano Beach. People come here from all over to experience the beauty and history of the Atlantic waters. While there are stories of Spanish treasure ships being lost in storms along the coast, there has been no concrete evidence of a Spanish ship along the Pompano Beach stretch of the Atlantic.

For the modern day diver, the area is still full of locations of long lost ships, even if they are not related to the Spanish ownership of Florida. Many have been covered in sand, but still provide a glimpse into a time when shipping was a dangerous activity. It is part of the lure that brings divers to the area.

The story of any place is fascinating. The above just touches on the events that led to current day Pompano Beach. There is much to be discovered in a visit to the Pompano Beach area. When you are enjoying the lighthouse, diving in the beautiful waters, and just eating pompano for dinner, remember the many people and events like the Henry Flagler railroad that made this area what it is today.

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