Singer Island, FL
Singer Island was connected to Palm Beach before the Palm Beach Inlet (VTours) was dug in 1917. Today you can walk 14 miles along the beach from the Palm Beach Inlet north to the Jupiter Inlet. Lake Worth, which borders the Island to the west, was originally a fresh water lake until inlets were cut to provide safe havens for boats and fishing fleets and today for the passenger cruise ships which grace our Port. Singer Island boasts wide, sandy beaches (VTours) and is the closest land in the United States to the warm blue waters of the Gulf Stream. Many people meet and form lasting friendships, while strolling along the beach or walking the well used beautiful pedestrian pathway (VTour) stretching the entire length of Palm Beach Shores.
The normal average daily temperature is 75°, with an average high of 82.9° and an average low of 66.6°. Annual rainfall is 62 inches, much of it occurring as afternoon showers during the June through October period. The mild tropical weather, year-round, is controlled mainly by the fact that we are located closer to the Gulf Stream currents than any other shore line in the entire United States.
The Island is primarily a resort community with many “snowbird” winter residents. The total island population is over 7,400 in season and 5,600 year round.
Singer Island is about 5 miles long by 1/2 mile wide with an area of about 1,500 acres. There are two entrances to the Island, the Blue Heron Bridge crossing Lake Worth on the south from Riviera Beach and A1A on the north end via PGA Boulevard and Burnt Bridge.
Residents of the island love the natural environment and work hard to preserve it. Many laws have been enacted at the local, State and National level to protect the native plants and animals.
On the dunes along the Atlantic sea shore are salt tolerant trees and plants like the Sea grape and Sea Oats, each with a good root system which helps to preserve and protect the dunes during Atlantic storms. In the interior and lakeside you will find many species of trees including the Mangrove, Buttonwood, Live Oak, Eucalyptus, Jacaranda, Gumbo Limbo (also known as the “tourist tree” because of its peeling reddish bark), Royal Poinciana and a variety of Palm trees. The Saw Palmetto Palm thrives just behind the dunes while the Cabbage or Sabal Palm, along with the Royal Palm, grow well in the interior section of the island. Although theBanyan Tree was not original (native habitat is India), its exotic beauty and early arrival has endeared it to residents. Non-native plant species scheduled for eradication include the Australian Pine, Brazilian Pepper, Melaleuca, Carrotwood and the Hawaiian half-flower. These invaders grow at such a startling rate that they are taking over Florida and Palm Beach County’s native ecosystem. The invasive exotic species overgrow native species and are less effective in stabilizing the sand or maintaining the dune ecosystem.
Commonly seen sea, shore and wading birds include the Brown Pelican, Osprey, Ringbill and Laughing Gull, Least Tern, White Egret, Gannet, Cormorants, Roseate Spoonbill, Sandpipers, White and Glossy Ibis, Great Blue Heron and the gorgeous Black Skimmer. Land birds include Mourning Doves, Crows, Grackles, Jays, Wrens, Thrushes, Woodpeckers and Cardinals as well as migratory birds such as the Robin, Painted Finch, and Red Shouldered Hawk.
The Island has many small animals and reptiles. You will see Lizards, Crabs and Squirrels and rarely, nocturnal creatures such as the Spotted Skunk and an occasional Fox or Armadillo. Manatees swim in the Lake Worth Estuary and are especially prevalent during the winter months. Native snakes include the Southern Black Racer, Corn and Scarlet King and the rarely seen poisonous Eastern Coral and Diamond Back Rattler.
Singer Island and Palm Beach County beaches provide critical nesting habitat for two species of endangered marine turtles, Green and Leatherback sea turtles, and the threatened Loggerhead sea turtle. We have the highest number of Leatherback nests and the second highest number of Loggerhead and Green nests in the country. Each summer thousands of nests are laid by sea turtles on our beaches. The use of these beaches is vital to the turtles continued survival. Nesting and hatching occurs primarily at night and both mothers and their hatchlings are guided back to the ocean by the reflection of the moonlight on the water. City and beachfront lighting disorients the turtles, and many condos and beachfront businesses shield their lights and erect dunes to save these endangered and threatened species. The turtle lays as many as 175 eggs at a time, as many as 5 times a season. As with the alligator, the turtle’s sex is determined by the heat of the sand during the eggs 55 to 60 day incubation. A three degree difference separates males from females. The Sea Turtle Conservation League of Singer Island is one of the many not-for-profit volunteer organizations working for the preservation of these endangered reptiles. The League is made up of 12 volunteers who patrol the approximately 2 1/2 mile length of beach on Singer Island extending from the southern boundary of MacArthur Beach State Park (VTour) to the southern boundary of the Riviera Municipal Beach. The group is authorized by the Florida State Department of Environmental Protection to conduct nesting surveys daily, immediately after sunrise, from March 1 to October 31 of each year, to relocate nests when necessary, and to maintain and display preserved specimens. Permanent residents are urged to volunteer. Visitors are asked to respect the turtles and nests, which are protected by federal law. All who are interested in learning more about these plants and animals are encouraged to tour the museum and nature walks at MacArthur Beach State Park, and to write: The Sea Turtle Conservation League of Singer Island, Post Office Box 848, Jupiter, FL 33458 or to visit the groups web site at: Singer Island Sea Turtles
AREA HISTORY – THE EARLY DAYS & LATE 1800s
This history of the area and island has been condensed from the following pamphlets. Available at the Palm Beach Shores Town Hall is: “Palm Beach Shores, Past and Present”, at a cost and, at the Riviera Beach Antique Map - Palm Beach FLPublic Library, “A History of Riviera Beach, Florida”, also at a cost. For full and rich details you should read these pamphlets. Just over 800 years ago the Glade Culture Indians, Tequestas, Ais and Jeagas settled in an area on Lake Worth currently called Riviera Beach. They were primarily non-agricultural people who lived on fish and berries. They disappeared by 1750. Later, the Seminole Indians chose the site as a village. This village was destroyed in 1841 by the military under the leadership of Captain R. D. A. Wade. Perhaps lured by the Homestead Act of 1862, the first settlers arrived in our area in the early 1860’s drawn primarily for agriculture and fishing. The potential of the area as a resort community was first explored in 1880 when Frank Dimick bought 80 acres from the US Government for $93.00. He did not homestead the land but sold it in 1882. Judge Allen Heyser, a lawyer from Georgia, saw the land’s beauty, bought the 80 acres for $500 and built a house, becoming the first settler. After several additions to the house, it became a hotel with 20 rooms known as the Oak Lawn Hotel. In 1889 the community was known as Oak Lawn and the first Post Office was established in the hotel. The next major land purchase was in 1891 by Josiah Sherman, an ex-senator and capitalist from Atlanta. He bought 100 acres just south of the Blue Heron Bridge which is still known as Herman’s Point. Oak Lawn was renamed Riviera in 1893 after a journalist who, taken by its beauty, called it the Riviera of America. The area grew in the 1890s when Henry Flagler, the multi-millionaire industrialist partner of John D. Rockefeller and Samuel Adams, founders of Standard Oil, extended his Florida East Coast Railway south from St. Augustine and began purchasing many acres in Palm Beach. There he built the Royal Poinciana Hotel, the largest wooden structure in the world. Charles Newcomb, a wealthy scientist, inventor and manufacturer from Iowa spent several winters at the Royal Poinciana. He developed a deep interest in investigating and recording the remains of the local Indian cultures in Riviera and bought the Oak Lawn Hotel in 1901. He renamed it The Riviera. There he brought his wealthy friends, the Vanderbilts, Astors and Carnegies for parties and teas. Henry Flagler also used The Riviera when his house boat, moored on Singer Island, was in need of repairs. In 1910 Newcomb bought 200 additional acres and planned an extensive resort community with a grand hotel.
AREA HISTORY – EARLY 1900s
The first record of settlement on Singer Island was in 1906. Bahamian fishermen, called “conchs”, who stayed on the island during the winter fishing season, settled there permanently. As there were no governmental ordinances affecting building then, the “conchs” built shacks where ever they liked and remained as squatters. They favored the area because of the ability to dry their fishing nets due to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. Singer Island continued to grow as a deep sea sport fishing mecca. (The largest catch reported was a 738 pound tiger shark on May 12, 1990.) In the early 1900’s, Dr James Munyon, a noted patent medicine man, built a resort hotel on a Lake Worth island reachable only by boat. It was destroyed by fire in 1915. Today Little Munyon Island is a popular spot used by kayakers and jet skiers for picnics. Singer Island remained isolated from the mainland until 1925 when a wooden bridge was built from Sherman’s point. Singer Island was originally part of Palm Beach island and separated from it only by a series of tidal washes which were hand dug from the ocean to Lake Worth by the pioneering families. The first stable inlet was dug in 1887 in the area of the condo The Villa Towers (VTour), just south of the limestone reef at the present day Ocean Reef Park (VTour). It took 19 volunteers over one year to dig the 300 foot channel through 20 foot high dunes from the ocean to the lake. As with the present inlet, the natural flow of the currents caused the north side of the inlet to be filled with sand while on the south side, sand erodes. The “locals” re-dug it often. In 1888 the Lake Worth Creek was dredged to connect Lake Worth with the Jupiter Inlet and in 1889 the Intracoastal Waterway was completely dredged through the lake. When the Lake Worth Inlet District was created in 1915, Isham Randolph was hired to survey the location for the current Palm Beach Inlet channel. (Randolph was the famed civil engineer who created the backward flow of the Chicago River.) In 1915 the Palm Beach Inlet was created, dug to a depth of 4 feet. In 1917, the Boynton Inlet was dug. The Palm Beach channel’s depth was increased to 16 feet in 1923, to 20 feet in 1935 and to its current depth of 35 feet in 1963. The pumping station on the Singer Island side of the Inlet, takes the buildup of sand on the north and deposits it on the Palm Beach side of the Inlet, keeping the channel open and expanding the beaches south of Singer Island. Spoils from the original dredging were deposited on a shoal in Lake Worth creating a sand island now known as Peanut Island. It was named by either County Commissioner Gus Jordahn who was quoted as saying it was not worth “Peanuts”, or by the Brown Pulp Co. who wanted to build a peanut processing plant on the Island. Peanut Island housed the Coast Guard Station from 1936 to 1995. During the John F. Kennedy Administration, a bomb shelter for the president was built on Peanut Islandfor emergency use as he often vacationed at his family’s Palm Beach estate. The shelter has been restored and is open for public tours. A beach, fishing pier, camping facility and bike trails are also available on Peanut Island. The Intracoastal Waterway was dredged again in 1933 to a depth of 8 feet by 100 feet wide and again in 1962 to a depth of 10 feet by 125 feet wide.
Singer Island was named for Paris Singer, the famous developer of Palm Beach, who was the 23rd and next to last child of Isaac Singer, the sewing machine millionaire. Paris Singer visited Florida in 1917 and purchased a home in Palm Beach. With Addison Mizner as his personal architect, he created Palm Beach as we know it today with its Spanish architecture, picturesque streets and exclusive shops. Singer took his friends on picnics to the beautiful island just north of Palm Beach. In anticipation of the Florida real estate boom, he and his architect planned to develop the island with a super luxurious “Paris Singer Hotel” on the south end and a typical resort hotel, the “Blue Heron”, on the north end with a 36-hole golf course between the two hotels. However, plans were changed as problems in financing and clearing titles occurred. So Paris Singer began to build a luxury hotel only on the south end of the Island and called it the “Blue Heron”. It was where the current Hilton Hotel stands. Singer wanted to link the island with Palm Beach but Palm Beach and the War Department refused permission. In 1925, Palm Beach County built a wooden bridge from Riviera Beach to Singer Island funded by a bond issue that Singer purchased himself. In 1927 the real estate boom collapsed and the sale of lots on Singer Island ceased. So did the work on the hotel. Further hardship came when a powerful hurricane destroyed the Sherman Point Bridge in 1928. It was not rebuilt until 1935. The abandoned, incomplete hotel was razed in 1940. In 1940, the City of Riviera purchased 1,000 feet of beach on the Island for $40,000. This led to the growth of tourism in Riviera and eventual incorporation of the island north of Palm Beach Shores. In 1941 the city of Riviera changed its name to Riviera Beach. The Town of Palm Beach Shores was developed in 1947 when A. 0. Edwards, a railroad and hotel tycoon, bought 240 acres on Singer Island for $240,000 and invested a further $500,000 in improvements. He laid out a city plan with parks, walkways and roadways. (Originally Palm Beach Shores’ northern boundary extended 300 ft. north of Blue Heron Boulevard.) In 1948 Edward’s built the Inlet Court Hotel, later renamed Colonnades. In 1949 the wooden Sherman’s Point Bridge was replaced with a steel and concrete 2 lane structure with a drawbridge which permitted passage through the Intracoastal Waterway. The first Sebring style race was held on the island in 1950 and ended at the Colonnades. Edward’s became the town’s first mayor in 1952 and died in 1960. His estate sold the Colonnades Hotel to John D. MacArthur in 1963. John D. MacArthur, born in poverty as the son of a preacher, became one of the greatest financiers of his day through the building of the Banker’s Life and Casualty Insurance Company in Chicago. By purchasing over 100,000 acres in this part of Palm Beach County, MacArthur became the largest landowner in the area. MacArthur ran his billion dollar empire from a booth in the Colonnades Hotel’s coffee shop. In 1976 he suffered a stroke and died 14 months later in the hotel. The hotel was razed in 1990 and the Marriott Corporation began construction of its’ time share resort, Marriott’s Ocean Pointe Resort, on the land. MacArthur also owned many acres on the north end of Singer Island and he donated a large section of that land for the state park which bears his name. His foundation provides funds to improve the facilities. The MacArthur Beach State Park (VTour) opened in 1989. In the 1950’s this area enjoyed tremendous growth and Singer Island developed as a resort area of hotels and condominiums for winter residents. In 1952, Phil Foster Park (VTour) was opened, named after one of Riviera Beach’s pioneer citizens, the owner of one of the first tourist courts in the area. In 1976, to accommodate this growth and ease the access to the island, the 2 lane draw bridge was replaced with the current 4 lane Blue Heron Bridge. The Ocean Mall and walkway to beach were also opened at that time.
To see what the island has become, since this article was written in the late 70’s, we invite you to Take a Singer Island Tour!