Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Heading Through the Kelsey City Gates

The Collie Family Poses in Front of the Kelsey City Gates
(Picture from the Historical Society of Palm Beach County)
         From Northlake Boulevard,Old Dixie Highway ran south along the railroad tracks.  When I was little, the road was two-lane and still had the feel of a country road. About a half block or so south of Northlake Boulevard, we’d pass two columns, one on either side of the road. These were the remnants of the Kelsey City Gates, or the Kelsey City Arch as it was also known.
       The story of Kelsey City started out the story of Harry Kelsey. A visionary from Boston, he visited the area in 1919 as he recovered from pneumonia, and saw tremendous potential to plan and build a city like no other. He enlisted the assistance of the Olmstead Brothers, land planners whose biggest claim to fame was arguably the design of Central Park in New York City, and Dr. John Nolan and they designed what was the first zoned community south of Washington, DC. A large part of their planning is still in place today although the name of the town was changed to Lake Park in 1939.
       The little two lane road the remnants of the gate were on was the original U.S. Highway One and the gates marked the entry to the city.  Built in 1923, the gates were twenty feet high and thirty feet wide.  Constructed of mortar, coquina (limestone made of broken shells), stucco and tile wrapped around metal bars, the arch displayed a metal banner that read, “Welcome to the World’s Winter Playground.” Unfortunately, the sign disappeared in the 1928 hurricane, along with a lot of the hopes and dreams of Kelsey as well as those of many of the Kelsey City residents. That hurricane helped changed the course of the city’s development when Kelsey was forced to sell his holdings in Florida and retreated north in 1931.
        When U.S. Highway One was re-routed to the eastern location where it sits today, the two lane road next to the railroad tracks became known as Old Dixie Highway. In 1981, that portion of Old Dixie Highway was scheduled to be enlarged to a four lane road. The plan was to gently take the remnants of the gates down and re-assemble them at another location. It didn’t work out that way.  When the crane touched what was left of the gates, they crumbled.  Only two pieces were salvaged and they both sit forlornly in front of the Lake Park Fire/Rescue Station on Park Avenue in Lake Park next to the Town Hall. In recent years, the bronze plaques that identified what the two pieces of rock are and why they were important have been removed or perhaps stolen.  Those rocks are, however, what’s left of the beautiful Kelsey City Gates.
        Luckily, the Town Hall, built in 1927 and one of sixty-three buildings that still stand from the initial settling of the town, remains in one piece as no one has apparently figured out how to hook it up to a trailer and cart it away, too. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is definitely worth a look. I’ve attended a musical in the beautiful second floor ballroom and even though the show was great, I spent more time eyeing the woodwork and floors than watching the performance. With a history geeks's imagination, I could just see what it must have been like when it was new.

        If you're in the area, keep an eye out for events scheduled at the Town Hall for your chance to enjoy a glimpse into life in the 1930s at the Town Hall at 535 Park Avenue, Lake Park, Florida.


  1. I love to hear about the history of places. There's something about a different time. I've gotten more and more into local history and really enjoy reading about it and hearing stories.

  2. I'm so pleased to read they haven't moved the town hall. That is a magnificent building.

    I too love to read about the history of places. Having only ever been to Walt Disney World in Florida, this makes me want to return to the state and see the natural wonders that are on offer.

    Thanks Ruth for sharing this special place with us.