Thursday, March 10, 2011

Florida History: Palm Beach, the Providencia, and its coconut cargo

By Jane Feehan

Palm Beach might not be the place it is today without its coconut palms. Some say it was the palms that attracted Henry M. Flagler, the Florida East Coast Railway builder, to the island.

In January 1878 (or 1876, depending on the account) the Spanish ship Providencia, en route from Havana to Spain with a cargo of about 20,000 coconuts, wrecked off the Florida coast. The crew and its cargo washed ashore near today’s historic Mar-a-Lago.

A few residents looking forward to salvaging what they could of the cargo (as many Floridians did to make a living) trekked to the beach where they encountered the crew with coconuts, wine and provisions aplenty. Another ship came to the sailors’ rescue but not before they sold the coconuts to the Floridians who knew could they generate a cash crop with them.

Providencia Park sits in West Palm Beach today, in commemoration of the ship, its coconuts and their contribution to the Palm Beach area landscape. Species of palm trees come and go with disease and time but they’ve become an iconic symbol of Florida and its tropical lifestyle.                            

The last surviving witness to the Providencia wreck is quoted in a 1938 Palm Beach Post story (see above) about Providencia Park and one of the original coconut palms.  All rights reserved. ©Copyright 2011 Jane Feehan.

Tags: Palm Beach history, Florida palm trees, Mar-a-Lago

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