Having lived in the city of Lake Worth, located in Palm Beach County, Florida, you would think I would have heard of, gone to see or had taken my visitors from other cities and countries to see this building.
Yet like so many of us who live in places for many years and never get to see important places….I was totally ignorant of the museum that bears the name of the city where I have lived for over thirty years. One day last month I decided to rectify this and took a trip downtown Lake Worth to City Hall so I could see just how much history was contained in this place. Much to my surprise I actually learned so much and became extremely interested in the origins of the city.
Had the most interesting conversation with someone named Mrs Helen Vogt Greene who was one of the first pioneers of the city and whom with her husband, have compiled an amazing amount of historic events, history of the first settlers, immigrants who came from other countries and settled here, historic buildings some which are still standing or have been renovated to keep alive the history of the city. Mrs Vogt Greene still volunteers her time and was an amazing plethora of stories, anecdotes, pictures and history on the subject of the beginnings of Lake Worth.
History of the name of City of Lake Worth
The city was named for William J. Worth who was a military officer during the War of 1812, Second Seminole War and Mexican-American War. It has gone through a couple of name changes but in 2019 voters decided on one more change and it will officially become Lake Worth Beach.
How Finnish people came to Lake Worth
My major interest in finding about the beginnings of the city of Lake Worth was mainly to see how it became the largest concentration of Finnish and Finnish Americans outside of Finland. For that information I went to the section of the museum that houses quite a collection of the Finnish population that first came to the area which today encompasses Lake Worth and the city of Lantana..
The story of the Finnish migration to the United States is almost identical to the millions of other people who fled Europe trying to find new land and escaping from political, religious, and economic problems. We are not dealing with the millions who settled in Minnesota, Michigan, New Hampshire, Vermont, and even Pennsylvania and Delaware. The question is why Florida? Finnish men were mainly farmers, carpenters, miners, and people who worked hard with their hands. Language was a barrier. Yet many Finnish women found jobs as domestics and served as domestic help in wealthy homes. Their husbands found jobs as caretakers, gardeners and working in the stables with the animals. Finnish people were highly sought after for their honesty, hard work and cleanliness.
Again we ask ….how did they get to Florida? The answer lies in two interesting things. One was that those Finns that toiled the land came down to Florida and discovered that they could grow crops here in the cold winters up north. The land was sparsely populated and inexpensive so land was grabbed for farming by many who came from the frigid north.
The second reason they came was that the wealthy people, who had Finnish domestic help, brought them down with them when they came to Florida during the winter months especially to Palm Beach.
By word of mouth, the Finnish people talked about with their neighbors and families up north, about the wonderful warm state of Florida and how they could find a place to live here if they bought land.
The Finns established colonies in the Lake Worth and Lantana area in the 1930s. They started calling friends and neighbors and it snowballed into a large number of Finns who came down either to farm the land or build winter places here in land they purchased.
The Lake Worth museum has so much history about the first Finnish people who came, how they established their own communities with their own clubs and dance halls. Even today people from Finland, the northern Midwestern states and Canada spend their winter months here when they retire or just visit to get away from those cold winters. There is even a Midnight Sun Festival every year to celebrate Finnish culture and to keep alive the spirit of those who came first and left their legacy.
So next time you visit Lake Worth or if you are a resident, take a trip down to the Lake Worth City Historical Museum. You will be surprised to see how enjoyable it is and learn about just how many people it has taken to make this state the great state it is.