Readers: 100 years ago today, May 17, 1918, a post office was established in the new town of Kelsey City, which would become an official city seven years later.
The place goes by a different name now, and therein lies the sad story of Harry Kelsey.
The dream town of the Massachusetts restaurateur incorporated on Nov. 16, 1923, as the state’s first planned community.
Kelsey envisioned a metropolis of 100,000 people when, in 1919, he bought the land near what would be incorporated as Riviera Beach three years later.
He brought down his wife and children, pitched a tent on the Intracoastal Waterway and auctioned lots. The Olmstead brothers, the landscape architects of Central Park, provided the design.
A gate over U.S. 1 that would last for decades welcomed visitors to the “World’s Winter Playground.” A 1922 newspaper ad featured this boastful acrostic: “Kelsey City. Elevation. Location. Scenery. Efficient management. Yacht basin. Causeway to ocean. Industries. Telephone exchange. Year round CITY.”
At his peak, Kelsey owned 120,000 acres and 14 miles of oceanfront between Miami and Jupiter. One of the town’s iconic sites was the Palm Beach Winter Club Clubhouse, which later became the North Palm Beach Country Club.
But by February 1925, Kelsey’s ads in The Palm Beach Times had a desperate sound to them: “We are obliged to sell our close-in acreage and waterfront properties to supply cash for the $2,000,000 development program at Kelsey City during 1925.”
The 1928 hurricane and the real-estate crash that followed did Kelsey in. He left his city in 1931, and eight years later it changed its name to Lake Park. The arch that greeted visitors turning into the town near Old Dixie Highway was torn down. Kelsey died in 1957.
In 1997, some Lake Park residents floated an idea to restore the name “Kelsey City,” but the plan fizzled.
Meanwhile, Kelsey’s former business partner, Sir Harry Oakes, who owned much of his Florida land, had moved to the Bahamas, where in 1943, while he slept, he was bludgeoned to death and his bed set afire. He was 69.
His son-in-law, Count Marie Alfred de Fonquereaux de Marigny, 33, faced the gallows. The motive: the two didn’t get along. Even as World War II raged, the trial became an international sensation; the Miami News sent Erle Stanley Gardner — writing as his creation, Perry Mason — to cover it. A New York detective showed local authorities had botched the case and a jury acquitted de Marigny in two hours.
If those last few paragraphs struck you as juicy, fear not! Later this summer we will lay out the entire sordid tale of murder. Stay tuned.
Submit your questions to Post Time, The Palm Beach Post, 2751 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, FL 33405. Include your full name and hometown. Call 561-820-4418. EK@pbpost.com. Sorry; no personal replies.