The earliest known human inhabitants of what is now Delray Beach were the Jaega people.Tequesta Indians likely passed through or inhabited the area at various times, and an 1841 U.S. military map shows a Seminole camp located in the area now known as Lake Ida. Few other recorded details of these local indigenous settlements have survived.
In 1876, the United States Life Saving Service built the Orange Grove House of Refuge to rescue and shelter ship-wrecked sailors. The house derived its name from the grove of mature sour orange and other tropical fruit trees found at the site chosen for the house of refuge, but no record or evidence of who planted the trees was discovered.
The Arcade Tap Room was a gathering place for Delray's Artists and Writers Colony visitors from the mid-1920s to the 1950s.
The first non-indigenous group to build a settlement was a party of African-Americans from the Panhandle of Florida who purchased land a little inland from the Orange Grove House of Refuge and began farming around 1884. By 1894 the Black community was large enough to establish the first school in the area.
The Linton settlers established a post office and a store, and began to achieve success with truck farming of winter vegetables for the northern market. A hard freeze in 1898 was a setback, and many of the settlers left, including William Linton. Partly in an attempt to change the community's luck, or to leave behind a bad reputation, the settlement's name was changed in 1901 to Delray, after the Detroit neighborhood of Delray ("Delray" being the anglicized spelling of "Del Rey", which is Spanish for "of the king"), which in turn was named after the Mexican-American War's Battle of Molino del Rey.
Settlers from The Bahamas (then part of the British West Indies), sometimes referred to as 'Nassaws', began arriving in the early 1900s. After 1905, newspaper articles and photographs of Delray events reveal that Japanese settlers from the nearby Yamato farming colony also began participating in Delray civic activities such as parades, going to the movies, and shopping. The 1910 census shows Delray as a town of 904 citizens. Twenty-four U.S. states and nine other countries are listed as the birthplace of its residents. Although still a small town, Delray had a remarkably diverse citizenry.
In 1911, the area was chartered by the State of Florida as an incorporated town. In the same year, pineapple and tomato canning plants were built. Pineapples became the primary crop of the area. This is reflected in the name of the present day Pineapple Grove neighborhood near downtown Delray Beach.
Prior to 1909, the Delray settlement land was within Dade County. That year, Palm Beach County was carved out of the northern portion of the region. In 1915, Palm Beach County and Dade County contributed nearly equal portions of land to create what is now Broward County between the two, leaving Delray situated within the southeastern portion of Palm Beach County.
By 1920, Delray's population had reached 1,051. In the 1920s, drainage of the Everglades west of Delray lowered the water table, making it harder to grow pineapples, while the extension of the Florida East Coast Railway to Key West resulted in competition from Cuban pineapples for the markets of the northern United States.
The Florida land boom of the 1920s brought renewed prosperity to Delray. Tourism and real estate speculation became important parts of the local economy. Delray issued bonds to raise money to install water and sewer lines, paved streets, and sidewalks. Several hotels were built. At that time Delray was the largest town on the east coast of Florida between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. The collapse of the land boom in 1926 left Delray saddled with high bond debts, and greatly reduced income from property taxes.
Delray was separated from the Atlantic Ocean beach by the Florida East Coast Canal (now part of the Intracoastal Waterway). In 1923 the area between the canal and the ocean was incorporated as Delray Beach. In 1927 Delray and Delray Beach merged into one town named Delray Beach.
Estate at 1755 North Ocean Boulevard, January 26, 1933.
Beginning in the mid-1920s, a seasonal Artists and Writers Colony was established in Delray Beach and the adjacent town of Gulf Stream. At the time, the city of Palm Beach did not welcome Hollywood personalities or all types of artists, so the Delray winter colony drew a more eclectic and bohemian populace. Throughout the 1930s and '40s, Delray became a popular winter enclave for artists and authors, especially famous cartoonists. Two nationally syndicated cartoonists – H. T. Webster (creator of "Caspar Milquetoast") and Fontaine Fox of "Toonerville Trolley" fame – had offices upstairs in the Arcade Building over the Arcade Tap Room; a gathering place where the artists and writers might be joined by aristocrats, politicians, entertainers, and sports figures. Other well-known artists and writers of the era who had homes in Delray Beach include: Herb Roth, W.J. “Pat” Enright, Robert Bernstein, Wood Cowan, Denys Wortman, Jim Raymond, Charles Williams, Herb Niblick, Hugh McNair Kahler, Clarence Budington Kelland, Nina Wilcox Putnam, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. These seasonal visitors helped soften the effect of the real estate downturn and The Great Depression on the city.
During the Depression, not much money was available since the two banks had failed, but progress continued, and the town still looked prosperous because of the previous burst of new buildings during the boom years. The Artists and Writers Colony flourished and Delray Beach's fame as a resort town grew. This era is regarded as Delray Beach’s “golden age of architecture”; a period in which the city ranked 50th in population but 10th in building permits in Florida. Prominent architectural styles in Delray Beach from this period include Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival, Mission Revival, Monterey Colonial, Streamline Moderne, bungalows, and 'Key West style' cottage homes for the Artists and Writers Colony winter residents.
For the four years of World War II, citizens of Delray Beach volunteered to watch the beach and ocean 24 hours a day from the faux bell tower atop the seaside Seacrest Hotel. Military personnel patrolled the beach on horseback. Shipping attacks could be seen from the coast. During WWII Delray Beach also saw an influx of service personnel stationed at the nearby Boca Raton Army Airfield. Some of the veterans who had trained at the airfield returned to settle in Delray Beach after the war. Steady growth of the city continued through the 1950s and 1960s.
By the early 1960s Delray Beach was becoming known for surfing. Atlantic Avenue was the biggest seller of surfboards in Florida at the time. Delray Beach's surfing fame increased somewhat serendipitously after a 1965 shipwreck. During Hurricane Betsy, the 441 feet (134 m) freighter Amaryllis ran aground on Singer Island, creating a windbreak that formed perfectly breaking waves. The ship was dismantled three years later, yet local surfers have retained an association with the area.
In the 1970s, Interstate 95 between Palm Beach Gardens and Miami was fully completed and development began to spread west of the city limits. This pattern continued and accelerated through the 1980s, as downtown and many of the older neighborhoods fell into a period of economic decline.
Revitalization of some historic areas began during the last decade of the twentieth century, as several local landmark structures were renovated. These include the Colony Hotel and Old School Square (the former campus of Delray Elementary School and Delray High School, since turned into a cultural center). The city also established five Historic Districts, listed in the Local Register of Historic Places, and annexed several other historic residential neighborhoods between U.S. Route 1 and the Intracoastal Waterway in an effort to preserve some of the distinctive local architecture.
In 2001, the historic home of teacher/principal Solomon D. Spady was renovated and turned into the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum. The Spady Museum houses black archives. In 2007 the museum was expanded by renovating a 1935 cottage as a Kid's Cultural Clubhouse, and the construction of a 50-seat amphitheater named for C. Spencer Pompey, a pioneer black educator.
In earlier years downtown Delray was centered along Atlantic Avenue as far west as Swinton Avenue and as far east as the intracoastal waterway. Downtown has since expanded. By 2010, downtown extended west to I-95 and east as the Atlantic Ocean; The north-south boundaries extend roughly two blocks north and south of Atlantic Avenue.
Delray Beach has hot and humid summers and warm winters, with a marked drier season in the winter. Its near sea-level elevation, coastal location, position just above the Tropic of Cancer, and proximity to the Gulf Stream shapes its climate. Hurricane season officially runs from June 1 through November 30, although hurricanes can develop outside those dates. The most likely time for hurricane activity is during the peak of the Cape Verde season, which is mid-August through the end of September. Delray Beach has received direct or near direct hits from hurricanes in 1903, 1906, 1928, 1947, 1949, 1964, 1965, 1979, 1992, 1999, 2004, and 2005.
As of 2010, there were 34,156 households out of which 20.4% were vacant. As of 2000, 18.9% of households had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.4% were married couples living together, 10.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 43.7% were non-families. 35.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 18.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.22 and the average family size was 2.87.
In 2000, the city's population was spread out with 18.2% under the age of 18, 6.3% from 18 to 24, 27.1% from 25 to 44, 22.4% from 45 to 64, and 25.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 44 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.0 males.
In 2000, the median income for a household in the city was $43,371, and the median income for a family was $51,195. Males had a median income of $33,699 versus $28,469 for females. The per capita income for the city was $29,350. About 8.2% of families and 11.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 17.6% of those under age 18 and 7.8% of those age 65 or over.
The Delray Beach Tennis Center is a full-service public tennis facility with 14 clay courts, 6 hard courts, and an 8,200-seat stadium located near downtown on Atlantic Avenue. The center includes an upstairs pavilion and conference room, pro-shop with locker rooms, racquet stringing, and merchandise. The club offers a variety of adult and junior programs, leagues, clinics and camps. A second location, the Delray Swim & Tennis Club, features 24 clay courts and a clubhouse that has a pro shop with merchandise and locker rooms.
On July 20, 2010, the city's commissioners proclaimed that the city's name would be officially changed to Tennis Beach for one week in honor of its nomination by the United States Tennis Association as one of the top tennis towns in the United States.
The city has 2 miles (3.2 km) of public beach accessible from Florida State Road A1A.Travel Holiday magazine named Delray Municipal Beach as the top beach in the southeastern United States. The remains of the British Steamship Inchulva that sank on Sept 11, 1903 are located in shallow water near the public beach, acting as habitat for native fish and corals. Known today as the Delray Wreck, the site is noted for snorkeling and scuba diving.
East Atlantic Avenue is noted for its nightlife, dining, and shopping. Atlantic Avenue is also a regular destination for various art fairs and street festivals.
Delray Beach has a street-legal golf cart community among residents as well as local businesses. Exhilaride offers street-legal golf cart rentals to visitors and residents by the hour, day or longer. The Downtowner is point-to-point golf cart free ride service available by app and Katch-a-Ride is a similar business, available by phone.
The Pineapple Grove Arts District, located downtown just north of Atlantic Avenue, is noted for its galleries, performance art, and cultural organizations.
Arts Garage, a not-for-profit multi-media arts venue, hosts musical concerts, live theatre, arts education and outreach programs, and a visual art gallery.
The Delray Beach Playhouse, which opened in 1947 in Lake Ida East Park, stages plays, musicals, interactive studio theatre, books on stage, children’s theatre productions, classes and camps.
Old School Square, the former campus of Delray Elementary School and Delray High School, has since been converted into a cultural center. The Old School Square complex now comprises the Crest Theatre, a venue for the performing arts, in the former High School building; the 1925 Gymnasium, restored to maintain its appearance, which has since become a venue for local events such as wedding receptions and dances; the Cornell Art Museum, built in the restored Elementary School; and The Pavilion, which serves as an outdoor venue for musical performances and other events such as political rallies. The Creative Arts School offers beginner through master level art, photography, and writing classes for children and adults.
Cason Cottage House Museum, once home to a family of Delray Beach pioneers, offers visitors a glimpse at daily life in South Florida from 1915 to 1935. The Museum is maintained and operated by the Delray Beach Historical Society.
The Sandoway Discovery Center, located at the historic J. B. Evans House at 142 South Ocean Boulevard, features native plants, live animals, and a large collection of shells from around the world. The center offers environmental education programs and classes.
The historic Sundy House now operates as a luxury eco resort. The premises includes The Sundy family’s former apartments and cottages which have been converted into guest accommodations, a café, an antique shop, and tropical Taru Gardens.
The historic home of teacher/principal Solomon D. Spady was renovated and turned into the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum. The Spady Museum houses black archives and hosts exhibits and programs designed to recognize the efforts of blacks who were instrumental in shaping Delray Beach and Palm Beach County. In 2007 the museum was expanded by renovating a 1935 cottage as a Kid's Cultural Clubhouse, and the construction of a 50-seat amphitheater named for C. Spencer Pompey, a pioneer black educator.
Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens is a center for Japanese arts and culture. The campus includes two museum buildings, the Roji-en Japanese Gardens: Garden of the Drops of Dew, a bonsai garden, library, gift shop, and a Japanese restaurant, called the Cornell Cafe, which has been featured on the Food Network. Rotating exhibits are displayed in both buildings, and demonstrations, including tea ceremonies and classes, are held in the main building. Traditional Japanese festivals are celebrated several times a year.
The City of Delray Beach maintains five athletic fields, five beach and oceanfront parks, eight community parks, two intracoastal parks, a teen center and skatepark, a splash park, and a pool and tennis club, offering a variety of recreational activities and facilities.
Delray Beach is one of South Florida's most popular beach destinations. The area is noted for its restaurants, retail shops, nightclubs, art galleries, and hotels.
Downtown Delray Beach has had a building boom since roughly 2003. Recent development reflects trends of New Urbanism downtown, and mansionization of waterfront property, sometimes creating pressures on Historic Districts and historic sites. New mixed-use development projects have recently been constructed, and more are planned, in the areas immediately north and south of Atlantic Avenue. To accommodate the anticipated growth the city has also built two new municipal parking garages.
Drug recovery programs
In 2007, an article in The New York Times labeled Delray Beach the drug recovery capital of the United States because it had one of the country’s largest recovery communities and relative number of sober living houses. However, the lucrative local drug rehab industry has received mixed reviews from addiction experts and is considered a public nuisance by some residents and city officials. Persistent complaints of health care fraud, insurance fraud, strain on public resources, and a perceived lack of adequate regulation and rehab facility inspections have received media coverage. In July 2017, several national news outlets including The New York Times and NBC News published investigative reports detailing fraud allegations within South Florida's billion-dollar drug rehab industry, focusing on Delray Beach's sober houses. At least 30 arrests for illegal "patient brokering" had been made between July 2016 and July 2017 and more are expected.
According to Delray Beach's 2014 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the top employers in the city are:
Delray Beach has experienced a drastic spike in opioid overdoses in recent years, reaching record numbers in 2016 and 2017. The number reached its pinnacle of 96 in October 2016. Most overdoses are a result of heroin mixed with Fentanyl.
Notable landmarks and buildings
Front lobby of the Colony Hotel on East Atlantic Avenue.
Florida State Road A1A, locally known as "Ocean Boulevard", is a north-south Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway passing through the city between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean.
U.S. Route 1, also known as "Federal Highway", is a north–south road passing through downtown, commercial districts, and residential areas in the eastern part of the city. US1 splits into a divided one-way pair through downtown.
Interstate 95 bisects the city from north to south with two Delray Beach interchanges.
The Downtown Roundabout: A free shuttle that connects the Tri-Rail Station to Downtown Delray Beach. With two routes, and 22 stops throughout the downtown, it operates 7 days a week.
The Downtowner: An on-demand, local, free ride service utilizing green technology.
Downtown Delray Beach is accessible by boat via The Intracoastal Waterway. The city has a municipal marina with rental slips just south of the Atlantic Avenue crossing. Yacht cruises also launch daily from Veteran's Park just north of the Atlantic Avenue drawbridge.
During the Artists and Writers Colony of the 1930s–1950s, Delray Beach residents and locations were described and depicted – both directly and indirectly - within the cartoon illustrations of Herb Roth, W.J. (Pat) Enright, H. T. Webster, Fontaine Fox, and Jim Raymond.
Delray Beach is referenced in published correspondence from poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, who resided in the city with her husband Eugen Jan Boissevain in 1935-36 while writing Conversation at Midnight.
Transplanted Greenwich Village folk singer Rod MacDonald’s song “My Neighbors In Delray” was written upon the author’s discovery that some of the terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks had spent time in Delray Beach just prior to the attacks.
Some film and television productions specifically set or filmed in Delray Beach include:
Bad Boys II, starring Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, was partially filmed in Delray Beach. The film’s producers blew up a real $40 million waterfront mansion in Delray Beach as part of a scene that is set in Cuba.
After Midnight, a 2014 feature film was shot in Artists Alley, part of Delray Beach’s Pineapple Grove Arts District downtown.