The Origins of Pearl City


By Dale King  The Pineapple Contributing Writer In 1915, Thomas M. Rickards, agent for Florida East Coast Railway founder Henry Flagler and the owner of considerable land in Boca Raton, moved to North Carolina and decided to sell his local holdings. He engaged George Ashley Long, his successor as Flagler’s land agent, to immediately survey and dispose of his property. Long started to sell lots in the three-block Pearl City subdivision, located immediately north of downtown Boca Raton, along three main streets: Ruby, Pearl and Sapphire. Alex Hughes was the first to buy a home in Pearl City and quickly became one of the community’s leading citizens. Hughes Park is named in his honor. “We thank God for Mr. Hughes because every community needs someone like him,” said the Rev. Henry Willis, former pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church. “Alex Hughes and Pearl City are synonymous, really.” In the meantime, George Long went on to become the first mayor of Boca Raton. According to the Boca Raton Historical Society, no one knows how the name Pearl City came about. It’s possible that the area was named for the subdivision’s major street, or perhaps the Hawaiian Pearl pineapple, a crop grown in Boca Raton at the time, or it may have been named for the first African- American child born in the community. Historical records indicate many Pearl City residents worked at Butts Farm, a massive green bean crop site nearby, and at the Boca Raton Resort. If there was no work on a Sunday, residents headed to the beach, played baseball or went fishing. Macedonia AME Church was built in 1918, followed by its sister church, Ebenezer Baptist, and then Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in the Pearl City area. At Macedonia AME Church’s 90th anniversary celebration in 2008, then-Mayor Susan Whelchel said, “Beginning with the founding families – the Hughes, Swansons, Clarks, Johnsons, Alburys, Wrights and Cunninghams – Macedonia AME Church has [helped] to develop productive citizens with a spiritual commitment to God and country.” Around that same time, Pearl City got a $6.2 million facelift for its streets, sidewalks and utilities, a program funded with Community Development Block Grants from the federal government. Today, the area consists of three neighborhoods, Pearl City, Lincoln Court and Dixie Manor, that continues to be home to many people from the city’s African- American population.