History, but make it fun: in conversation with the historical society of palm beach county

The artifacts date back 12,000 years.

No, we’re not talking about a collection at The Smithsonian – we’re talking about The Historical Society of Palm Beach County!

As the world’s leading resource for Palm Beach County history, HSPBC houses a permanent collection of millions of objects and images cataloging the rich history of Palm Beach County and Florida at large.

Lucky us!

But they’re so much more than a museum. With programming, events, educational resources and more, HSPBC should be on your list of spots to frequent here in Palm Beach County.

We spoke with Jeremy W. Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County since 2011, to share the inside scoop with our readers.

TSG: How/when was the organization founded and how it has evolved over the years?

HSPBC: The Historical Society of Palm Beach County (HSPBC) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 1937 to collect, preserve, and share the history of Palm Beach County.  In 2003 we began dedicating resources to the development of educational programming, which impacted more than half a million children by 2019.  A large part of the programming is delivered through the HSPBC’s Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum, opened in 2008 in the restored 1916 Historic Courthouse.

TSG: Summarize what it is the Historical Society of Palm Beach County offers to someone not yet familiar with it?

HSPBC: The HSPBC is the premier authority on and steward of Palm Beach County’s unique history and diverse cultural heritage.  We collect, catalogue, preserve, present, and interpret an archive of four million photographs and many thousands of items that document centuries of people, places, and events.

The education of our children is of particular importance to the HSPBC. We agree with scholars that history education encourages effective future citizens, because it increases critical thinking skills, acceptance of others, and knowing how one fits into the world. We partner with the School District of Palm Beach County to provide civics and history curricula in many forms.

TSG: Can you highlight 1-2 things in each relevant category?


Evening on Antique Row (April) This chic street party highlights the historic South Dixie Highway antique district of West Palm Beach.
Archival Evening (December) Our signature gala honors those that have impacted the development of our paradise.

Our exhibits are offered in permanent galleries, an annual special exhibit, temporary exhibits in the historic courtroom, and pop-up indoor/outdoor exhibits loaned to schools and libraries

Our Research Department fills continual requests from families, authors, students, businesses, homeowners, the media, and municipalities for information from our archives.

In 2019 we received the past photograph and negative collections of The Palm Beach Post and Palm Beach Daily News to preserve, doubling our photo archive. With the growth of digital images, the end of the 20th century forward will be underrepresented in archives with public access. The long-term potential uses of these images are unimaginable.

 TSG: You offer many membership tiers- can you break down benefits / reasons for different ones?

HSPBC: The 1916 Society is our most prestigious membership, named on our board letterhead.  Top levels are named on our Donor Recognition Wall and receive tickets to our signature events.  Hours of complimentary research support increase with the levels. All members receive a discount in our Museum Store. 

Young Friends of the HSPBC (age 21-45) help execute Evening on Antique Row and Cocktails in Paradise—events open to all adults—while networking and learning their local history in fun ways.

TSG: How else can I get involved outside of membership?

HSPBC: Sponsorship of events and exhibits; grants for programming; volunteering; gifts of history; gifts to honor others; gifts to the Historical Society of Palm Beach County James Ponce Endowment Fund at the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties; and support of our Annual Fund

TSG: What’s something you’d like people to know about the organization that they otherwise might not?

HSPBC: History is not stuffy and boring. The HSPBC and Johnson History Museum bring history to life in multiple ways depending on our audience, from school children to our Young Friends to residential communities. We just launched a fun video series, “Beneath the Palms,” that the young-at-heart especially enjoy.

TSG: How has the recent influx of newcomers shifted the role/significance of the organization?

HSPBC: As Palm Beach County’s demographics become increasingly diverse, we continually strive to represent the many cultures contributing to our history. In addition, we must convince those newcomers to learn the history of their new home.

TSG: Any common questions you get that you’d like to clear up or address?

HSPBC: The HSPBC is not an agency of the county government, but a private nonprofit that raises every dollar needed to further our mission, and our museum is admission-free.

TSG: Upcoming 2022 highlights?

HSPBC: The 27th Evening on Antique Row (April 9, 2022) will offer the best of the past plus new delights. In addition to General Admission and an expanded VIP experience, a few lucky attendees will enjoy Private Cabanas. The hippest restaurants, artists, music, and surprises will make it the best EOAR ever!

Sunset History Cruise (April) is an intimate early evening on a classic charter yacht with food, drinks, live music, and a historian regaling you with local history! Built in 1926, the 122-foot Mariner III embodies the elegance and luxury of America’s Golden Age

Visit The Historical Society at 300 N Dixie Hwy, West Palm Beach, FL 33401, or learn more online at https://pbchistory.org/