JUPITER, Fla. - Travelers who climb the 105 steps to the top of the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse are rewarded with a view encompassing the vast beauty (and wealth) of Florida's northern Palm Beach County. They may also get a brief lesson in pharology.
JUPITER, Fla. — Travelers who climb the 105 steps to the top of the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse are rewarded with a view encompassing the vast beauty (and wealth) of Florida’s northern Palm Beach County.
They may also get a brief lesson in pharology.
From the Greek word pharos, pharology is the study of signal lights and lighthouses, a fact I learned from the lighthouse keeper at Jupiter, Steve Kruspe, as he polished the lenses 148 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.
“There’s no school for this stuff,” Kruspe declared, conducting his own short class for a small group gazing out over a beautiful stretch of Florida’s eastern coast.
Kruspe — through a painless and entertaining discourse on history, trigonometry, meteorology and optics — explained why the lighthouse was built, what it does, why nobody knows this stuff anymore and why anyone should still care.
And a lot of people do care. Today the lighthouse is leased from the Coast Guard by the Loxahatchee River Historical Society, but the light still beams and it still has a keeper — who works for the historical society.
The lighthouse stands on a 48-foot tall dune, one of the highest points in the county and one of the easternmost points of Florida.
This part of Jupiter Island juts far into the ocean (the lighthouse actually sits 10 miles farther east than does Miami) and claimed many ships before the beacon’s construction in 1860.
Since the historical society took over the lighthouse in 1994, a massive preservation and restoration fundraising effort has amassed more than $1.5 million. The effort has been aided by thousands of supporters, including local celebrities such as Perry Como and Jimmy Buffett. (The late Como’s waterfront mansion is easily seen from the lighthouse.)
Palm Beach County has long been a winter haven for the rich and famous, beginning in the 1890s with Henry Morrison Flagler.
Flagler made his fortune in Ohio with Standard Oil, then spent a lot of that fortune promoting the development of his adopted home of Florida and building a railroad along its east coast all the way to Key West.
After descending from the lighthouse, I followed the beam — metaphorically speaking — south toward the town of Palm Beach and Flagler’s magnificent Whitehall mansion, now the Flagler Museum.
The mansion has been preserved, almost completely intact, from the years when Flagler and his family luxuriated here. It contains more than 75 rooms, including a grand music room with a 1,249-pipe theater-sized organ.
Each room is decorated in its own grand style, from the hunting-lodge inspired dining room to the Louis XV grand ballroom where, in 1903, the most glittering party in Florida history (at least up to that time) was held in honor of George Washington’s birthday. A photo from the event is displayed in the room.
Visitors can also stop in the Flagler Kenan Pavilion next to the mansion for a Gilded Age-style lunch at the Cafe des Beaux-Arts and a walk through Flagler’s private railroad car.
Just a short walk from the Flagler Museum is another treasure from the era: the magnificent Breakers hotel, built, of course, by Flagler.
First constructed of wood in 1896, the hotel, like so many grand hotels, burned a few times. The current incarnation dates from 1926 and was modeled after the Villa Medici in Rome, complete with hand-painted frescoes and a cathedrallike 200-foot-long lobby.
The hotel still welcomes vacationers — even those not staying there — with beachfront style and a taste of the kind of luxury Flagler insisted upon and that was enjoyed by the cream of Gilded Age society, including Rockefellers and Vanderbilts.
(One declasse sour note: Today’s Breakers automatically adds a 20 percent tip to credit-card bills for meals at the resort’s magnificent — and pricey — restaurants. We do not approve.)
Another must-visit destination is the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. The 122,000-square-foot structure, said to be the largest museum in Florida, contains varied holdings representing a wide variety of Chinese art; popular European masters such as Rubens, Gauguin, Monet and Picasso; and Americans from George Bellows and Jackson Pollock to currently working artists.
Sun and ocean lovers will adore the vast stretches of sand between Jupiter and Palm Beach, such as can be found at Juno Beach Park, a wonderful place for a day of surfing, pier fishing or sunbathing.
On the windy day I visited Juno Beach, dozens of kite-boarders, more than I had ever seen on one beach, filled the sky with their colorful arcs of sails.
Had I asked, I’m sure the few traditional surfers present would have defended their sport against the relative newcomers. But those surfers looked positively ponderous waiting and waiting for the right wave while the kite-boarders darted around them nonstop like tie-dyed terns flitting around a pod of slow-moving whales.
Yes, the old order changeth. But in Palm Beach County, much of its former glory can still to be enjoyed.