Charles John Clarke (1833-1899) may have been a winter visitor to the Lake Worth area as early as 1885 when he appeared in a photo with a hunting and fishing party near Jupiter lighthouse. He was from Pittsburgh, where he operated a fleet of boats providing transportation between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. He married Louisa S_______ and they had four sons: Thomas Shields, Louis Semple or Simpson, James King and John S.
According to Clark’s grandson and namesake, Charles and Louisa spent the winter of 1890- 1891 at Elijah N. Dimick’s “Cocoanut Grove House,” Palm Beach’s only hotel. The following winter, Clarke bought it, along with about 50 acres of land from the Lake Trail to the ocean beach. He also bought 10 acres more on the South Lake Trail, where the Society of the Four Arts stands today. This estate he named “Primavera,” (Springtime). He then had constructed Palm Beach’s first non-wooden residence, the first to have a genuine tile roof instead of wooden shingles, with white stucco outer walls instead of the usual shingles or clapboard. When the house was completed and landscaped at No. 8 South Lake Trail, he and Louisa moved in. Clarke then sold or rented Cocoanut Grove House to Henry Morrison Flagler who used it to house the workers building his Royal Poinciana Hotel. In October 1893, it burned down.
Clarke’s yacht, “Alma,” named for his granddaughter, was one of the first in Palm Beach. Some accounts say that he originally arrived in Palm Beach aboard the “Alma.” He served as commodore of the Palm Beach Yacht Club and was ever after known as “Commodore Clarke.” The clubhouse was on the lakefront of his property.
Commodore Clarke became a well-known figure in Palm Beach with his jaunty hat and umbrella. He and Louisa entertained distinguished Pittsburghers on vacation, including Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Carnegie and Mr. and Mrs. Henry Phipps. The Clarkes beautified the grounds of “Primavera” with a great variety of tropical plants including royal palms from Cuba, and Clarke placed ancient cannons from shipwrecks along his seawall.
Charles John Clarke died in Palm Beach in 1899. Clarke Avenue in Palm Beach is named for him.
Thomas Shields Clarke (1860-1920), artist and sculptor of New York City, married Adelaide Knox. Their children, born in Paris where he was studying art, are Alma Adelaide, Charles John, and a daughter who became Mrs. George C.T. Remington of Everglades Island. Thomas brought his family to Palm Beach to visit his parents from time to time He died in New York.
Louis Semple or Simpson Clarke bought property on Palm Beach in 1892. Located on his father’s estate, he named it “Dulciora.” Louis had an inventive nature. He built a camera and took many of the photos which are now part of the county’s historical treasure trove. He also built one of the first autocars, which he taught his wife to drive, making her the first known woman driver in the county. They had two children, Winifred and L. Phillips. Winifred, who married a West Palm Beach pioneer, Roscoe Tait Anthony, is credited with having started the first Sunday School in Palm Beach. L. Phillips Clarke was an architect. He and his partner, Henry Stephen Harvey, opened a West Palm Beach office in 1921 and designed many of the buildings in Palm Beach and West Palm Beach, including the Comeau Building, the Murray Building, Guaranty Building, Gus’ Baths, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Palm Beach County Library, to name a few.
James King Clarke also bought a Palm Beach homesite in 1892, on North Lake Trail, where he lived with his family.
John S. Clarke appears in many early Palm Beach photos. He had two daughters, Louise and Agnes.