The meaning of the name Boca Raton has always aroused curiosity. Many people wrongly assume
the name is simply Rat's Mouth. The Spanish word boca, or mouth, often describes an inlet,
while raton means literally, mouse. The term Boca de Ratones or Boca Ratones, was a
navigational referring to a rocky or jagged inlet, but the original location of Boca de Ratones
was Biscayne Bay near present day Miami Beach, according to eighteenth century maps.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the term was mistakenly applied to the current
Lake Boca Raton, whose inlet was closed throughout most of the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries. The "s" and later the "e" were dropped from this title by the 1920s,
The earliest known inhabitants of the Boca Raton area were the Tequesta Indians, who
lived in communities near the ocean as long ago as one thousand years until the eighteenth
century. The construction of the Florida East Coast Canal (today's Intracoastal) and the
Florida East Coast Railway in the 1890s made the region accessible to a group of resourceful
pioneers. By the early 1900s Boca Raton was a tiny agricultural community, many of the
farmers specializing in pineapple cultivation. Amongst these were a group of Japanese
immigrants under the leadership of Joseph Sakai, who formed a community along today's
Yamato Road in 1904.
In May of 1925, the Town of Boca Raton was incorporated at the height of the Florida land boom.
The town council commissioned noted society architect Addison Mizner to plan a world-class resort
community. His exclusive hotel, known as the Cloister Inn, was completed in 1926 and continues
its reign as a city landmark as the Boca Raton Resort & Club. Although many of Mizner's plans
for the young community were squelched by the demise of the land boom in 1926, a few survive
today—and his architectural style continues to influence the city.
One of Mizner's projects was a design for a city hall for Boca Raton. Completed by
Delray architect William Alsmeyer in 1927, Town Hall at 71 North Federal Highway still bears
the original footprint of the Mizner design, and was constructed using ironwork, tile, and
woodwork supplied by Mizner Industries. Today the restored Town Hall is the home of the
Boca Raton Historical Society and its History Museum.
In the 1930s and 40s, Boca was known for its winter vegetable crop, particularly the green
beans which commanded a premium in northern markets. In 1942, the Army Air Corps
established its only war-time radar training school at the site of what is today F.A.U. and
the Boca Raton Airport. The facility brought thousands of servicemen as well as families and
civilian employees to the tiny community of Boca Raton, with a population of 723 in 1940.
In the 1950s, the still small town played host to a safari park called Africa USA which opened
where the Camino Gardens development stands now. E. G. Barnhill offered an attraction called
Ancient America on the site of prehistoric burial mounds on U.S. One in the area of today's
Sanctuary neighborhood. And the Winter Bible Conference Grounds- Bibletown - was
established in buildings of the former Air Field.
In the 1960s, South Florida experienced another great land boom, with developments pushing
the Everglades and former farmlands increasingly westward. The population grew to almost
30,000 residents by 1970, continuing to increase well outside city limits to this day. In 1962,
Boca Raton attracted the newest state university, Florida Atlantic, to the site of the old army
airbase. IBM moved one of its computer facilities to Boca Raton in 1967, and in 1981, it was
there the first IBM PC, or personal computer, was developed.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the city focused much of its attention on downtown redevelopment,
and a number of important historical properties, such as Boca Raton's original Town Hall
and F.E.C. Railway Station were restored and opened to the public. Many fine cultural facilities,
such as the Boca Raton Museum of Art, have grown up to meet the needs of the growing population.
Today the city of Boca Raton, in 1903 a farming village of eighteen souls, is today home to
80,000 residents within city limits and another 120,000 in "West Boca." It's the core of the
south Palm Beach County metropolitan community, offering beautiful parks and facilities,
economic opportunities, and a unique quality of life that is the envy of its neighbors.