When Lake Worth was a Lake

Augustus Oswald LangIt’s not uncommon to hear folks around here refer to the intracoastal off West Palm as “the lake,” especially if they’re up in years.  That expression never made much sense to me, but those old folks actually know their stuff…

Up until around the time of the Civil War, the Lake Worth Lagoon was a landlocked fresh water lake, fed only by run-off coming from lakes and bodies of water to the west.  Storms would occasionally cause breaches in the lake, allowing sea water to flow in from the ocean, but the breaches never lasted.  Despite its proximity to the seashore, Lake Worth Lagoon was, in those days, largely salt-free.

All of that changed in the mid-1860’s, thanks, in part at least, to a German guy named Augustus Oswald Lang.  Augustus had taken up residence in the area, and he is credited by some as being the first settler in Palm Beach County.  He had moved south from Ft. Pierce, some say in an effort to avoid being drafted into the Confederate army.  He was considered somewhat of a recluse who aligned himself with the Confederate movement.  In 1866, Augustus apparently took it upon himself to cut his own inlet between the Lake Worth Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean, thereby creating what would be known locally as “Lang’s Inlet.”  And so began the transition of the body of water from fresh to salt water.

Following Augustus’s lead, a separate, more stable inlet was cut in 1877, and the Jupiter Inlet was then constructed in the early 1880’s.  Soon after the turn of the century, with help from Henry Flagler, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway was named, and the intracoastal as we know it today was fully operational.  In 1918, the Port of Palm Beach dug out the old “Lang’s Inlet,” thereby creating the beginnings of what is now Peanut Island.

As for Augustus, he was quite something…  He and his Confederate buddies once seized the lighting mechanism in the Jupiter Lighthouse, attempting to gain an advantage over Union ships.  It is believed that Augustus later enlisted in the Confederate army, but dropped out after a year or so.  In 1867, following the end of the Civil War, he moved up along the St. Lucie River somewhere, married a 14-year-old named Susan Priest, and began farming.  Augustus sadly met his end when he was shot and killed by three men whose motives for the murder are not clear.  Augustus’s only son was born two months after his death.

However history might look back upon ol’ Augustus Oswald Lang, he certainly played a role in the transformation of the Lake Worth Lagoon into the body of water it is today.  So, next time you’re enjoying Peanut Island or the beer barges at SunFest, offer up a toast to the memory of Augustus Lang.

(Special thanks to the Historical Society of Palm Beach County for information and the image.)