An aerial view of the port. (Port of Palm Beach)

If you live almost anywhere in the Caribbean, chances are much of your food, supplies, and other commodities were shipped from the Port of Palm Beach, Florida, in the United States.

About 80% of the nearly 2.5 million short tons of cargo transitting the port annually is exported, with most of it shipped to countries in the Caribbean. The Bahamas gets more than half of its consumer products from the port. The port ships and receives nearly $15 billion worth of goods annually and is one of the area’s largest employers directly providing more than 2,700 jobs. An additional 6,000 jobs are associated with the importers and exporters that use the port to ship cargo.

Located on Florida’s southeastern coast, the port occupies 165 acres with the highest container volume per acre in the U.S. It was the fourth busiest container port in Florida in 2020, behind Port Miami, Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale and Jax Port in Jacksonville. The port is also unique in Florida in that it is one of only two ports with on-dock rail.

More than a century old, the Port of Palm Beach opened on 18th January 1920, but it would take a few more years before its 4-foot-deep inlet was dredged deep and wide enough for cargo ships.

When the inlet was deepened to 18 feet, the port was visited by its first passenger ship, the 75-passenger Mary Weems, and its first cargo steamer, the Lake Chelan. Today, in addition to the port’s bustling cargo operations, the 1,680-passenger Margaritaville Paradise sails a two-night cruise from the Port of Palm Beach to Grand Bahama Island.

Railroad service played an important role in the development of the port, including a unique Havana Car Ferry service operated by the West India Fruit & Steamship Company that became the most prominent rail operation at the port. In its heyday, a fleet of five ferries offered carload freight service connecting the U.S. mainland and the Cuban capital.

Two of the Florida Havana Railroad Car Ferries which operated until 1960. The largest was the 5,074grt New Grand Haven which was built in 1951 by Canadian Vickers at Montreal for the West India Fruit & SS Co. Inc. of Honduras who operated the Florida Havana Railroad Car Ferries service. In 1965 she was sold to the Canadian Government and renamed Patrick Morris. On 20th April 1970 she sank after her stern door was breached off Cape Breton. Four crew were lost. (Port of Palm Beach)

Gateway to Cuba

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