William M. Lanehart, born in May 1841 at Albany, New York, first came to the shores of Lake Worth in 1873. He had been living at Titusville since 1870 and sailed south to look over the area. He went back to Titusville but, two years later, persuaded by H.F. Hammon, he returned to the shores of Lake Worth to stay. In March 1875, he built a palmetto shack and dug a well which attracted many bears. The first winter, he shot thirteen of them, which he shared with his few neighbors.
William left a diary in which he wrote:
“One day as I was going to work south of the house, I heard a noise and stopped under a palmetto tree. Imagine my surprise, when a mammoth bear came tumbling down from the tree-tops and landed at my feet. The strangest part of it, was that neither of us stopped to find out if the other was hurt.”
William also wrote that he was the first to reach the Spanish barque, “Providencia”, which ran aground off the coast of southeast Florida on 9 January 1878. The ship was well-stocked with food, wine and 20,000 coconuts from Havana. A two-week beach party ensued with the local residents and the captain and crew. Lanehart wrote:
“In a very short time that part of the beach around the wreck was a busy place, people throwing coconuts, carrying coconuts and eating coconuts.”
The settlers planted coconuts everywhere, giving rise to the belief that all coconut palms in the area originated with that cargo. The captain and crew were picked up by a passing ship, and the “Providencia” was sold by the insurance company to the highest bidder, who was William Lanehart. He paid $20.80 for it.
William’s first wife, whom he married about 1887, was named Henrietta, and they had a son, Peter. Henrietta died in 1899, and in 1900, William married again. His second wife died in 1914.
William, a carpenter who became a contractor, was also a shrewd businessman who bought up land when it was cheap and later sold it at a profit. He served as a private banker to those who needed capital. He retired to his orange grove on the east side of the lake and later moved to a house he owned in West Palm Beach.
When his younger brother, George W. Lainhart, arrived on the lake with his family, William opened his home to them until George got a place of his own. William and George not only spelled their surnames differently, but Will was a Republican and George a Democrat. In spite of these differences, they both became respected members of the pioneer community they helped to build.