Ethel Sterling Williams came from a family of early Delray Beach leaders. She founded the DBHS in 1964. This photo shows her in 1910. (submitted photo, FPG / August 18, 2014)

In 1964, Ford unveiled its new Mustang, The Beatles landed in America and the Civil Rights Act was signed into law. In Delray Beach, a small group of locals established the Delray Beach Historical Society.

Its mission was "to be an organization that preserves the records and to form a significant and authentic history of the city of Delray Beach."

Now, 50 years later, that dream is thriving.

The Delray Beach Historical Society will celebrate its 50th birthday with an open house on Aug. 26. At the free event, guests will be treated to slices of the world's largest pineapple cake, measuring more than 6 feet long.

The first 100 visitors will each receive a gladiola as a memento, harkening back to the late 1930s when flower farms were big business in the area. Delray Beach was the second largest gladiolus producer in Florida.

Guest appearances by the mayor and those closely connected to the DBHS founders will commemorate the charter signing on Aug. 26, 1964.

During the open house, visitors may freely roam the grounds that boast a native Florida plant garden. The three historical buildings – Cason Cottage, the 1926 bungalow and the Ethel Sterling Williams History Learning Center - will be open for tours. Docents will be on hand to answer questions.

The society was founded by Ethel Sterling Williams. Her family was instrumental in the town's early development. From her father, Henry Sterling, she picked up business acumen and entrepreneurship, said her grandson, William S. Williams, an attorney in West Palm Beach.

"She wanted to be a doctor, but couldn't because she was a woman," Williams said. Instead, she taught school, ran the family business, traveled and was active in Delray Beach.

"My grandmother loved the town and did not want Delray to look like the rest of South Florida," Williams said. "She fought to preserve the identity of the town."

The society's executive director Winnie Edwards is a third-generation Delray Beach native. Her late father, Roy Diggans, was one of the original charter members. She joined DBHS staff about six months ago as its only full-time employee.

One of her goals is to continue digitizing the archives and expand research services.

"We still have oral histories on cassette tapes," she said.

The small nonprofit is supported almost fully by donations and memberships. Community support is vital to continuing its work, Edwards said.

Her vision for the next 50 years is to build a vibrant center for education and community life with contemporary-style exhibits and interactive multimedia to bridge generations and "showcase the rich and colorful stories of our past," she said.

The Delray Beach Historical Society's 50th birthday celebration is from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Aug. 26 at 3 NE First St., in Delray Beach. Visit DelrayBeachHistory.org or call 561-274-9578.