The Stranahan House

On this edition of Learning from Miami we journey along the New River in Fort Lauderdale to the home of Frank and Ivy Stranahan, the founders of Fort Lauderdale.

In January 1893, 27-year-old Frank Stranahan left his native Ohio and moved to what would be the future city of Fort Lauderdale along the New River. Stranahan had been hired to manage his cousin’s camp and ferry crossing for the Lantana to Lemon City stage line.

In 1894, Mary Brickell, co-founder of Miami and landowner of parcels along the New River, asked Frank to relocate his original campsite 300 yards upriver.  He agreed, and in return she gave Frank 10.7 acres of land in the surrounding area. Frank expanded the family business and established the Stranahan & Company Trading Post. He befriended the Seminole Indians who lived along the river and developed a very prosperous Indian trading business. Frank’s newly acquired plot of land became the central location of the tiny “New River Settlement” in Fort Lauderdale. Stranahan established a post office there and became postmaster.

By 1899, the area had grown large enough to meet the requirements for a teacher from the county board of education. Eighteen-year-old Ivy Julia Cromartie was hired to teach the local children and she moved to the New River Settlement. Community members built a one-room schoolhouse for Ivy and her nine students in the New River Settlement.

Frank and Ivy met when she lived and taught at the settlement. They married on August 16, 1900, at her family home. Soon after their marriage, Ivy resigned from teaching. She still had a passion for education and began offering informal lessons to Seminole children at the trading post that respected the tribe’s traditions.

In 1901, Frank built the two-story Stranahan House out of Dade County Pine, in the vernacular architecture style. The lower floor served as a trading post and the upper floor as a community hall. By 1906, Frank’s enterprise had grown to include a general store and a bank. He built a new building close to the Flagler railroad. The old trading post was later converted into a residence for the Stranahans. The home went through a second major renovation between 1913 and 1915, when an interior staircase, electric wiring, and plumbing were installed. As Frank’s businesses grew, so did the settlement.

Fort Lauderdale was incorporated in 1911. At this time, Frank owned a great deal of property around the Fort Lauderdale area. He and Ivy took on social and civic leadership roles in the developing city and donated property for many public projects.

In 1926, Florida’s land boom collapsed, and Frank suffered extreme financial losses. That same year, the “Great Miami” hurricane ravaged South Florida, adding more costly damage to Stranahan’s investment properties. Frank also suffered feelings of guilt for financially ruining his friends who had invested in his projects. Frank’s depression spiraled out of control. On May 22, 1929, he committed suicide by drowning himself in the New River in front of his home.

Following Frank’s death, Ivy struggled to make a living. Determined to keep her home, she decided to rent out its spare rooms. Ivy later leased the first floor of her home as a restaurant space.

Ivy would eventually return to her roots as a civic activist. During the Great Depression, she witnessed her neighbors’ losing their homes to foreclosures. Ivy and her allies championed a movement that resulted in Florida’s Homestead Exemption law. In the mid-1930s, Ivy was instrumental in establishing a hospital for the Black community. She campaigned for family planning and the Campfire Girls, a multicultural organization for girls. She created housing programs for the elderly and the Garden Club. Ivy was also an influential supporter of the Seminole tribes by advocating for land, education, healthcare and proper treatment of indigenous people. She lived in the Stranahan home until her passing on August 30, 1971.

Ivy was a devout protestant Christian. After her death, the home was donated to the Seventh Day Adventist Church. In 1979, after the restaurant’s lease expired, the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society purchased the the home. They formed a partnership with the Fort Lauderdale Board of Realtors in order to restore the home to its original layout. In 1981, the Stranahan House incorporated, became a separate non-profit organization, and then reopened to the public as a museum in 1984. Today, the Historic Stranahan House Museum welcomes approximately 10,000 visitors each year.

-Ursa Gil

Resources

https://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-xpm-1994-04-24-9404210516-story.html

Frank & Ivy Stranahan – Founders of Fort Lauderdale

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