Visitors may not see the Stranahan House at all at first. Or perhaps they see it when they take a boat tour of the New River and the Intracoastal Waterway. There it is tucked among the high rise condos, multi-million dollar homes of the industrious and famous and, of course, their sleek yachts.
Fort Lauderdale, lovingly referred to as Venice of America because of all its waterways, got its start in the humble wooden house on the New River. Frank Stranahan was an Ohio boy who came south to help with a camp and ferry on this spot. Though nearly impossible to tell now in glittering Fort Lauderdale, this was a rustic spot where a rock road connected the little towns that dotted the agricultural and wild landscape. Fort Lauderdale and Miami wouldn’t be built for years.
Frank was a shrewd businessman who traded with the Indians, ran the ferry, as well as the general store and the post office. His wealth grew until the Great Depression. He bought ten acres along the river and built the first level of his house in 1901. The little settlement grew and when it needed a teacher, Frank hired a young woman named Ivy Cromartie. She taught only for a few months before her marriage to Frank. This little house, expanded after their marriage, would be her only home — and Ivy stayed there though a restaurant took over the ground level.
The house the Stranahans left behind reflects a tough spirit, a love of elegance, admiration for the Seminoles and a practicality that must have kept them going.
The wood-paneled walls are still beautiful despite all the wear and tear of the past century, including hurricanes. Even though the exterior walls needed to be completely restored when the house was turned over to the Historic Stranahan House Museum organization, inside, the walls had remained strong.
There are hints of elegance everywhere….a silver tea service, fine china, the latest kitchen appliances for 1900, handsome furniture. (About a third of the items inside the house belonged to the Stranahans, including Frank’s desk.)
I couldn’t help but marvel at the life this couple must have led here as the area attracted new settlers, the railroad and became incorporated in 1911 as Fort Lauderdale.
We combined our visit to the house with a boat tour of the New River and Intracoastal Waterway on the Carrie B. It made for a great counterpoint. Elegance early in the 20th Century and, well, conspicuous consumption in the 21st Century. Houses have grown a little in the intervening 100 years. And super-yachts make humble little ferry boats seem quaint.
© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman