The Stranahan House
The best way to learn about history is to start at the beginning. And in Fort Lauderdale, that means, starting at the Stranahan House.
The green and white wooden house was built in 1901, the town’s very first structure.
Today, the small wooden house seems out of place on Las Olas Boulevard, flanked on the right by tall skyscrapers, on the left by apartment buildings and expensive stores. Underneath the house, cars whiz through Florida’s only underground tunnel. Football-field sized pleasure boats and shiny yatchs cruise up and down the New River, causing the waves to lap up against the cement platform in front of the house. Very different from the Seminole Indians’ canoes that used to slip seemlessly through the water and tie up outside the house.
Palm Beach and Miami were both budding towns when the first road was constructed along the Florida coast. But the New River, (said to be as much as 40 feet deep in some places), was too deep to build a bridge across, so Frank Stranahan moved from Ohio to this tropical wilderness to transport travelers by ferry from one side of the river to the other.
At first, the building was an all-purpose box: trading post, post office and hotel. Later, Frank decided to live in the house with his wife, Ivy, who was brought in from Miami to teach a handful of children in the pioneer settlement.
As the town grew, Frank got into new ventures, such as banking and finance, but he went into despair after a hurricane devistated the town in 1926, and the stock market crashed in 1929. He killed himself by tying a weight to his leg and jumping in the river.
After his death, Ivy continued to live in the house until her death in 1971. She took in borders and moved upstairs. The first floor was bought out and converted into a restaurant.
Four years later, the Stranahan house was added to the U.S. National Registry of Historic Places. Restoration began on the house in 1980 and it opened as a museum in 1984.
Today, the Stranahan House has been restored to the way it looked in 1915, when the house was equipped with electricity and indoor plumbing. Even though the Stranahans are akin to royalty here in Fort Lauderdale, their house is decidedly middle class. Ivy’s original china, a simple blue and white pattern, sits on a small kitchen table. A patchwork quilt covers her modest, wooden bed upstairs. The kitchen has little more than a small icebox and a white iron stove.
The tours of the house give a good insight into both the personal lives of Fort Lauderdale’s founders and of the beginnings of the city itself. The tours are led by guides dressed in turn-of-the-century costumes and last about an hour. I was the only person on my tour, which meant walking around a deserted house with only one other person, who was dressed like Ivy herself, made me feel as if I’d gone back in time. One thing you will learn on a tour is that the Stranahans never had any children, although you will also come to understand that Ivy really became the “mother” of the entire town, watching it grow from a tiny outpost to a modern metropolis from the window of her house. It must have been an incredible view.
Tours cost $5 for adults and $2 for children. The house is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays.
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