by Frances H. Miner

The Everglades, stretching inland from the sea; vast, mysterious, impenetrable, hammock and glade matted with tough trailing vines and tropical undergrowth; swamp and forest; mangroves on their slow, implacable march to the ocean; the home of wild turkey, of families of chattering parakeets; panther, bear, the predatory wolf; the Indian.

This was Broward county in embryo. It was a country that long blocked the efforts of exploration; the coming of the white man was delayed. The regions around St. Augustine to the north and Biscayne Bay to the south apparently were more hospitable; their welcome warmer. The middle country offered greater resistance to the hardy adventurers who passed along the coast.

Seminole Indians

There was however, a definite culture long before the white man came. Shell mounds found in the vicinity of New River indicate that some eight or ten thousand years ago this region was inhabited by a primitive race of people who lived upon shell fish procured from the waters of the nearby bay, and upon the flesh of small animals that were killed with crudely fashioned weapons. Archeologists say that these mounds, some of which were eight feet high and thirty feet across, are as old as the Neolithic age, and were probably built by people earlier than the American Indians, probably of Aztec origin.

The Seminoles, the “runaway” tribe of the Creek nation of Georgia, migrated to Florida in 1750 and in 1809. But it was the Calusa and the Ais tribes that Governor Pedro Mendez de Aviles found when he set out from St. Augustine in his vessels, in 1565, with carpenters, soldiers and priests, for a voyage of exploration down the east coast of Florida. These Indians seem to have disintegrated as a nation and vanished before the coming of the Seminoles. The aboriginal inhabitants of Florida, declares Nevin Winter in his Florida, The Land of Enchantment, were the Missosukee and Timuqua Indians of Mayan stock. Alex Hrdlicka states that of the native Indians not one living trace remains. Other authorities say that certain Indians in Florida at the present time speak a Miccosukee dialect.

During the exploration of the early Spanish adventurers in Florida, it is quite possible that what is now Broward county was visited by them on some of the overland marches or on some of the sea voyages. Certainly Gomez in 1525 and Ponce de Leon in 1513 passed along this coast, but definite records are lacking.

Jonathan Dickinson, who with his party was shipwrecked on the lower Florida coast in 1699, was, after a variety of adventures, finally passed along the coast from one tribe to another to safety in Virginia. Escalanta de Fontenada, the first white man to traverse south Florida, was the sole survivor of a Spanish Galleon wrecked on the Florida Keys about 1545. He was held in virtual slavery by the Indians for 17 years until his rescue, although he was permitted to roam at will throughout the territory controlled by the Calusa Federation. Whether these early Florida visitors found their way to or through what is now Broward County is a matter of conjecture.

The early maps of this region show no settlements between Canaveral and San Jose (New Smyrna) south to Tegesta (Miami) except for the mission at Santa Lucia, which was north of what is now Palm Beach. Hollingsworth in his History of Dade County shows a map giving the routes of early Spanish explorers and location of Spanish Missions and Spanish settlements, according to “La Dueda de Los Estados de America del Norte para con España per la Exploracion, la Colonizacion y la Cultura Española de 1492 a 1800.”

Father Michael Kenny in his Romance of the Floridas in a map showing the location of early Jesuit Missions in Florida, indicates the location of Tegesta Mission (Miami) in 1567 and San Ignacio (Coconut Grove) in 1743. Neither of these maps shows settlement between Tegesta (sic) and Santa Lucia.

The history of Broward County centers particularly around the city of Fort Lauderdale, which was a military fort and trading post 100 years ago. Broward was Dade County then. It was not until 1915 that the new county was carved out from the lower half of Palm Beach County and the upper half of Dade County. This operation gave Broward 990,227 acres of which 33,632 acres are farm lands. There are approximately 17,444 acres under actual cultivation.

It was in 1909 that Governor Broward, for whom the county is named, started the first work of Everglades drainage. New River was selected as natural channel to connect two of the largest drainage canals from Lake Okeechobee with the Atlantic Coast at Fort Lauderdale. This point is now the center of a great drainage district of more than 500,000 acres. The drainage of the Everglades has brought large acres to productiveness.

The intracoastal canal which is a navigable waterway that links New York to Miami is considered a safe inside route for vessels with a 7-foot draft from Jacksonville south through Broward County. It is ten feet deep and plainly marked all the way.

Port Everglades, Florida’s deepest harbor, is developing rapidly and is already recognized as one of Florida’s major harbors. Since 1926 over four million dollars has been spent on this harbor. The channel, 35 feet deep, gives Broward County the deepest harbor on the Atlantic Coast south of Norfolk, Virginia. The tonnage has increased every year. The Port is used extensively by the United States Navy and Coast Guard vessels and major commercial steamship lines, both American and foreign. A regular weekly coastwise service is operated by the Baltimore and Caroline Line, Inc. The Standard Oil Company of Kentucky and Belcher Oil Company have storage plants at Port Everglades.

There are seven incorporated towns in Broward County. All of these have electric service and most of them waterworks and sewage. The largest of these is Fort Lauderdale.

Fort Lauderdale, the county seat and the largest city in Broward County was in 1896 a sleepy town, struggling along the banks of the New River. Before 1800 the only resident was the red man.

Concerning the New River itself, which flows through the center of the town, there is an old Indian legend. Sara Matthews Crim of Fort Lauderdale gives an interesting account of it:

“In the long, long ago, there was a mysterious river that danced its way down to the big water. Where the river now traces its course there was once a wild tropical jungle and dense pine forests, filled with frightful beasts of the wilderness.

“Tribes of Seminoles* (*Editor’s note: Probably misnamed. The Seminoles came at a much more recent date). then living in peaceful solitude in palm-thatched huts, who had gone to rest after a days hunt in the dark jungles, were rudely awakened one night by thundering noises, and the ground beneath them trembling like the leaves of the graceful palm when the angry winds from the southeast blew in upon them.

“Even the most courageous of the tribes feared to venture forth until the Great Spirit again smiled upon them, and the southern skies were bathed in the sparkling sunlight of a new day.

“Next morning a mighty, magnificent river flowed serenely through the forests before their small huts. The Seminoles,* awed into reverential silence by the miracle, bowed their heads in prayer to the Great Spirit, and called the river Himmarshee which the white man has since changed to New River.”

Geologists who have studies the peculiar formation of the rocks of the coral ridge, and those who have investigated the old legends as well as the later history of New River, believe the story is probably true in every particular. The rock ridges show that there was once an underground river through the coral ridge, the subterranean outlet for the waters of the Everglades, and at the time of some ancient earthquake, the surface rock collapsed and the river came into being.

It is probably that the first white inhabitation of the county was at Fort Lauderdale. Hollingsworth makes mention of one Gregor McGregor who entered what is now Fort Lauderdale in 1808 during the Cartagenian Rebellion, seeking fresh water, and who found settlers there. A later date for the first white settlement is indicated by a monument recently erected in the park at Tarpon Bend in New River by the City of Fort Lauderdale and the Daughters of the American Revolution, which bears this inscription: “This marks the spot of the historical Colee massacre which effectually destroyed the earliest known white settlement on New River in a surprise attack by Indians following Seminole Indian War, - 1842.”

The Colee family, braving the dangers of the wilderness, settled in Colee Hammock, now a residential section of Fort Lauderdale sometime after 1836. The Seminoles resented the fact they were deprived of some of their fertile fields, and though they moved farther back in the Everglades, they planned to murder the white people who had robbed them of their territory. They chose a night when the older Colee and his son had gone down to Key West for supplies leaving Mrs. Colee and other members of the family unprotected at Colee Hammock. Although the family were warned of the impending attach by a member of the tribe with whom they were on friendly terms, the warning come too late. The band gathered in the woods surrounding the settlement, and murdered every person in it. The Indian who gave the warning and who lost his ears in consequence, died in 1922 at the age of 100.

It was in 1837, during the Seminole war, that Major Maitland brought a garrison south from Fort Pierce to fortify new River, and to prevent the landing of supplies for the Indians from the Bahamas and the West Indies. A two-story log building was constructed opposite the mouth of New River, and was surrounded by a stockade of palmetto logs set in the ground. This was the scene of the Battle of Fort Lauderdale, which began on the night of August 27th, 1837, when a party of Seminole warriors collected at Colahatchee floated silently in their war canoes down the stream into Middle River and made their way to the Sound to within a short distance from the fort. Leaving their canoes, they crept stealthily toward the stockade, their intent being to kill the solitary sentry and massacre the garrison. One Indian, missing his footing, was heard by the sentry, who immediately fired, awakening the sleeping soldiers. The Indians were quickly routed with no casualties to the defenders. For three days the red man made repeated attacks on the garrison, but were successfully repulsed.

This was the last battle of the Seminole war. Peace overtures were begun then which have never been violated.

It is said that Major Maitland named the tiny settlement “Fort Lauderdale” to perpetuate the memory of his ancestral home in Scotland. In an effort to verify this belief, the War Department at Washington replied to an inquiry thus:

“Nothing has been found of record to show for whom it is named. However, it is thought possible that is was named for William Lauderdale, captain of Maitland’s company of spies in the second Tennessee of Mounted Militia, who commanded that company from June 14, 1836 to January 19, 1837 and who was subsequently, from October 26, 1837 to May 10, 1838, major of Maitland’s Battalion of Tennessee Infantry in the Cherokee War. Captain Lauderdale was enrolled June 11, 1836, at Hartville, Tenn.

“A letter received in February 1920 by Mrs. F.F. Brown in Fort Lauderdale from Viscountess Maitland, sealed under the Maitland Coat of Arms, Thirlestone Castle-Lauder-N.C. Scotland, reads: ?Fort Lauderdale was named by an ancestor of my husband after his death Earl of Lauderdale. Colonel Maitland built a fort there and did much for that part of America, also naming another town in Florida “Maitland” after the family name. Our home “Thirlestone Castle was called “Fort Lauderdale” until 1590.” — (Signed) Gwendoline Maitland, (Viscountess Maitland).

When military operations ceased, the locality lapsed into a settlement of 25 whites and 100 Indians and the little outpost slumbered along until the advent of Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railroad in 1896.

The first white settler after the Colee massacre is still remembered by the older inhabitants. He died only a few years ago. This was Captain Dennis O’Neill, a courageous soul, who braved the hazards of tropical jungle when he was sent by the government to take charge of the House of Refuge at Las Olas Beach in 1888. For several years he was the only white man in the vicinity, his neighbors the Seminoles, his only communication with the outside world the mail man who carried the mail from Palm Beach to Miami. In O?Neill’s memoirs we read: “Once a week the mailman would drop in on his way to Miami. Occasionally there would be people with him. Once I remember Rube Burroughs, noted train robber of those days, passed my house on his way to New Orleans. Later I found out who he was and that he had been shot by officers in New Orleans.”

Frank Stranahan, who died in 1929, was Fort Lauderdale’s first permanent white settler. In 1893 he came to New River and pitched a tent at Colee Hammock. Later he built a small store and one-room huts with wood floors and canvas tops for the few transients passing through, on the site of the present Stranahan home on the bank of New River where Mrs. Stranahan is still living.

Broward County was a wilderness even as late as 1893. Panthers and wolves prowled near the site of Las Olas Inn on the beach, deer and wild turkey were plentiful, and trapping was an Indian industry. For years Mr. Stranahan had the only store between Lemon City and Palm Beach, and his trade was mostly with the Indians, - alligator and otter skins for groceries. When the Indians brought in the skins, they came with their families, pigs, chickens, dogs and camped for a week or more on the Stranahan grounds. The friendly relations established with the Indians by Mr. Stranahan persisted until his death.

Mr. Stranahan was also the Postmaster, the local banker and ferryman. He had a bell nailed on a post across the river and when some one wanted to cross, the bell was tapped, and the sound brought Mr. Stranahan with a row boat. If there was a wagon to be ferried over, a barge was pulled by cable.

When the first school was build in 1899, its life was short as Mr. Stranahan promptly married the teacher, Miss Ivy J. Cromartie. Miss Cromartie lived in the home of Mr. and Mrs. E.R. King, some distance away and wooing was not an easy task. To get to the King house, one must go by boat down New River and up through King’s Creek, now Tarpon River, and then walk through the dense hammock for half a mile. The wedding took place in Lemon City in 1900. The first couple to be married in Fort Lauderdale was Miss Eva Bryan and Frank Oliver, who married in 1902 and who are still among Fort Lauderdale’s first families.

In the early days Fort Lauderdale and Miami were connected by a sand trail. Some of the journeys to and from Miami were made by water, but boats were not numerous and no fixed schedule was maintained. A covered wagon, called a stage coach, made the 25-mile trip at semi-regular intervals in a day and a night. A tramp barber walked from Jupiter to Fulford, and a traveling blacksmith made a fairly regular call.

It was in February 1896 that Henry R. Flagler brought his first train into Fort Lauderdale, and that occasion was marked by a big reception by the small groups of residents. A few passengers alighted from the train to transact business in Fort Lauderdale and were later transported to Miami by Stage. In April of that year Fort Lauderdale and Miami joined forces in a celebration when the railway was completed to Miami.

The first so-called rock road, to replace the sand trail, was built in 1903. Mr. Stranahan was paymaster of the highway, and made weekly trips to Miami on a bicycle during the building of the road in order to arrange for paying the workmen. The first rock road followed part of the route which is now the Federal Highway.

Fort Lauderdale is justly proud of her coast guard service. An outgrowth of the early House of Refuge of 1888, it has grown to be an important asset of the city. The coast guard has played a laudable part in the protection and saving of lives along the lower east coast in times of hurricanes and other disasters. Continually it gives assistance on land and sea. Outstanding among its achievements was the work done after the 1926 hurricane, the Okeechobee flood of 1928 and the Sept. 29th hurricane of 1935.

With a payroll of $250,000 a year, the local base houses 150 men and 15 officers. The plant includes administrative offices, barracks, kitchen, machine shop, a marine railway, carpenter shop, battery and electrical shop, armory, hospital, airplane hanger, radio station, recreation hall, canteen, and store room. The patrol boat of the coast guard is in daily service.

Fort Lauderdale has been called the Venice of the Tropics. One hundred miles of connecting waterways extend in every section of the city. By boat one may travel from Fort Lauderdale to practically any part of the state. It is a fisherman’s paradise. The best fishing ponds are within a half hour trip from the business section. The Atlantic Beaches front the whole county on the east.

The city was incorporated and given a charter in 1911. In 191- its population was 143. Today it is a modern, incorporated city managed municipally. The Fort Lauderdale Free Press of June 12, 1936, says: “Fort Lauderdale is one of the fastest growing towns in the United States. From 8,000 population in 1928 to 15,000 in 1936...” It is estimated that the winter visitors double this number.

The rapid growth of the city is best illustrated by the following table, compiled by Florence G. Hardy. The peak reached by the boom years of 1924-26 offers an interesting comparison:


From to Permits Cost Revenue
Aug. 2, 1921 Aug. 31, 1922 132 $202,475.00 $98.00
Sept. 1, 1922 Aug. 31, 1923 151 342,200.00 113.25
Sept. 1, 1923 Aug. 31, 1924 179 524,980.00 136.75
Sept. 1, 1924 Aug. 31, 1925 1059 5,707,496.00 5,930.00
Sept. 1, 1925 Aug. 31, 1926 2102 10,925,444.00 14,601.79
Aug. 27, 1926 Aug. 29, 1927 1089 2,700,143.19 2,669.81
Aug. 29, 1927 Aug. 31, 1928 322 244,224.00 817.22
Sept. 1, 1928 Aug. 31, 1929 280 203,469.00 685.40
Sept. 1, 1929 Aug. 31, 1930 375 251,713.70 493.04
Sept. 1, 1930 Aug. 31, 1931 320 242,925.50 772.58
Sept. 1, 1931 Aug. 31, 1932 264 64,859.50 433.10
Sept. 1, 1932 Aug. 31, 1933 204 111,536.00 378.75
Sept. 1, 1933 Aug. 31, 1934 340 175,763.00 752.00
Sept. 1, 1934 Aug. 31, 1935 557 640,645.00 2,263.45
Sept. 1, 1935 Aug. 31, 1936 863 1,558,953.50 3,102.45


Dania, five miles south of Fort Lauderdale on Dixie Highway, is the center of the Broward County tomato district. It was founded by the Florida East Coast Railroad, which called it Modello, a name intended to convey Model Land Company which was the real estate arm of the Flagler interests. However, among the early colonists was A.C. Frost, a Dane who introduced the Danish brotherhood, a wide spread Wisconsin organization and the place came to be known as Dania. It was incorporated into its present mayor and council form of government in 1927. Summer population, 2,016; winter 3,500.

Pompano, midway between Palm Beach and Miami thirty-five miles either way, is on the Dixie Highway and was originally laid out and developed by the Model Land Company, the real estate division of the Flagler interests. It was surveyed by an engineer named Franklin Sheehan. When he returned to West Palm Beach and was wondering while eating dinner what to name the new town plat, he bethought himself of the toothsome fish Pompano on his plate and that this fish was very plentiful at Hillsborough Inlet, near the new townsite. Hence the name of Pompano was put on his maps. The town was incorporated in 1913 with a mayor and council. It is the Post office for the Hillsborough Lighthouse. One of its boasts is that its water supply need not be treated. Summer population 3,200; winter population 6,000.

Deerfield, the northernmost town in Broward County, is 28 miles south of Palm Beach and 40 miles north of Miami on the intersection of State Road 149 and the Federal highway. It was originally a tank station on the Florida East Coast Railway, which formed a nucleus of the early settlement, later expanding into an agricultural center. First it was called Hillsborough after the inlet nearby but because of the confusion with the same name on the west coast of the state, the name was changed to Deerfield. Deer were plentiful in the early days, especially in one field. Summer population 1,480; winter population 2,000.

Oakland Park, 30 miles north of Miami on the Dixie Highway, was originally developed as a subdivision, later included in the Floronado development, and when that collapsed became Oakland Park again. Prior to its real estate promotion days it was a settlement of farmers.

In 1927 it was incorporated with a mayor and council from of government. Summer population 600; winter population 1,000.

Hollywood, 17 miles north of Miami on Florida No. 4 Highway with the ocean for eastern boundary, was founded as a subdivision in 1921 by the California promoter, Joseph W. Young, who implied his geographical affiliations by the adoption of the movie colony name. It was practically wiped out in the 1926 hurricane and then more substantially rebuilt. It is governed by a mayor and city council. Its back country is agricultural with diversified truck, tomato and potato crops and dairies, but no factories; salt water and game fishing; 1 1/2 miles of city owned beach.

The Hollywood Beach Hotel and casino, the Hollywood Country Club, featuring a glass floor and a movable ceiling; the Broward Kennel Club track and the Riverside Military Academy are to be found in Hollywood. Summer population, 3,350; probably 7,000 in winter.

Hallandale, 15 miles north of Miami on the old Dixie Highway, is a tomato growing center and has eight packing houses and two canneries. Its name apparently is corruption of Hollandale, a preponderance of Hollanders.

It was incorporated into a mayor form of government in 1928. Summer population is 1,000; winter population 1,500. m

Scrapbook of newspaper clippings compiled by Mrs. Frank Oliver. Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Scrapbook of newspaper clippings compiled by Mrs. Sara Crim, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Interview with Mrs. Frank Stranahan, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Newspaper clippings and typewritter records compiled by Mrs. Florence C. Hardy, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Kim’s Guide to Florida, by Ethel Byrum Kimball, 1934-35 edition. The Record Company, St. Augustine, Florida.

Greene’s Pocket Guide to Greater Miami, compiled, written, and published by Clarissa Greene, Miami, Fla.

Florida. The March of Progress. Bureau of Immigration, compilation, published by H.& W.B. Drew Company. (Jacksonville) 1936.

Florida, Empire of the Sun, by Carita Doggett Corse & Berthal E. Clarke. Published by Florida Hotel Commission, 1930.

South Florida (Booklet) issued by Department of Agriculture, Tallahassee.

Federal Writers' Project American Guide Series
Miami, Florida
Frances H. Miner
Complete 5,000 Words
July 15, 1936

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