The crowds that line up for Father’s Day at the Cheesecake Factory on Las Olas are steps away from where our city’s founding father traded with Seminoles in dugout canoes.
Frank Stranahan’s house is now a museum, his name legend. When he arrived in 1893 to operate a ferry across the New River, there were no buildings, no bridges to the beach, no other “white citizens.” As he described it later, there was a Seminole camp “within about 300 feet” of his trading post. They had a large field and plenty of corn, Indian pumpkins and sweet potatoes. “They were living in no want whatever at that time,” Stranahan noted. He lamented the treatment they received from later settlers, and his wife, Ivy, started a school for their children.
An earlier candidate for founding fatherhood might have been Major William Lauderdale, but both he and his fort were gone decades before Stranahan came along. An even earlier settlement of 70 settlers fled to Key West after the family of the justice of the peace, William Cooley, was killed.
In short order, Stranahan’s trading post became a landmark. In 1911, the city was incorporated, and Stranahan established the city’s first bank and post office. He financed the construction of the first road from the New River to Miami, and became a successful landowner. He also donated large portions of his land, including sites for the city’s first hospital and parks.
Perhaps his wisest move was marrying the city’s first schoolteacher, Ivy Cromartie, in 1900. She went on to become a civic leader extraordinaire, even after Frank’s death in 1929. Despondent over the stock market crash, and the sight of people losing their homes, he tied himself to a manhole cover and jumped into the New River.
Seven years before Stranahan’s death, another founding father came along in the form of Dr. James Sistrunk. Together with the surgeon Dr. Von D. Mizell, Dr. Sistrunk founded Provident Hospital to care for the city’s black community (which was denied access to the city’s other hospitals). Dr. Sistrunk, who was credited with delivering 5,000 babies, became an icon for both his service and his style, which was that of a kindly country doctor who visited people in their homes, often returning payment so they could buy medicine. One citizen maintained that “Doc” Sistrunk remembered all the kids he delivered. “That’s one of mine,” he would say.
There were other “founding fathers”: Philemon Bryan, an early settler; Hugh Taylor Birch, benefactor of the park that bears his name; Commodore Brook, who built our first Olympic-sized swimming pool and presided over our first chamber of commerce. And what better choice for a founding father than a man named George Washington?
George Washington English, that is. You may have played tennis or softball, or perhaps enjoyed a starlight concert in the park and marine space he put together at Sunrise Boulevard and Bayview Drive.
In Half a Century in Florida, August Burghard lays out what this man accomplished during his years as city attorney (1928-39), board – or founding – member of dozens of institutions and chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission (1945-54). Among the institutions bearing English’s stamp are Broward General Hospital, Nova University, Channel 2, the Boys Clubs of Broward County and the United Way. He was also instrumental in instituting low-cost housing and a modernized sewer system.
Putting together the land for the park that bears his name – the city’s second largest – was accomplished without any outlay of cash. Another master-stroke was calling on Harvard classmate Claude Pepper (then a U.S. senator) to secure a discount on the purchase of the Bahia Mar Yacht Basin and the beachfront across from it, then Coast Guard property.
Next time you’re at the boat show at Bahia Mar, or walking by Stranahan Park or listening to music at the Sistrunk Festival, tip your shades to these civic-minded gentlemen. Indeed, Happy (Founding) Fathers’ Day.