Fort Lauderdale

  • Broward County
  • Year Founded: 1911
  • Founded by: William Lauderdale


For 2500 years, people have been drawn to Fort Lauderdale. The prehistoric peoples, the “Glades Culture,” and the early historic period peoples of the area, the Tequesta, enjoyed the abundance of natural resources along the New River. By the late eighteenth century, the last of these aboriginal peoples had left the area. The Seminole Indians appeared in the early nineteenth century and were joined by a handful of planters along the river.

The city of Fort Lauderdale is named for a Second Seminole War fortification built on the banks of New River in 1838. That year, Major William Lauderdale led a detachment of Tennessee Volunteers south to capture Seminole lands. Altogether, three Fort Lauderdales would be constructed: the first at the fork of New River; the second west of Tarpon Bend; and the largest on the site of today’s Bahia Mar.

After the war, southeastern Florida remained a virtual wilderness. In 1892, however, the Dade County government authorized a road to be built between Lantana and Lemon City (North Miami). An overnight camp and ferry crossing was established on New River, and Frank Stranahan arrived to run the facilities. He established a trading post with the local Seminoles and by 1895, Stranahan’s Store was a South Florida landmark.
In 1896, the Florida East Coast Railway was completed through Fort Lauderdale, providing transportation from all parts of the nation. The village increased in size and was incorporated in 1911. In 1915, Broward County was created out of parts of Dade and Palm Beach counties.
The new county was named for Napoleon Bonaparte Broward who, as Governor of Florida, had begun a massive project to dredge the Everglades. Canals were constructed to provide a means to ship produce, and Fort Lauderdale became a major center for shipping fruits and vegetables north.

In the 1920s, Fort Lauderdale began to change to a resort town. Population tripled and many of the city’s finest homes date from this era. Hopes for continued prosperity came to an end on September 18, 1926, when a deadly hurricane struck, killing hundreds and destroying thousands of structures. In the aftermath, many residents fled and South Florida plunged into a depression.

It was not until the Second World War that the local economy revived. Local training facilities brought thousands of service men to the region. Pilots trained at today’s Fort Lauderdale International Airport and submarines ventured out of Port Everglades.

After the war many servicemen returned to Fort Lauderdale and for the next forty years the city experienced unprecedented growth. Suburbs grew in western Broward County. Fort Lauderdale’s annual College Swim Forum grew into “Spring Break,” bringing as many as 350,000 college students per year to the area at its peak in the mid 1980s.

By 2010, the city had achieved a population of over 180,000 making it the seventh largest city in the state. Today, Fort Lauderdale has become the regional governmental and commercial center for a major metropolitan area and is world famous as a tourist destination.

Story of City’s Founding

In 1911, investor Richard Bolles held a big land sale for property in the recently-drained Everglades. Thousands of people crowded into the little town of about 500 settlers. The little village was quickly overwhelmed by the influx of residents and the need for services, such as sanitation, became quickly apparent. As a result, the town’s founding-fathers decided to incorporate in March of 1911 and created a formal government to manage the needs of the increasing population.

Little Known Facts

  • The First National Bank (aka the Landmark Bank), the first real “skyscraper” in downtown, breaks ground in 1970 on the site of the old Fort Lauderdale High School.
  • In 1973 Andrew De Graffenreidt becomes the first African American Fort Lauderdale city commissioner and Virginia Shuman Young becomes the first female mayor.
  • Fort Lauderdale residents are surprised by the first and only recorded snowfall in the history of the city in 1977.
  • As many as 350,000 college students invade Fort Lauderdale beaches in the spring break of 1985.
  • The same year the City was incorporated, in 1911, the first issue of the Fort Lauderdale Sentinel, known today as the Sun-Sentinel, is published.
  • We do not know what Major Lauderdale looked like because no one in Fort Lauderdale sketched his portrait and he died before cameras were invented.
  • Fort Lauderdale is home to the only vehicular tunnel in the state of Florida.
  • Our City is named for Major William Lauderdale, who was only here for about a month. He hailed from Tennessee and died in Baton Rouge, on his way back home.
  • Fort Lauderdale has 165 miles of navigable waterways and has been known as the Venice of American since 1922
  • In December 1960, “Where The Boys Are” premiered at the Gateway Theatre and featured Fort Lauderdale as a Spring Break destination. Three months later, 50,000 college students showed up to spend their vacation here.
  • Dr. James Sistrunk, the first African American physician in town, arrived here in 1922. He delivered over 5,000 babies during his career.

Historical Sites

Name: Fort Lauderdale Beach Wade-In Site
Location: A1A & Las Olas Boulevard
Historical Significance: On July 4, 1961, local NAACP president Eula Johnson and black physician Dr. Von D. Mizell began a series of nationally publicized “wade-ins” of Fort Lauderdale beaches. Johnson, Mizell, a third black adult, and four black college students participated in the first “wade-in”. As many as 200 African-American residents took part in subsequent “wade-ins” during July and August of 1961. The demonstrations were prompted by Broward County’s failure to build a road to provide access to “Colored Beach”, the only beach available for people of color. In 1954, the county had purchased the beach (now part of John U. Lloyd State Park), promising African-Americans beach access and amenities. By 1961, the beach still lacked tables, restrooms, shelter, and fresh water, and only members of the black community served as lifeguards. On August 12, 1961, the City of Fort Lauderdale filed suit in Broward County Circuit Court against Johnson, Mizell, and the NAACP in an attempt to stop the “wade-ins”. Nearly a year later, on July 11, 1962, Judge Ted Cabot denied the city’s request. The decision effectively desegregated the county’s beaches and marked a turning point in the struggle to desegregate all public facilities in Broward County.

Name: King-Cromartie House
Location: 229 SW 2nd Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
Historical Significance: Originally built in 1907 on land in what is now Smoker Park on the south bank of New River, the King-Cromartie House was the home of contractor Edwin T. King and his family. In later years King’s eldest daughter Louise resided in the house with her husband, Bloxham Cromartie. The house was originally a bungalow, but a second story was added in 1911. Built of sturdy Dade County pine with joists made from salvaged ship’s timbers, the house was also supplied with running water and carbide lamps. The King-Cromartie family occupied the house until 1968. In 1971 the Junior League of Fort Lauderdale moved the 150-ton house by barge to its present location and opened it to the public as a historic house museum. The Fort Lauderdale Historical Society, Inc. took possession of the house in 1994.

Name: Philemon Nathaniel Bryan House
Location: 227 SW 2nd Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
Historical Significance: This hollow concrete block home was built in 1905 by Edwin T. King for Philemon Bryan, at the request of Bryan’s two sons, Tom and Reed. The Bryan House features Classical Revival architectural detailing. It functioned as a boarding house during World War II and later as a yoga center. It now houses the administrative offices of the Fort Lauderdale History Center and the Fort Lauderdale chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Name: New River Inn
Location: 231 SW 2nd Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
Historical Significance: This 1905 hotel was the first property in Broward County to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is Broward’s oldest remaining hotel building, and it was constructed for owner Philemon Bryan by Edwin T. King, the area’s first contractor. Built of hollow concrete blocks made with sand barged from the beach, it set the standard for south Florida construction. The hotel, which operated until 1955, featured 24 guest rooms, a dining room, sewer and irrigation systems, running ice water and was lit with carbide lamps. Today the building houses our history museum.

Name: Bonnet House
Location: 900 North Birch Road Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304
Historical Significance: By the time early settler Hugh Taylor Birch purchased the Bonnet House site in 1895, the grounds had already witnessed 4,000 years of Florida history. A shell midden left by the Tequesta people indicates that human activity on the site dates back to 2,000 B.C. while further archaeological evidence suggests that the grounds saw one of the first sites of Spanish contact with the New World. Bonnet House’s modern history began when Birch gave the Bonnet House property as a wedding gift to his daughter Helen and her husband, Chicago artist Frederic Clay Bartlett in 1919. The newlyweds began construction of Bonnet House in 1920, eager for a winter retreat where Frederic could pursue his artwork and Helen could compose music and poetry. Tragedy struck in 1925 when Helen died from breast cancer. Frederic’s visits to Bonnet House then became sporadic until 1931 when he married Evelyn Fortune Lilly. With this marriage, a renaissance occurred on the site as Frederic and Evelyn entered a prolific period of embellishing Bonnet House with the decorative elements that delight visitors to this day. Frederic died in 1953, but Evelyn continued to return each winter. In 1983, Evelyn Fortune Bartlett gave Bonnet House to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. Her contribution at the time, the largest charitable gift in Florida history, ensured that the site would be preserved for the enjoyment and education of future generations.

Name: Stranahan House
Location: 335 SE 6th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
Historical Significance: The Stranahan House was built in 1901 by Frank Stranahan, credited as Fort Lauderdale’s founding father, and his wife Ivy Cromartie Stranahan, the area’s first school teacher. It is the oldest surviving structure in Broward County and has served as a trading post, post office, town hall, and home to the Stranahans. The house is a wood-frame vernacular structure with wide porches, Virginia English gardens, and a stunning view of the New River. The Stranahan House has stood at the center of Fort Lauderdale’s growth since it was built and has played a significant role in the economic and social life of this community.