In 1893, 28-year-old Frank Stranahan moved to a frontier post on South Florida’s New River to assume management of the overland mail route from Lantana to Coconut Grove. He established a trading post and ran the ferry service crossing the New River. By 1895, Stranahan’s Trading Post was a South Florida landmark. In 1899, 18-year-old Ivy Cromartie moved from Lemon City to the New River settlement to become its first school teacher. Frank and Ivy married in 1900, and went on to become the pioneer business and social leaders of the fledgling town of Fort Lauderdale. Due to their extraordinary efforts and generosity, the Stranahan’s are considered the founders of Fort Lauderdale.
Frank Stranahan was born at Vienna, Ohio on August 21, 1864, the son of Rev. Robert Stranahan, a Presbyterian minister, and Sarah (McFadden) Stranahan. Frank’s grandfather, Alexander Stranahan, emigrated from County Down, Ireland to Philadelphia in the 1820’s, before settling in Keoukuk Co., Iowa. An early job at a Youngstown, Ohio steel mill impaired Frank Stranahan’s lungs, so in 1890, he left his native state and moved to Florida in search of a healthy outdoor environment. He settled first in Melbourne, until a cousin offered him a job at the New River Camp at Fort Lauderdale. On January 26, 1893, Frank arrived at the New River to run the overnight camp and ferry crossing for the Lantana to Lemon City stage line. It was at first a lonely existence. With only a hand full of white men then living in the area, it took someone like Frank, a loner in many respects, to bear the isolation of the New River in 1893. A shy, reserved man, he soon came to have a very busy life on the river, running the camp and ferry and also the U.S. Post office. In 1894, Mary Brickell, an early Florida landowner, requested that Frank move his original campsite 300 yards farther upriver. He complied, and in return she deeded 10.7 acres of land to him. It was there that he operated his barge ferry across the New River as part of the new road from Lantana to what is now North Miami (now US #1), and where his Stranahan & Company Trading Post was built. Frank traded with the Seminole Indians and earned their friendship and respect.
Frank Stranahan and the Seminoles
When families with children began settling there, the tiny settlement needed a school. In 1899, 18-year-old Ivy Julia Cromartie, a newly certified teacher from Lemon City, was hired as the first teacher. A native of north Florida, Ivy Cromartie was born in 1881 on the Suwanee River in Hamilton County, betweeen Jasper and White Springs, the daughter of Augustus Whitfield "AW" Cromartie and Sarah Elizabeth (Driver) Cromartie. Augustus Cromartie had been a farmer in North Carolina, but moved to North Florida around 1873, where he taught music. He married Sarah Elizabeth Driver on Dec. 25, 1879 in Jasper, Hamilton Co., Florida, and they had seven children. They eventually moved to Seffner, near Tampa, then to Juno, and finally to Lemon City. After moving to Fort Lauderdale, Ivy began teaching in a small one-room school house. At first, there were only about five families and nine pupils.
Ivy Comartie and her students
Smitten by the young beauty, sixteen years his junior, Frank Stranahan began courting Ivy Cromartie. On August 16, 1900, Frank and Ivy married. It was barely sunrise, certainly an unsuitable time for a wedding, but the train from Lemon City travelling north left at 6:00 a.m., and Frank and Ivy were anxious to begin their honeymoon. They journeyed by train to Asheville, Niagara Falls, and other points north. Later Ivy would comment that her honeymoon was everything that Frank had promised. After returning to Fort Lauderdale, they lived in a small cottage near the riverfront and trading post. In 1901/2, near the site of his original trading post, Stranahan constructed a much larger two-story, wood-frame structure made of sturdy Dade County Pine. He gave it broad porches around its two floors, so that the Seminoles would have a place to sleep when they came to trade. The "new" Stranahan Trading Post quickly evolved into a post office, community center and town hall. Frank became Fort Lauderdale’s first banker and leading businessman. It was not long before dances and community gatherings were held on the upper floor of the house. In 1906, it also became the Stranahan’s personal residence. The house and the Stranahan’s enjoyed busy and productive lives, with their home as the center of activity for the growing community.
Stranahan House on the New River in Fort Lauderdale
From the beginning, Ivy welcomed the Seminoles to the trading post, recalling later “life might have been a little lonely had it not been for the Indians.” As a teacher, she reached out to them and began instructing them in small groups. Later, Ivy would write a history of the Seminole Indians and form “Friends of the Seminoles”, serving as its spokesperson for 50 years. Ivy’s influence on her beloved husband became obvious when her social conscience crossed his business concerns. As a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, she had no truck with alcohol. Not only did she prevent Frank from selling liquor, but all other products containing alcohol. Patent medicines, vanilla extract, nothing was too benign to be banned. The role that the Stranahan’s played in the founding of Fort Lauderdale was profound but unassuming. They were reliable, visionary and compassionate, and never flamboyant or class conscious. Their pragmatism was reflected in their home, as no-nonsense as its designer, Frank. In the early years after their marriage, Frank established the town’s first bank, acquired substantial land holdings, and held political office. Education, baseball, housing, a beach front pavilion….anything “Fort Lauderdale” fell under his purview. He was involved in virtually every promotion to expand the city and the New River area. In March 1917, Frank and Ivy testified before the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Investigation of The Indian Service about the desperate conditions of the Seminole Indians in South Florida. A full transcript of their testimony can be read at the following link:
The Stranahan’s enjoyed a rich life and were devoted to one another, but their life together ended in tragedy. In 1926, the Florida land boom collapsed, caused in part by a horrific hurricane. Another massive hurricane in 1928 drove Fort Lauderdale’s economy into depression. Frank’s bank collapsed; his considerable land holdings were heavily mortgaged; and he was awash in mounting debt. Financially and physically exhausted, Frank reached a low point in 1929. In April, he wrote in his diary, “My wife gave me much encouragement, but I can’t seem to grasp it." In May, Frank had a nervous breakdown and spent 10 days in the hospital. After he was released, Ivy was advised not to leave him alone. But on May 22, 1929, after they returned from an excursion, Ivy stepped into the house, for only 10 minutes, but that was time enough. Frank tied a sewer grate to his waist and jumped into the New River, where he drowned.
Frank’s death was an incredible blow to Ivy. She wore black, not for a year, as was the custom, but for more than 10 years. But Ivy had an iron will, and once she was able, she re-entered the fray, determined to make Fort Lauderdale a better community. She let rooms to tourists and rented the ground floor of her home to a restaurateur. She invested in the community, and over time her prudence paid off. Her goal was not survival, but a continuation of the work she and Frank had begun. She collected her meager rents and then gave them to just causes, personal and civic. During the Great Depression, Ivy watched as non-payment of taxes resulted in foreclosures. Her neighbors’ homes were literally being lost on the courthouse steps. She and her supporters started a movement that resulted in Florida’s Homestead Exemption law. In the mid-1930s, Ivy turned her energies toward establishing a hospital for the black community. She championed such diverse concerns as family planning and the Campfire Girls, housing for the elderly and the Garden Club. Ivy’s interests, her causes and concerns, seemed limitless. If it needed to be done, she would see that it was. Ivy began advocating on behalf of the Seminole tribe from her first days on the New River, and she never stopped. She fought for land, education, health care and dignity, to all of which she felt the tribe was entitled.
Toward the end of her life, she may have slowed her pace, but she never stopped her good works. Ivy Comartie Stranahan died in her home on August 30, 1971. She and her husband are buried at historic Evergreen Cemetery in Fort Lauderdale. Upon her death, her historic and beloved home was left to the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. In 1973, the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1979, the house was sold to the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society. After a thorough restoration, Stranahan House, Inc. was incorporated in 1981 to preserve and manage the property. Stranahan House still stands on its original location on the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale. It is the site most closely associated with the founding of the city and its economic and social development.