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Ivy Stranahan: Fort Lauderdale Pioneer and Adventist Trailblazer

posted on April 10, 2013, under Member by

by Alva James-Johnson

The Stranahan House, also known as the Pioneer House, located at 335 Southeast 6th Avenue, was built by Frank Stranahan in 1901 as a trading post for settlers and the Seminole Indians. (Photo used under Creative Commons from Wally Gobetz on

The historic Stranahan House—once home to Fort Lauderdale’s founding couple—sits on the banks of the New River as a memorial of the city’s pioneer days. Yet, what’s unknown to most people is that the house is also a testament to the city’s deep Seventh-day Adventist roots.

Ivy Julia Cromartie, circa 1900 before her wedding to Frank Stranahan. (Photo: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.)

Ivy Stranahan, the wife of Frank Stranahan and “Lauderdale’s First Lady,” was a devout Seventh-day Adventist in her adult years. As an active member of the Fort Lauderdale Seventh-day Adventist Church, she was the first principal of the church school, now Sawgrass Adventist School in Plantation.i

Upon Stranahan’s death in 1971, the New River home, her most prized possession, was willed to the Fort Lauderdale Seventh-day Adventist Church to the surprise of many. In 1974, the congregation sold the property to the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society. Today, it is owned by Stranahan House, Inc., where it is preserved as one of the community’s most cherished landmarks.ii

Stranahan entered the church through an evangelistic crusade conducted by Allen Walker, the church’s first pastor, according to a history published by members of the congregation:

She listened attentively as the preacher told the fantastic truth about Saturday being God’s Sabbath, the dead sleeping in their graves, and the judgment now going on in heaven. Mrs. Stranahan decided to go to Washington, D.C., to visit the Library of Congress where she checked out everything about the beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists, and then compared them with the Bible. She returned home a convinced Adventist and got baptized!i

According to a souvenir booklet available at the Stranahan House, Stranahan’s faith played a significant role in her life:

Always a devout believer, and a Methodist in her younger years, Ivy became a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1915 and followed its tenets of vegetarianism, served no red meat, and was discreet and never imposed her beliefs or attempted to convert others. Her Sabbath, which extended from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday, was spent going to church, visiting the sick and elderly, and resting. She was a staunch believer in strength of both mind and body and walked regularly to the beach for a swim to keep physically fit.iii

Ivy became an Adventist in 1915 and was an active member of the Fort Lauderdale Church. She served as the first principal of the church school, now Sawgrass Adventist School in Plantation. (Photo: Fort Lauderdale Historical Society)

Stranahan, who was born on the Suwannee River, resided in Lemon City until she moved to the New River in 1899 to work as the area’s first school teacher. Frank Stranahan, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, and son of a Presbyterian minister, was already a settler in the area. He ran a trading post, purchasing pelts, plumes, and hides from the Seminole Indians, and his business thrived.iii Frank also established a U.S. Post Office and became the New River’s first postmaster.

At the time, Ivy was still unmarried and known by her maiden name, Ivy Julia Cromartie. “Often dressed in a white, ruffled blouse, she was clearly the belle of the little riverfront town. A petite, blue-eyed girl, Ivy wore her well-brushed fair hair pulled back from her high forehead. It didn’t take long for the postmaster to notice her.”iii

The couple married August 16, 1900, and began a life that would pave the way for Fort Lauderdale to become a thriving urban center. Despite the hardships of frontier life, they prospered, and their home on the New River soon became a center for the growing community. Civic meetings were held there, and Ivy taught Seminole children, which became a life-long passion. She also founded Friends of the Seminoles and served as their spokesperson for many decades. “The Indians came to trust and love her, calling her ‘Watchie-Esta/Hutrie,’ or ‘The Little White Mother.'”iii

Ivy Stranahan, left, and U.S. Representative Dwight Rogers, center, are welcomed by Seminole Indian school children at the Dania reservation. (Photo: circa 1950, Fort Lauderdale Historical Society)

Stranahan served as president of the Women’s Suffrage Association and as a member of the Planning and Zoning Board, and was a founding member of the Fort Lauderdale Women’s Club. As a member of the local Women’s Christian Temperance Union, she was a strong advocate for prohibition.iii

She was a volunteer in the Broward County Public Welfare Department and was very influential in coordinating the church’s humanitarian work. Her private records include an article published in the Miami Herald, June 6, 1954, which stated, “The church maintains its own welfare center from which it dispenses food and clothing to the needy regardless of religious affiliation.”ii

In 1929, Frank Stranahan took his life, jumping into the New River at the onset of the Great Depression.iii But Ivy Stranahan remained steadfast in her faith until August 30, 1971, when she died in her riverfront home at age 90. She lived a life of sacrifice and service, paving the way for others to follow. Her witness in the Fort Lauderdale community should be an example for Seventh-day Adventists around the world.

  1. Thompson, Jeffrey, “The History of Fort Lauderdale Church,” 90th Anniversary Celebration, Fort Lauderdale Seventh-day Adventist Church, 2010.
  2. Kersey, Harry A., Jr., The Stranahans of Fort Lauderdale: A Pioneer Family of New River. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003.
  3. Cassels, Alice Cromartie, et. al. Frank and Ivy Stranahan: New River Pioneers. Fort Lauderdale: Stranahan House, 1995.

1 Comment for this entry

  • Matt Browne

    This is an awesome testimony! I didn’t know that there was this much heritage in the Broward area!

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