Cultural Quarterly
Fall 2008
Volume XXI, Number 4
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The Bryan Homes
Building the Foundation for a New Community
By Susan F. Davis

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Bryan House
Bryan Homes

It is certainly no secret that Fort Lauderdale is a town steeped in history.  And, of course, what is history if it’s not the stories of pioneers – tales of both triumph and tribulation, and studies of things left behind?  The Bryan Homes (built in 1903 and 1905) encompass all three of these elements, proving that success can be built upon a foundation that began in failure.

Philemon Bryan, the former mayor of New Smyrna, Florida, a storekeeper and a grove owner, was absolutely wiped out by the great freeze of 1894.  He was not alone, but rescue came in an unlikely offer from none other than Henry Flagler, owner of the Florida East Coast Railroad.  Flagler asked Bryan to build the section of the railroad from the New River to Pompano Beach.

And thus it began.  Bryan and his two sons, Tom and Reed, brought 400 African-American workers from New Smyrna by boat to clear the right-of-way and lay the tracks.  By 1896, the train was operational.  Meanwhile, the Bryan family acquired land on either side of the railway tracks in what later became downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Now, the Bryans were ready for a home.  They chose Edwin T. King, the town’s all-purpose builder of

Historic Bryan House
Bryan House

everything from caskets to boats to houses.  In 1903 the work began, and by 1905 the homes were completed.

Originally, King built the family home.  Constructed of hollow concrete blocks made with sand barged from the beach, the home set a standard for Fort Lauderdale architecture.  As time went on, the Bryan family became very wealthy and, always looking to increase that wealth and security, they were quick to take in travelers, visitors or others who came along.  They charged a fee, and gradually their home became the New River Inn, the first hotel in Fort Lauderdale.

When the boys, Tom and Reed, needed their own homes, Philemon Bryan had them built next door, side by side.  Tom and his family lived in the east house, while Reed and his family inhabited the west house.  The boys and their families actually occupied these homes until the 1970s.  By 1983, these two houses would be combined to create a single restaurant. Today, the Bryan sons’ homes have become the restaurant known as The River House. 

But, prior to all of this, the sons of Philemon Bryan themselves commissioned Edwin T. King again to build a home for their father.  This house was constructed in 1904 in the Classical Revival style of architecture and was located at 227 SW Second Ave.  It since was a boarding house and a yoga center, and now houses the administrative offices of the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society and the American Institute of Architects.

From the freeze which wiped out the family to the success of their ventures in South Florida, the Bryans truly overcame adversity to become staunch pioneers, important settlers and contributors to the lasting rich history of Fort Lauderdale.  Their homes, situated as they were, became the first Fort

New River Inn (Bryan House)
Bryan House

Lauderdale residential neighborhood.  The New River Inn today houses the Old Fort Lauderdale Museum of History, where the story of the entire community’s history is presented.  Additionally, it was the first building in Broward County to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Located in today’s Old Fort Lauderdale Village at the intersection of the New River and the Florida East Coast Railroad, the Bryan Homes clearly embody not only the history of this family, but the development of a community.  They are must-see historical sites in Broward County.

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