Before Modern Settlement

Long before the European discovery of America, southern Florida was the home of the Tequesta Indians. They adapted their lifestyle to the area’s subtropical environment, living in small villages near the water, but frequently moving to be close to the sea life and game that made up an important part of their daily diet. Our knowledge of the Tequesta is not extensive, but we do know they engaged in religious ceremonies, and buried their dead in earthen mounds. One such mound remains in Pompano Beach, near the beach.

With the coming of European settlements, the local indigenous population fell victim to diseases, warfare and forced labor. By the time Spain surrendered Florida to the British in 1763, few Tequesta remained, and many of those were transported to Cuba.

By the early years of the nineteenth century the Seminole Indians were being pushed into southern Florida by the relentless press of American settlers. Florida became a territory of the United States in 1821, and within a few years friction between the two groups led to the outbreak of hostilities. In southeast Florida the military built a string of forts, including Fort Dallas (Miami), Fort Lauderdale, and Fort Jupiter. The modern thoroughfare, Military Trail, approximates the route the soldiers took as they marched along the coast.

Following the Seminole Wars, and the Civil War during which this area was a haven for both blockade-runners and deserters, few settlers remained in the region. The biggest impediment to settlement was the region’s isolation – there were no roads or railways into south Florida. Mail was delivered by the "Barefoot Mailman," who walked the beach and visited the isolated cabins of the few inhabitants.

The Coming of the Railway

When reporting on the 1890 population count, the Census Bureau stated that for the first time in American history there existed no frontier. While this may have been true in a technical sense, southeastern Florida was still a virtual wilderness. Not until 1892 was an all-purpose roadway constructed from Lantana to what is today Miami.

It was, however, the railway that connected south Florida to the rest of the nation, and the person who brought it here was Henry M. Flagler. A retired executive for John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company, Flagler had "retired" to Florida, but was soon buying and constructing hotels and resort, and building a rail line to bring in paying customers. By 1892 he had reached Palm Beach where he built his exclusive resort. It is said he intended to stop there, but that a disastrous freeze that hit Florida in the winter of 1894-95, ruining most of the citrus crops, convinced him to take his Florida East Coast Railway farther south, beyond the freeze line.

Surveyors preceded the construction crews, and many of south Florida’s coastal towns owe their origins to railway’s plats – Pompano included. The first train arrived in the small Pompano settlement on February 22, 1896.

The Pioneers

There had been scattered settlers in the area from at least the mid-1880s, but the first documented permanent residents of the Pompano area were the George Butler and Frank Sheen and their family who arrived in 1896 as railway employees. It is said that Sheen gave the community its name – Pompano – after jotting down on his survey of the area the name of the fish he had for dinner. As other people settled in the area, George Butler was appointed the community’s first postmaster, and his wife, Mary the first teacher when a one-room schoolhouse opened in 1899.

Many early residents were farmers, coming south to escape the effects of the mid-decade freezes. Among those were Earl Ehmann, who is credited with introducing pineapple to the area, and the McNab brothers, Harry and Bob. Other pioneer families in the area included the Smoaks, the Hardys, the Blounts and the Samples.

Although the local community at first was located around what was then known as Lettuce Lake (now Santa Barbara), the coming of the railroad led to development farther west. A small commercial district began to grow near the Florida East Coast Railway depot. In 1900, M. Z. Cavandish opened a general store at N.E. First Street and Flagler Avenue.

In 1906 Pompano became the southernmost settlement in newly-created Palm Beach County. That year, the Hillsboro Lighthouse was completed on the beach. In 1908, Pompano was incorporated as a town; J. R. Mizell was elected the first mayor.

We invite you to visit for more information on our great history.

Public Historic Sites in Pompano Beach

There are many historic buildings and sites within the municipal limits of Pompano Beach. The following is a list of those that are open to the public. H ours and cost of admission may vary greatly from site to site, so please call ahead to verify.

Ely Educational Museum (Blanche & Joseph Ely House)

1500 NW 6 Avenue
Pompano Beach, FL 33060

Home of local educational and civic pioneers in Pompano Beach’s black community, this building now houses a museum featuring artifacts and documents relating to the Ely's and education in the black community.

First United Methodist Church (Chapel)

201 NE 2nd Street
Pompano Beach, FL 33060

This largely unaltered gothic revival style church was built in 1934, and is one of the oldest religious buildings standing in Pompano Beach. The new sanctuary, located just to the north, is a good example of modern architecture.

Indian Mound Park

Hibiscus Avenue & SE 13th Street
Pompano Beach, FL 33062
954.786.4111 (Parks Department)

Located within this small park overlooking the Intracoastal waterway is a prehistoric Indian burial mound.

Kester Cottages

220 NE 3rd Avenue
Pompano Beach, FL 33060

Located in Founders Park, these two restored cottages were moved to this site in the 1980s. Originally two of dozens built on the beach in the 1930s, they provided construction employment for local residents during the Great Depression, and boosted the area’s tourist economy. Owned by the Pompano Beach Historical Society, one cottage is restored as a typical residence of the late 1940s, the other houses exhibits and artifacts relating to the history of Pompano Beach.

Old Pompano Fire Station

219 NE 4th Avenue
Pompano Beach, FL 33060

Built in 1925 as the City’s first fire station, this building has been restored and houses two antique fire engines, as well as photographs and artifacts relating to the history of fire fighting in Pompano Beach.

Sample-McDougald House

450 NE 10th Street
Pompano Beach, FL 33060

This historic home was recently moved to this location from its original site on North Dixie Highway. It was built in 1916 by local pioneer Neal Sample. The structure is significant for its size (4,700 square feet) and architectural style. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Currently the house is being restored and will reopen in late 2002 as a house museum of pioneer South Florida lifestyle.