Saturday, March 26, 2011

Florida History: Hugh T. Birch, Fort Lauderdale, and the state park

Birch State Park along the Intracoastal
By Jane Feehan   
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Hugh Taylor Birch (1848-1943), a Chicago attorney and former counsel for Standard Oil, was sailing a small boat from Hobe Sound in the 1890s when a storm drove him near Fort Lauderdale's harbor.  Rescued, he was brought to Stranahan’s camp along the New River. Boat mishap aside, there was something about Fort Lauderdale that brought Birch back to buy property – more than three miles of it - along the ocean. At that time, most early settlers looked toward the Everglades for opportunity.  But Birch made the $500 purchase ($1 dollar per acre) because it was where he wanted to live a few months each year.

Some say motion picture producer D.W. Griffith offered him $250,000 in 1920 for a portion of the land, but Birch refused to sell.                                                                                    December 6, 1941, Birch hosted Senator Spessard Holland at his Fort Lauderdale estate to find out about deeding his property to the state’s park system, because, he told the senator, “he had had some friction with the city and county …” Birch liked what he heard and moved forward to make arrangements with the state to donate 180 acres and nearly one mile along the Intracoastal waterway. He lived on the estate until his death in 1943.
Hugh Taylor Birch State Park was opened and dedicated January 27, 1951. The park’s entrance is on Sunrise near A1A. Its natural habitat provides a venue for hikers, bicyclists, canoeists and picnickers to enjoy the outdoors.  Plans are being considered among Fort Lauderdale officials to pursue grants to spruce up the popular park.  Copyright © 2011. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

(For more about Hugh T. Birch, see: )

Gillis, Susan. Fort Lauderdale: The Venice of America. Charleston: Arcadia (2004).
Weidling, Philip J., Burghard, August. Checkered Sunshine. Gainesville: University of Florida Press (1966).

Tags: Fort Lauderdale history, Florida State parks, Hugh T. Birch, Florida history, 
Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, Florida history Fort Lauderdale, history of Fort Lauderdale, Hugh Taylor Birch shipwreck

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