Sunday, September 18, 2011

Florida History: Fort Lauderdale, Antioch College and the Hugh Birch legacy

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By Jane Feehan

Fort Lauderdale residents and visitors are familiar with the name Hugh T. Birch because of the Hugh T. Birch State Park along A1A near Sunrise Boulevard.  A Fort Lauderdale pioneer, Birch bought three miles of property at the turn of the 20th- century between the Intracoastal and ocean for $500.  Those who know Birch State Park probably drive on nearby Antioch or Orton avenues without realizing they are also connected to the Birch legacy.

In the early 1940s, just before his death at 94, Birch bequeathed 180 acres to the state for the park, 35 acres to his daughter and the rest – the bulk of his estate - to Antioch College in Ohio. He didn’t graduate from Antioch but he attended the liberal arts college and played baseball there for three years until 1869.  Birch bought property in honor of his daughter near this school  founded by American educator Horace Mann and built a mansion on the spot in 1931 he referred to as Glen Helen (now Birch Manor). He spent summers at the glen and winters in Fort Lauderdale.

According to Algo Henderson, president of Antioch College from 1936-1948, Birch’s gift turned into “a Cinderella kind of venture.”  The school developed and sold  bequeathed property in Fort Lauderdale for considerable profit.  They named some streets after former Antioch presidents (Orton Avenue for Edward Orton, president 1872-73) and distinguished graduates.  Street names have changed over the years, but Antioch and Orton avenues and Birch Road remain. Antioch also donated a piece of the beach to the City of Fort Lauderdale. 

But, just as in the Cinderella fairy tale, there were dark moments in the relationship between the college and beach town. Antioch filed a lawsuit in 1987 to gain ownership of the Hugh T. Birch State Park (then valued at a half billion dollars). They argued the park had fallen into neglect. Antioch College lost the suit in 1993.

A few interesting notes about Antioch College, founded in 1853: It was the first college in the United States to admit women to the same curriculum as offered to men and it was among the first to accept African -American students. Horace Mann’s call to students to “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity,” remains the foundation of the school’s mission. Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.
(For more about Hugh Taylor Birch, see:  
Miami News (Dec. 23, 1945):
New York Times
Antioch College:

Tags: Fort Lauderdale history, Hugh T. Birch, Antioch College, Fort Lauderdale beach

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