A City Rich in History
The historic roots of the first city in Broward County date back to the 1880’s, when much of what is now the FEC railroad line was laid through the area. In recognition of this transportation advantage, a pioneer and developer named W. C. Valentine planned a settlement called Modello and 12 Danish families moved from Chicago to settle there in 1898-1899. Three years later, 30 Danes were recruited from Oconto, Wisconsin to colonize the settlement, and the first home was built by A.C. Frost, for whom a park is now named. Frost built the first general store in 1902 and became Modello’s first postmaster. He also built and donated the Towns first two schools. The following year, Dania Methodist Church was erected, becoming the City’s first place of worship.
When the Town was incorporated in November 1904, its 35 residents, most of whom were Danes, changed the name to Dania. By 1912, Dania was a thriving community of almost 1200 people and continued to grow through the 1920’s when the City suffered tremendous setbacks. In 1925, the Dania Hotel caught on fire, and the Bank of Dania failed due to embezzlers in the Bank’s Atlanta home office. The ‘26 hurricane with its 200 mile-per-hour winds devastated the Town, destroying the first church building completely, and subsequent damage prompted residents to vote for annexation to the neighboring City of Hollywood. De-annexation came in 1927.
Tomato Capital of the World
Early immigrants prospered in tomato farming and, as early as 1910, the Florida East Coast Railway was shipping to northern U.S. cities from "The Tomato Capital of the World". During the 3-month winter harvest, over 200 farmers shipped 1,000 to 1,500 train carloads of tomatoes and V. Taoring of New Orleans set up a tomato paste factory which contributed to local prosperity.
In 1927, the first "Tomato Day Celebration" was held to raise funds for the new Dania Methodist Church. Attracting a crowd of over 5,000, it was so successful, that the celebration continued into the 1940’s featuring messy, but official, tomato fights and a Miss Tomato Festival Pageant. In the late ‘40’s, the tomato boom was over, as crops began to fail from salt water intrusion into the fields.
The Antique Capital of the South
Just as the Tomato Industry was fading, a new type of commerce ... the antique business ... arrived, when Genevieve and Willard Ely set up shop in 1945. It took 10 years for other antique businesses to follow, but it wasn’t long thereafter that Broward’s first incorporated city once again gained fame, this time as the Antique Capital of the South. Today there are over 100 antique shops and malls vending their wares along a few short blocks of Federal Highway in Downtown Dania Beach.
Antique Row has become not only a browser’s and shopper’s paradise, but also the stores themselves are housed inside buildings steeped in the City’s history including Broward County’s first movie theatre.
The City has a wealth of historic architecture and a variety of architectural styles including Greek Revival (Dania Bank Building 1923); Mission Revival (Model Land Company Building 1900); Mediterranean Revival (the Martin Frost House 1913); and the Dania Beach Hotel, built by Francis Abreau in 1925. Art Deco styles are also present in the Florida Theatre (1939) and the Pirates Inn, formerly the Hotel Katherine (1940).