Home to Golden Bell’s Independence Hall and Williamsburg Landing senior living communities, Wilton Manors has a rich history in South Florida and continues to flourish as a vibrant, life-enriching place to live and retire.
We explore the history of Wilton Manors dating back to the 1870s through present-day in this blog curated by Golden Bell Senior Living.
Follow the timeline below from its beginnings as a farming community named Colohatchee to the more recent revitalization success of modern housing developments and the pedestrian-focused facelift of Wilton Drive.
Discover the History of Wilton Manors, Florida
Below is a timeline of the development of Wilton Manors–the Island City; neighboring Fort Lauderdale in South Florida. Thank you to the Wilton Manors Historical Society for making available the information used in compiling this timeline. To learn more, explore their extensive on-line Research Library.
1870s – 1890s
- Seminole Native Americans settled on the South Fork of the Middle River (near where Starbucks is today on 26th Street and Federal Highway).
- W.C. Collier, the first permanent white settler, purchased a farm nearby on the North Fork of the Middle River in 1893.
- The area developed into a farming community known as Colohatchee, where Wilton Manors and Oakland Park are today.
- Frank and Ivy Stranahan bought 40 acres of farmland on the South Fork of the Middle River across from the Seminole encampment.
- In approximately 1903, the FEC Railway depot at Colohatchee opened where the current NE 24th Street railroad crossing is located. The depot served area farmers with freight, including produce.
- E.J. Willingham, an entrepreneur from Georgia, platted 345 acres as Unit 1 of Wilton Manors – “Fort Lauderdale’s Beauty Spot,” in 1925. Willingham had platted Lauderdale Beach earlier; his home was where Richardson Park is today.
- Willingham hired architect Francis Abreu in 1926 to design the entrance to Wilton Manors. The structure included a field sales office, entrance gateway, and observation tower.
- Willingham planned to develop the area into an upscale residential suburb, but a 1926 hurricane and the Great Depression ended those plans.
- Willingham returned to Georgia and died in 1928.
- After his death, Willingham’s friend and “right-hand man” Perry Mickel moved his family into the former Willingham home and took over the land development business.
- With the Great Depression ending, George Richardson bought 40 acres, including Willingham’s estate home, and built Broward County’s third golf course in 1938.
- The golf course closed in 1959 and is now the site of Richardson Historic Park and Nature Preserve
1940s – 1960s
- In 1946, Alvar Hagen purchased land on both sides of Wilton Drive and started the development of Wilton Manors’ first commercial storefronts.
- Wilton Manors had around 350 residents in 1946 and needed public services, so the Wilton Manors Civic Association was formed. They continued to help shape the future of Wilton Manors, even after it was incorporated.
- The civic association petitioned the State to incorporate the area as the Village of Wilton Manors in 1947. A Village Council was formed with a mayor and a president.
- Dave Turner bought the remaining 238 lots from the Willingham estate and sold them to young families moving into the community after the war in 1945.
- The Village annexed land east of the FEC Railway in 1951, between the Forks of the Middle River, known today as the Eastside.
- Another annexation included the land between NE 26th Street and the North Fork of the Middle River to Andrews Avenue, which added 350 people and a volunteer fire department to the Village.
- The Village of Wilton Manors established its first police and fire services and an elementary school in 1952.
- At the end of 1952, a bridge connecting Wilton Manors with Fort Lauderdale at Federal Highway was built. The bridge opening was a big celebration and started significant residential development on the Eastside.
- In 1953, Wilton Manors was reincorporated as a city for greater legal and financial authority – and to prevent it from being taken over by nearby Fort Lauderdale. City offices were in a storefront on Wilton Drive.
- Nearly 1,500 homes were occupied in Wilton Manors, with more under construction by 1956.
- Wilton Manors’ census showed a population of 8,257 in 1960, nearly 10 times the population in 1950.
- At that time, over 80 businesses were located on Wilton Drive.
1970s – 1990s
- The population grew in the 1970s, so two major residential developments opened: Manor Grove Village and Lunde Towers.
- Ralph Marrinson, founder of family-owned and operated Marrinson Senior Care Residences was the first licensed nursing home administrator in the state of Florida in 1972. He opened Independence Hall, the first senior residential residence in Broward County, in 1973 – when few senior living communities existed.
- Williamsburg Landing, which is located just one block east of Independence Hall on NE 26th Street and overlooks the intracoastal, opened in 1988. Both Independence Hall and Williamsburg Landing are now owned and operated by Golden Bell Senior Living.
- Wilton Manors recognized its status as an “island,” surrounded by the North and South Forks of the Middle River. Wilton Manors became known as the Island City in 1987.
- In 1990, the census reported a decline in population and fell on economic hard times.
- Sandra Steen, the only female mayor in Wilton Manors’ history, was elected in 1990. She worked on beautification and code enforcement.
- “JJs Den” in 1981, and “The Palms” in 1986, were the first two gay establishments on Wilton Drive (pre-dating the better-known “Chardees” in 1990).
- The City Council established an Arts and Entertainment District in 1997 to attract more upscale venues to Wilton Drive.
2000 – present day
- In 2000, John Fiore was elected mayor of Wilton Manors and was the first openly gay public official in the county. During the same year, the first annual Stonewall Pride Festival and Parade was held on Wilton Drive.
- Wilton Manors made national news for its revitalization efforts in 2004, when major residential and mixed-use projects were being planned, including Wilton Station, Island City Lofts, Belle Isle, Gables Wilton Park, the Residences at Equality Park, and the Metropolitan.
- In 2008, the Pride Center at Equality Park relocated from Fort Lauderdale and became one of the largest pride centers in the country.
- In the early 2000s, Wilton Manors emerged as a major LGBTQ+ community, currently home to the second-highest concentration of same-sex couples in the U.S.
- In late 2018, Wilton Manors became the second city in the country to be governed by an all-LGBTQ+ City Commission.
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Retire in Wilton Manors, Florida
Wilton Manors offers the perfect setting for retirement. The city has numerous outdoor activities, including riverfront parks, mangrove preserves, and community centers hosting classes and special events. The community is committed to ensuring everyone is welcome and feels at home.
Senior living communities like Golden Bells’ Independence Hall and Williamsburg Landing are a special part of the city’s history and provide the ideal home base for older adults to continue living independently, with supportive services available as needed.
Residents may venture into Wilton Manors and nearby Fort Lauderdale to take in the sights, sounds, and adventures at their leisure. When ready, residents can return to their private apartment suite to enjoy chef-prepared meals, fun activities, and housekeeping and linen services.
Life at Golden Bell Senior Living
Senior living communities like Golden Bell provide the comforts of home with the added benefits of supportive care, engaging activities, and a maintenance-free lifestyle. With your daily needs met, your loved one will live more independently and have opportunities to meet friends, discover new interests, and live each day to the fullest.
Golden Bell Senior Living offers a full continuum of care, including independent living, assisted living, and respite care. Residents have personalized care plans, are treated like family, and are greeted by name in a warm, welcoming environment.
Amenities and activities include:
- Beautiful accommodations
- Landscaped grounds and gardens
- Community outings
- Recreation and social activities
- Chef-prepared meals
- Scheduled transportation
- Beauty and barber shop
- Housekeeping and maintenance services
Please contact us to learn more about our communities or set up a tour. We’d love to hear from you and are happy to help answer any questions you have about senior living. For more information about choosing senior living, download our complimentary Family Decision Toolkit.