By Dan Hobby
Long after most of the nation was settled and years after the United States Census Bureau declared there was no longer a frontier in America, the southeastern area of Florida was, for all practical purposes, a wilderness. Decades of warfare and lack of transportation into the region meant that as late as the beginning of the last decade of the nineteenth century the population of what we now consider South Florida could be numbered in the hundreds.
That began to change as the Florida East Coast Railway reached Palm Beach Miami in 1896. Henry Morrison Flagler built the railroad to bring visitors to his hotels, but at various points along the tracks he established depots around where small settlements began to grow.
One of these railroad settlements, Pompano Beach, was populated mostly by people from north Florida, Georgia and other southern states who arrived in the area ready to clear the land and be the first to put crops in the ground. By the time the settlement was incorporated in 1908, about 500 people were living in the area, with more arriving to seek their fortune from the soil.
The Sample family arrived in South Florida soon after the turn of the century. John M. Sample, the first to settle in the Pompano Beach area, purchased farm land from the Florida East Coast Railway prior to 1910. He cleared land and grew pineapples as a commercial crop. However, his wife, Mary Anna, found life on the frontier depressing so she and John moved out of the area. Albert Neal Sample followed his younger brother to Pompano Beach in 1911 from South Carolina. Neal, the name he was known by, purchased his brother’s land and began built his new house soon thereafter.
Sample built a spacious house located over 22 feet above sea level, alongside Dixie Highway and the Florida East Coast Railway. Also known as the Old Sample Estate and Pine Haven, the house was supposedly a replica of a home he owned in South Carolina. Built in the Georgian Revival style, the two-story house had over 4,000 square feet of living space and 13 rooms (this at a time when many area residents lived in houses of under 1,000 square-feet.) Its colonnaded porch was one of its most distinctive features. The house remains one of the most architecturally significant historic homes in Broward County.
The home served as the base for Sample’s farming operations that stretched from today’s Lighthouse Point out west past what is now Powerline Road. Sample constructed a road in 1917 to reach his cropland (like most local farmers, Sample’s agricultural fields were not contiguous.) Today that thoroughfare still bears his name: Sample Road.
Sarah Sellers McDougald and William D. McDougald, Sr. had been living with their children in Deerfield Beach when they learned the Sample residence was for sale. By the time the McDougald family moved into the home, Dixie Highway had lost some of its glamour. Mrs. McDougald recalled, “Much to my sorrow there was not much traffic—just a few cars a day. It was lonely. We often went out on the lawn and waved at engineers and conductors in trains rolling down the Florida East Coast Railway tracks.”
William Duncan McDougaldarrived in Deerfield in 1921. In 1929, he married schoolteacher Sarah Sellers. Although his main occupation was farming, he also served as a city commissioner for Deerfield Beach as well as its Chief of Police. He was deputized by the Broward County Sheriff’s Department and was elected to several terms as Constable of the north Broward district. In addition to being an educator and postmistress, Sarah McDougald was an accomplished musician and songwriter.
Over time, the McDougalds saw the area’s farmland transformed into commercial and residential property. Mrs. McDougald feared the home’s future was uncertain. She urged her children to preserve it. The McDougald children, William D., Jr., Mary Ellen, Margaret, Donald, Betsy and Dixie, inherited the house, and in keeping with their mother’s desire, placed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. For a number of years family members occupied the house, but by the mid-1990s it sat vacant.
Preserving the House
Anxious to see the house preserved for future generations, the McDougalds supported several attempts to save it, including moving the house to Deerfield Beach, Tradewinds Park or the Pompano Beach municipal golf course, but logistical and financial complexities could not be overcome.In 1999 several community volunteers—Margaret White, Rebecca Maddox, Marvin Buntrock and Margaret McDougald Shadoin — incorporated the non-profit Sample-McDougald House Preservation Society. Soon thereafter a parcel of city-owned property on the southwest corner of N.E. 10th Street and Fifth Avenue was leased to the new non-profit.
In November 2000, the McDougald family donated the house to the non-profit. The State of Florida and Broward County awarded grant funds for the project and on May 30, 2001, just minutes after midnight, the house was moved off its original site and over the next seven hours moved to its new location. Hundreds of people lined the streets in the middle of the night to view this once-in-a-lifetime sight.
Following its relocation, the Sample-McDougald House was reinstated to the National Register of Historic Places.
Restoring the House
The next phase of the project was the restoration of the historic home. This included repairing damaged wood siding, restoring masonry features, restoring the house’s columns and other architectural features and painting the structure, new electrical and climate-control systems, refinishing floors, walls, ceilings and woodwork, as well as fixtures. Much of this needed work was performed as in-kind donations by local businesses.
In the early morning hours of October 25, 2005, Pompano Beach was struck by Hurricane Wilma which caused significant damage to the structure. The roof was opened, leading to water damage inside. Wooden awnings were ripped , windows were broken and the distinctive leaded-glass fan light above the entry door was damaged. Extensive repairs began to “re-restore” the house.
The non-profit organization then embarked on a 1.5-million-dollar site development and landscaping project featuring native trees and vegetation, with space for special events and social functions. In 2008, during the celebration of Pompano Beach’s 100th anniversary of incorporation, the city commission passed a resolution designating the Sample-McDougald House grounds as “Centennial Park.” In 2010, the commission approved expanding the grounds by about 35 percent.
Opening the House
The Sample-McDougald House at Centennial Park opened to the public in 2011. Since then it has developed a number of annual events, including its antique automobile show, the Florida Highwaymen Art Show and Holidays at the Sample-McDougald House, which help support the on-going maintenance and preservation of the historic site. The Sample-McDougald House at Centennial Park also hosts a wide variety of private events, including weddings, company picnics, parties and corporate meetings.
In many parts of the country a one-hundred-year-old house would attract little attention, but in South Florida, a century takes us back to the beginning of our community’s modern history. Unfortunately, we’ve lost too many of the pioneer structures as our agricultural land has disappeared, to be replaced by an ever-expanding urban landscape. One hundred years after its construction, the preserved Sample-McDougald House is an important part of Pompano Beach’s social, cultural and civic life. It connects current residents and visitors with our region’s fascinating heritage.