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History exhibit soon to be housed in Ruskin library

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After a two-part run in Tampa, important pieces of this historic community are returning to their origins


RUSKIN - After a two-part run in Tampa, important pieces of this historic community are returning to their origins-- and just before hordes of visitors take over the city.

Ruskin’s artifacts in various forms have been exhibited twice this year, first in the Tampa Bay History Center at Channelside as part of the Ruskin Woman’s Club centennial celebration and most recently in the John Germany Library in the downtown district.

The history center’s display on the second floor encompassed three enclosed wall-mounted and locked exhibit cases containing photographs and documents as well as tools and implements highlighting the community’s most recent century and touching on its pre-historic era prior to arrival of the massive 1539 Hernando de Soto expedition. The downtown library exhibit is a two-dimensional version mounted on three freestanding panels measuring 15 feet in width which currently are on display in the second floor genealogy section.

But in mid-August, prior to opening of the Republican National Convention expected to attract both demonstrating protestors and crowds of conventioneers by August 27, the exhibit and all materials will be transported back to Ruskin, according to Dr. Arthur “Mac” Miller, a director of the Ruskin Community Development Foundation which oversees the Ruskin History Project. The Germany library, like many facilities and structures in downtown Tampa, will be closed during the convention.

Back in Ruskin, the display is to be established in what may be its most appropriate home, the Ruskin Branch Library on the Ruskin Inlet, east of U.S. 41, Miller said. Although the current library building was built in the mid-20th century, its predecessor originated with the first Ruskin College and was created by Harriet Orcutt, novelist and teacher. Orcutt’s role in the community as college instructor, librarian and writer of stories with strong spiritual overtones is part of the exhibit.

Ruskin’s history actually can be traced from the pre-historic era when mastodons and other large but now-extinct creatures roamed the heavily wooded eastern shore of Tampa Bay. Validated and indisputable proof of that era emerged when dedicated paleontologist Frank Garcia painstakingly uncovered bones and teeth from what then was known as the Leisey Shell pits. In addition to the historical record included in the library exhibit, many examples of Garcia discoveries also are maintained in a small paleo museum within the Camp Bayou preserve, another RCDF project.

The De Soto expedition, sailing from stopover in Cuba, offloaded from six ships the horses, conquistadors, hogs, servants and other retinue that would see the Spaniards eventually on a long trek up the Florida peninsula. Before the large force set forth, however, it encamped in what would become the Ruskin area, interacting with native Indians. The expedition’s records indicate that its resting and preparing for the next stage in this region was the easiest in its experience. De Soto himself would not survive the expedition, dying in the wilderness of the eventual American South, and only a few of his exhausted, bedraggled troops would return to Spain.

It would be some years before white men again would venture into the wilderness here. There are records of scattered appearances across what today is South Hillsborough County dating from the mid-19th century, but Ruskin as a community didn’t begin to take shape until very early in the 20th century when the last of several communal settlements named for English social critic John Ruskin was established by the Miller family and then the Dickman family. Out of their dedication to education and agriculture, respectively, grew a community that would become noted for, among other things, tomato production, unique produce packaging and processing plants that ultimately would keep northern states in fresh fruits and vegetables.

Highlights of the illustrious Ruskin history are expected to remain on display in the Ruskin branch library indefinitely.

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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