RUSKIN – In a few days this community will embrace yet another centennial benchmark in its passage from tiny settlement carved out of a wilderness to a town treasured by many for myriad reasons.
Tuesday, March 9, marks the 100th anniversary of that customary recognition given any new community: formal filing of its platted area. On that date in 1910 the plat of “Ruskin City” defining its streets, park and residential property was presented and accepted in the Hillsborough County courthouse. With that filing, Ruskin, a settlement on the pristine eastern shore of Tampa Bay dedicated to the principles of its namesake English social critic and philosopher, officially was born.
The occasion will be marked locally with a sunrise gathering in that platted park on the Ruskin inlet, at the corner of 1st Avenue and 2nd Street N.W. “It will be quite informal; coffee and donuts shared by interested citizens under the shelter in Commongood Park,” said Fred Jacobsen, immediate past president of the Ruskin Community Development Foundation (RCDF). “We’ll probably reminisce a bit about what we know of the first one hundred years as we look ahead to Ruskin’s second century,” he added.
Jacobsen said “ no formal invitation list has been made” but it is expected community leaders and citizens with specific interest in Ruskin history will join the gathering on the inlet shore. For example, he added, Alan Witt, current RCDF president as well as Hillsborough Community College president at its South Shore campus, can draw connections between the new 21st century campus and the first Ruskin College around which the community was designed in the early 20th century, while Jim Hosler, community planning and demographics expert now leading the South Hillsborough Economic Development (SHED) Council, projects future economic possibilities for the community.
In addition, such local residents as Conrad Peterson, owner of the restored home on 4th Avenue that once served as the art, music and drama center for the first college, said this week he plans to attend the early morning gathering with his copy of the original plat found in the arts center during its recent remodeling. The Peterson home now has received county approval as a bed and breakfast site and is a candidate for designation by the county as a historic structure. The former choreographer for international music personalities also said he’s beginning to accept reservations for dates later in the year as he’s putting the finishing touches on the home displaying his lifetime collection of authentic antiques from decades past.
Although no evidence has surfaced that the local Ruskin ever was incorporated as a municipality under Florida’s laws after its founding, the community from its earliest days was envisioned as a growth center, according to written records. Residential lots by the multiple dozens were planned around the first college campus and on both sides of the inlet leading to Tampa Bay. The first post office was established in 1908.
Taking a page from the social philosophies of John Ruskin, members of the first settling Miller and Dickman families anticipated bountiful crops during three sub-tropical growing seasons and eager participants coming to the agricultural cooperative where higher education was among the rewards of labor.
In what may have been a full-page advertisement, George McA. Miller, president of the first college, colorfully described the foreseen community in an undated early 1900s Illinois publication, The Arena Advertiser. Miller first referred to the “Grecian myth” about a golden garden held as “the exclusive property of the greedy daughters of Hesperus” and guarded by a dragon until he was slain by Hercules. Miller applied the myth to the modern America of his day, suggesting that contemporary golden gardens were being claimed by “The greedy sisters, Rent, Interest and Profit” and guarded by “the cruel dragon, Monopoly” so that “the common people, to whom they (the gardens) belong, have been but little better off for the discoveries.”
As a countering measure, Miller’s advertisement promised abolishing rent, interest and profit, offering 10-acre Florida plots suited as homesites and for farming, providing “a good living for the average family” in exchange for $2 down and $1 per month for no more than three years. Under the plan, the monies were credited to participants over time, pooled and loaned when needed. Moreover, those taking part in the cooperative and making the requisite investment were given tuition-free admission to the college.
That initial Ruskin community took root, growing with population and blooming with crops for nearly a decade until World War I scattered many of the newcomers. The primary college building burned to the ground in 1918 and Dr. Miller, its driving force, died in 1919.
Ruskin as an agricultural settlement, however, survived to become by mid-century a tomato and truck crop center sometimes promoted as “America’s salad bowl.” The community’s farmers also pioneered in the packaging of fresh fruits and vegetables for long distance shipping. And, that originally platted area around the inlet attracted many new residents along with the descendants of settlers.
The sunrise commemoration of Ruskin’s organization on paper and commencement of its second century is set for 7:30 a.m.
© 2010 Melody Jameson