Alteration of local historic property being considered

Published on: March 7, 2012

Melody Jameson Photo

Melody Jameson Photo


RUSKIN – One of this community’s most historic homes could be relocated to make room for development of its valuable highway frontage site.

In fact, groundwork for an initial process aimed at reaching that eventual goal was undertaken last month.

However, the profit realized from sale of the site would be ploughed into educational facilities for area youngsters, not put in private pockets for any frivolous uses, according to its owner.

The L.L. Dickman house at 416 U.S. Highway 41 South was built in 1910 for one of Ruskin’s founding families who had joined with the Miller family and other Dickman brothers to establish a utopian settlement patterned on the principles of English social critic John Ruskin.

Now more than a century old, the house is one of four surviving iconic structures – all in use – that once were part in one way or another of Ruskin College, the institution of higher education that was a centerpiece in the Commongood Society which combined land, labor and learning for the mutual benefit of its members.

The three-story Dickman house, architecturally categorized as a Craftsman Bungalow, now is owned by the Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA), headquartered in Immokalee, FL, substantially a farm worker community located on the shores of Lake Okeechobee. Its Ruskin property is used primarily as a services and training center for migrant Mexican families.

The property surrounding the house encompasses a generous city block, extending from U.S. 41 eastward to 2nd Street S.E., bordered by 3rd Avenue S.E. on the north and by 4th Avenue S.E. on the south. It is the highway frontage end of that block which has become particularly valuable – both to RCMA and to other potential owners with commercial interests – according to Barbara Mainster, RCMA’s executive director.

During a community meeting in mid-February, Mainster told interested parties assembled in the Ruskin facility’s meeting room that RCMA had been approached by representatives of a corporation owning and operating a large number of discount retail stores. The retailer was interested in purchase of about half of the RCMA block fronting on the highway.

The price was to have been $700,000, Mainster told The Observer. And this amount would have provided funds to expand RCMA’s Wimauma Academy, its charter school on U.S. 301where area youngsters, many of them sons and daughters of migrant families, have been able to get an educational foundation equipping them to go on to more advanced programs in Hillsborough County and to area universities.

But, to accommodate the needs of both seller and buyer, the property had to be subdivided, the historic Dickman house relocated to the rear of the block onto the remaining RCMA holding and the frontage rezoned for the buyer’s retail establishment. Processes to reach those objectives were started, Mainster indicated, but then the potential buyer opted to acquire another parcel in Ruskin.

Nonetheless, RCMA remains interested in selling the road frontage in order to further expand its charter school programs, Mainster told The Observer this week. Taking another step toward that goal, a process rooted in historic preservation has been initiated.

Building on a precedent established several years ago to save a structure in Thonotosassa, groundwork supporting an application to obtain a special historic designation for the property has been set, according to Dr. Arthur “Mac” Miller, a direct descendant of the founding Miller family and owner of another of the historic homes, the A.P. Dickman house located at the end of Dickman Drive west of U.S. 41.

The three-step process involves “landmarking” the actual structure, then moving the structure and finally “landmarking” the new footprint with the historic structure in place, Miller said.

Aiming for an ultimate SPI-HC historic designation of the property which could preclude need for a conventional rezoning, Miller made a presentation supporting the RCMA application for the designation to Hillsborough’s Historic Resources Review Board in late February.

RCMA, Mainster indicated this week, plans to proceed with efforts to meet specific requirements for the historic designation.

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson