Rich local lore a secret no more

Published on: August 16, 2012

One of Ruskin’s outstanding historic homes, the A.P. Dickman house built of heart pine in 1911, is featured in Past Forward Hillsborough County, a new keepsake record of local history.

One of Ruskin’s outstanding historic homes, the A.P. Dickman house built of heart pine in 1911, is featured in Past Forward Hillsborough County, a new keepsake record of local history.


RUSKIN — This community is getting around.

After getting play on Swiss and German television, as well as in the Southwest Airlines in-flight publication, last month, a Ruskin feature this month is part of a full-color, 24-page tabloid tracing the area’s history for delegates to the Republican National Convention plus the thousands of media representatives from near and far covering it.

Past Forward Tampa Bay actually is one of two tabloid-sized publications packaged together, the first outlining regional beginnings and the second, titled Past Forward Hillsborough County, focusing on local history. Both use outstanding color photography of historic structures from a variety of sources to illustrate the unfolding story of the region’s and Hillsborough’s evolutions through the decades.

Ruskin is featured in Past Forward Hillsborough, described as one of the several “utopian” communities established in the late 19th and early 20th centuries based on the philosophy of English social critic John Ruskin. The Ruskin story goes on to explain how the cooperative ideology of the English namesake was realized in practice, with free college-level education provided those working for the community’s common good, with a currency backed by the vested value of the community’s common property like its college grounds and parks, and with most citizen rights accorded women within the community at a time women elsewhere in America could not yet vote or own property.

To visually exemplify the era, Past Forward Hillsborough uses the 1911 A.P. Dickman House now occupied by the family of Arthur “Mac” Miller, great grandson of George McAnelly Miller, the college founder. The three-story home, considered a combination of Queen Anne and Colonial Revival architecture, is a registered Hillsborough County Historic Landmark and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.

The same method is used throughout the publications. For example, a historical synopsis of Plant City is threaded through its 1909 Union Depot and a section of Tampa’s Hyde Park is recalled with a photo of the 1890 Folk Victorian home built by Peter O. Knight, an early Tampa leader. Yet another aspect of the Gulf Coast – early tourism facilitated by early railroads — is revisited with a striking view of the 1896 Belleview-Biltmore Hotel, architecturally classified as an eclectic/shingle and the largest frame building in Florida. The grand, sprawling structure now is under threat of razing.

From the humble to the honored, Past Forward Tampa Bay illustrates the area’s cultural diversity with inclusion of a “Cracker” homestead, the 1886 Frame Vernacular house built by settler Samuel Baker at Elfers, which features a central “dogtrot” running from front to back doors under steeply pitched roof sheltering three rooms. In contrast, the Chinsegut Hill Manor House in Brooksville, another Frame Vernacular begun in 1847, is featured near it, resplendent with double pillared galleries surrounding the two-story living area on three sides. Now owned by the state, Chinsegut Hill Manor is a Florida Heritage Site.

Past Forward, initiated about a year ago, is a cooperative effort of the American Institute of Architects, Tampa Bay, Florida’s Department of State, Hillsborough County, the Ybor City Museum, the Tampa Bay History Center and the Newspaper in Education program overseen by The Tampa Bay Times, according to Sue Bedry, development specialist for NIE.

Nearly a half million copies of the souvenir history have been printed, Bedry said, with a substantial number to be stuffed in copies of the Tampa Bay Times Sunday edition, August 19. On Monday, August 27, bundles of copies expected to top 15,000 are to be made available at hotels and in the convention center for the thousands of delegates and masses of media representatives, she added. In addition, copies of the local legendary lore traced through its remarkable architecture will be provided early in September to eighth graders up and down the Suncoast as aids to their history studies.

A pdf version will be downloadable from, Bedry said.

Underwritten by several grants from local and state government, the project owes much to AIA Tampa Bay as well as to area historical and preservation groups such as the Ruskin History Project which provided information and, frequently, valuable photographs, Bedry emphasized.

She also credited architectural photographer Randy Van Duinen, Gus Paras of the AIA architectural committee and Jodi Pushkin, NIE manager, with the professional skills that brought together “living pieces of history,” producing a take-away for conventioneers to remind them of their visit and an overview of the rich local history for area residents. “Maybe it even will encourage some to get involved with preservation,” Bedry added.

As conventioneers are tasting the rich local mix, readers of Southwest Airlines’ Spirit Magazine are taking in a little feature about Gus Muench’s Crabby Adventures on the Little Manatee River. The article by writer Amanda Gleason, rounding up outstanding sites in the Tampa Bay area, also contains a crab photo, close up and personal.

And, even those without fluency in German will enjoy the YouTube version now playing of video shot in June by a team of Swiss filmmakers visiting Muench for a Sunday on the river. Much the same video, the filmmakers said, was earmarked for Swiss and German television as well as for showing aboard Edelweiss Airlines flights.

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson