What you have stored in your basement or attic might just be worth taking a second look at, especially if you picked it up while cleaning out an elder relative’s house or storage shed. Many pieces of memorabilia have been collected by various groups around South County over the years, and now they will have a central location and contact numbers so they can all work together instead of duplicating one another’s efforts.
People who bring their items in may have them back if they wish, once they are put on digital disks.
It all started two years ago.
“Mac Miller came to me in February of 2013,” said HCC SouthShore’s president, Allen Witt. Miller’s family, along with the Dickman family, were two of the original founding families of Ruskin and much of the area around it. “He had saved and collected quite a bit of history, and we talked about some of the other groups that had done the same.”
Arthur “Mac” Miller is a professor emeritus at New College in Sarasota and is hoping to build an electronic database of photographs and information as part of the John Ruskin History Project.
When in 1907 Dr. George McAnelly Miller, Mac Miller’s ancestor, moved to the area, he founded Ruskin College, named in honor of the British writer and social reformer. In effect, the town was established at the same time. Ruskin College closed its doors with the onset of World War I, and a fire destroyed most of its buildings in 1918. The town was without an institute of higher learning until HCC SouthShore opened in fall 2008.
Witt and the others working on the HCC history display want the entire area of South County to be represented.
“We don’t want this to look like it’s just a Ruskin project because the college is located in Ruskin,” Witt said. “We serve the entire surrounding area, and want this to be a complete history of all the groups in the southern area of Hillsborough County,” he said.
This area extends from the Manatee County line to the north end of Riverview at S. Bloomingdale Avenue.
Others in the neighboring area, including woman’s clubs and chambers of commerce, a group in Gibsonton based at the Gardenville Recreation Center, and another at Ruskin’s Firehouse Cultural Center, have also been gathering history for many years.
John Bowker of Sun City Center has a huge collection of photographs and other mementos from that community, which opened in the early 1960s. Bowker put a lot of the Sun City Center history project together using his own resources and money, as reported previously in a story about the center published in The Observer News.
Still, a lot of the area’s history is missing, especially about the agricultural community, which was so strong here until just recently.
“There is so much of that here. We could use old crates and crate labels, photographs, anything that can tell us more,” said Craig Hardesty, academic dean. “When you go into the Tampa Bay History Center, it’s noticeable how little representation there is of this area.”
Hardesty said they decided the college would be a good central place to gather the history, and project workers hope not only to digitize many artifacts so they can be returned to their owners but also to have a permanent area to be used as a museum.
“Right now that’s only a dream,” said Witt. But so far, every dream dreamed at HCC has come true.
First, the county did not think there was a need for such a facility in the least-populated area of the county. Yet the 2014/2015 school year seated 6,726 students; and even the summer sessions were up in student count.
The school has obtained help for the history project from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and is foundation- and donor-supported because it can’t spend college money on the project, Hardesty explained.
HCC works closely with Ann Dowdy, the director of major gifts, for that. Some of the professors, including Hardesty, even donate their time.
“The college is a good place for the displays because history is education,” Witt said. “It’s a no-brainer that we take the lead on this.”
The history project offers four or five roles to the community, Hardesty said. “It will offer the community a place to view — or donate — significant documents, maps and photographs. Then it will create an online space for research that will give direct access to other projects [like the Ruskin and Sun City Center projects] that have already been done.”
Linking to other websites is a goal, as well as digging out a space to donate for a “museum-like” area to house things that are donated that are left after being digitized.
According to Witt and Hardesty, the Dickman family and many others have helped from the start.
“They’ve brought in pictures of old main streets and grand openings, and we even have the ledger from the old Coffee Cup restaurant and a cup from the original Bahia Beach restaurant,” Hardesty said.
Relics. History. Photographs.
As it turns out, some of the college staffs are history buffs and have put in large amounts of time and energy.
“Tollie Banker, faculty librarian, has a background in history,” Witt said. “Her dad was a professor of history and she grew up with it. And Kathleen Braund, library technician, has volunteered many hours. She intakes the documents and keeps track of all of them.”
So look at what’s in your attic, basement, storage shed and closets with the idea of calling the college if you find something you think they could use for the project.
Anyone who wants to help financially, volunteer their time, or donate money or items, may call Ann Dowdy at 813-253-7165 or email her at email@example.com.