Ruskin, for the
discriminating observer, is a step back in Florida time.
From permanent historic markers commemorating Hernando de Soto’s intermingling with native Indians in 1539 to turn-of-the-20th-century architecture turning back the clock to the community’s utopian origins, it is a place honoring its past.
In the very heart of Ruskin, for example, are two outstanding examples of the grand construction that anchored the community’s first college campus. Ruskin College was founded formally in 1910 on the principals of the noted English social critic of the same name who promoted higher education for the masses.
As the college combining intellectual achievement with manual labor was beginning to take shape, Dr. George McAnelly Miller, formerly a Chicago prosecuting attorney now determined to establish a permanent settlement practicing John Ruskin’s socialist concepts, also was sketching out an imposing home on the south side of an inlet to Tampa Bay.
The sturdy three-story residence for the college president and professor, his wife, Adaline, and their two children, rose from the fertile ground cleared in the coastal wilderness in 1912. It bore then, as it does today, the architectural details reminiscent of a Swiss chalet required by Adaline. And, when a raging fire swept the campus in 1918, it was one of the few structures to survive.
In subsequent years, the home has been a social and cultural center for the community that grew up around it. In 1974, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and now is held in a tax-exempt historical trust. Its use controlled by the Ruskin Women’s Club, it frequently is the site of public meetings and events.
Walking distance away – on the north side of the inlet - Albert Peter Dickman also built a massive, three-story frame home, this one in the prairie style. Dickman had good reason to make the investment. His sister, the former Adaline Dickman, was Mrs. George McAnelly Miller and the attorney-turned-professor’s partner envisioning a cooperative college on the eastern shore of Tampa Bay. Moreover, he and Miller had purchased some 13,000 acres of raw, essentially untamed land running from the mouth of the Little Manatee River northward along the bayfront.
Distinguished by its first and second floor galleries on two sides of the home as well as its three-story tower, the dwelling remains today a private home, sheltering George and Adaline’s direct descendant, Arthur “Mac” Miller and his family. The contemporary Miller is a retired college professor.
These two remarkable dwellings, however, are only the first of many marks left on the area made by the pioneering Miller and Dickman families.
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