Southshore's Heritage

The rich history of SouthShore sweeps back to prehistoric times and carries us through marauding bands of Native Americans, pirates and explorers. In fact, archeologists have determined that the Little Manatee River was the landing site of Hernando DeSoto’s 1539 expedition.

Ruskin, the eldest SouthShore community, was founded in the early 1900s. From its earliest settlement, education, real estate and agriculture have played pivotal roles in creating the Ruskin community. The thread of the community’s spirit can be traced back to Dr. George McAnelly Miller. Inspired by English philosopher John Ruskin, Dr. Miller realized his dream of establishing a cooperative community - Ruskin, Florida - in 1906 after several ventures failed in other states. Together with his three brothers-in law of the Dickman family, he persuaded young families of similar ideals to make Ruskin their home.

Ruskin College was the center of activity, with education free to area commongood members. The sale of lands by the Commongood Society, a group created for general community improvement, helped support the college. Other lands for the college and park were communally held and maintained. Essentially isolated, Ruskin held its own with fertile soil for farming, waters teeming with fish, and plenty of timber for building.

The onslaught of World War I, the death of Dr. Miller and a fire that destroyed most of the college took a heavy toll on the community. However, a short-lived post war land boom, the opening of the Tamiami Trail (now known as U.S. 41), and introduction of telephone and electric service to Ruskin brought new residents. The Ruskin Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1928 and in cooperation with the Twentieth Century Club (now known as the Ruskin Woman’s Club) modernized the town by establishing municipal services like a fire station, library, and trash disposal. Community celebrations such as the Tomato Festival (featuring a county fair, beauty pageant and political events) were popular. The agricultural expertise of Paul B. Dickman resulted in Ruskin being described as "The Salad Bowl of America" in the 1950s. Ruskin tomatoes are still widely renowned.

Historic homes in the area give a glimpse of yesteryear. The 1914 home of Dr. Miller was added to the National Historic Register in 1974 and now serves as the Ruskin Woman’s Clubhouse. The L.L. Dickman home was established in 1910. The generously proportioned house reflects the Arts and Crafts style of English architect Charles A.F. Voysey. It is now home to the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, a nonprofit organization. Another dwelling, the A.P. Dickman House, was the first finished wood house in south Hillsborough County.

This Hillsborough County landmark is now home to Dr. Arthur McA. "Mac" Miller, who is the great grandson of George Mac Miller. Mac and his wife, Melanie Hubbard, opened their doors as a bed-and-breakfast in 1989, and guests can enjoy the distinctive architecture, period antiques, and verandahs overlooking the Ruskin Inlet.

It was the pioneering vision of Paul Dickman combined with the development know-how of Francis Corr, that gave rise to the waterfront community that is now Apollo Beach.

In 1923, others saw an uninhabitable estuary filled with mangroves and dotted with farms and grazing pasture, but Dickman envisioned a waterfront community, its streets lined with immaculate homes. The location, an equal distance between the fast developing Tampa and Bradenton and along U.S. Highway 41, seemed to lend itself to the development of a town.

With the help of Radar Engineering, a Miami-based firm, meticulous plans were laid for a subdivision complete with roads, canals, schools and designated recreation areas. Plans in place, no action was taken until the early 1950s, when Dickman negotiated the sale of the land to Turner, Dean and Clark, three New York gentlemen who promptly named the tract "Tampa Beach." The new owners delved into the construction of Flamingo Canal, starting near U.S. Highway 41 and proceeding along what is now Fairway Boulevard, with the intention to extend the new waterway to the open waters of Tampa Bay.

Progress was excruciatingly slow due to the tremendous amount of undergrowth and vegetation. The land was swampy, marshy and inhabited by snakes, alligators and hordes of mosquitoes. The land was quite rural, far from any civilized area, with unsophisticated equipment available for dredging and excavation. Dwindling capital, lack of knowledge and the difficult terrain quickly proved too much for the investors, who abandoned the project in 1956.

The bulk of development of the 5,500 acres now known as Apollo Beach can be credited to the enterprising resilience of Francis Corr, whose partnership with Robert E. Lee yielded the community as it now stands.

In 1957, Corr, who had previously retired from business in his home state of Michigan, was made aware of the tract of land now called "Apollo Beach" by a friend. After learning the land was not on the East Coast near Cape Canaveral, but along the western shores of the state of Florida, Corr agreed to consider its purchase.

Months of negotiation ensued between Dickman and Corr, with Dickman traveling north to visit the Corr family. After investigating their financial qualifications to see the project through, a sale contract was drawn up.

Unlike his predecessors who focused on canal development, Corr’s first priority was to secure FHA approval for the subdivision by constructing 50 homes in the area between what is now U.S. Highway 41 and Golf & Sea Boulevard.

His second course of action came in early 1958 when he reached an agreement with South Carolina contractor Robert E. Lee. Lee continued the dredging of canals in exchange for parcels of land. Corr’s ingenious development strategy launched the community into a period of growth that continues today.

The completion of Interstate 75 in 1986 and the opening of the new Skyway Bridge the following year, reaffirmed Apollo Beach as a central, yet subdued place to call home, and helped diversify the dwellings found within the community. An influx of executives looking for a tranquil stretch of beachfront to call home gave rise to exclusive communities like Symphony Isles and Andalucia, the crown jewels of Apollo Beach.

Riverview, which was known as Peru in the early days, is believed to have been founded in 1856. It was located on the portion of land south of the Alafia. The name Peru was derived from the Peruvian Mining Company, which drew minerals from the Alafia, and the name Peru prevailed until the early 1940s.

Riverview is situated on the Alafia River, bordered by Brandon, Gibsonton, Apollo Beach and Balm, in the heart of southeastern Hillsborough County. The origin of its name is a point of contention with historians. Alafia in Spanish means oleander, which bloomed along the banks of the river. The Greek stem "thlafi" means hunting, and some say the word is Indian and means "good hunting ground." Still others contend the name is from "alafeah," river of fire, a description of the illumination of the water at night due to the high level of phosphorous found in the river. A river community, Riverview boasts a history of mining, logging and citrus shipping.

The river is fed by Lithia Springs and Buckhorn Springs, as well as other small tributaries, and flows 11 miles into Hillsborough Bay and out to the Gulf of Mexico.

W.B. Moody opened a general store on the south bank of the Alafia in 1866, with supplies and mail being brought from Tampa. The construction materials and supplies were brought from Tampa on the small steamboat "Josephine" and distributed to farmers by ox cart. Mail was delivered to early settlers by horseback until J.M Boyett established the first post office in 1879. This post office was located on the south bank of the Alafia River near the ferry crossing. Later, a post office was built on the north side of the Alafia River near the Alafia Hotel on Commercial St.

Moody gave land for the First Methodist Church at Peru on the south side of the Alafia River. The Peru Baptist Church, which is now known as the First Baptist Church of Riverview, was organized May 7, 1893, in a tiny building which also served as a schoolhouse for the tiny community.

graphicThe area now known as greater Sun City Center remained part of the lush agricultural community of Ruskin until 1956, when C. Palmore sold his 12,025 acre cattle ranch to Max Cohn. In the years 1956 through 1960, the land was owned by Universal Marion Corporation, who then sold it to the Del E. Webb Corporation in 1961. Developer Del Webb envisioned and began what has become a remarkable recreational and health-oriented community specifically designed for active retirees.

The early 70s marked the true building boom for Sun City Center proper, as well as the adjoining communities of Lake Towers, Kings Point, and in later years, Freedom Plaza, and the Courtyards. Collectively, they are known as the Greater Sun City Center Area. In 1972, Del Webb sold Sun City Center to the Walter-Gould Corporation of Tampa and new model homes were constructed, with sales projections of 350 to 400 homes in 1973. When fire gutted the Kings Inn Restaurant, it was rebuilt, enlarged and renamed Sunsations Restaurant. The construction of a new wing of the Sun City Center Plaza encouraged business growth, while new golf courses, clubhouses and tennis courts made the community even more attractive to prospective residents.

In 1972, Kings Point construction began on 3,000 acres south of Sun City Center. By the end of 1973, 432 units had been completed. Today, total units now exceed 2,700.

In 1973, Trinity Lakes (today known as Lake Towers Health Care Center), a full service nursing facility, as well as Lake Towers Restaurant broke ground on a 30-acre parcel east of Kings Point. The one-story health care facility adjacent to this high-rise retirement residence building was later designated in 1983 as Sun Terrace.

In 1981, the developer of Kings Point merged with W-G Corp., thus bringing the entire Sun City community under the management of one company. The Kings Point Condominium Association was established in 1975 with the Federation of Kings Point Condominiums, Inc. to follow in 1989, serving to unite condominium communities within Kings Point.

W-G Corporation changed its name to Sunmark Communities Corporation in 1984. The 1984 Agreement, which sets the current guideline for the developer-Community Association relationship, began as result of the residents wishes to abide to Webb’s original contract to add recreational facilities as the community’s population grew. In 1986 the Community Association Homeowners Association merged to form the current Sun City Center Community Association. One year later, Al Hoffman, owner of Sun City Center Corporation (now known as Florida Design Communities) purchased the rights to develop Sun City Center. Watermark Communities Inc. then purchased Florida Design in 1999.

The Freedom Plaza village of Sun City Center, Ltd. Partnership was formed in 1989 to develop a 140-acre site. Original plans for this campus included a seven-story building with independent living apartments and on-site health services, including assisted living and skilled nursing. The campus also includes an 18-hole golf course and a new executive golf course (Freedom Fairways). Plaza West, a licensed 82-bed long-term care facility followed, and has recently expanded to provide on-site availability of skilled nursing, assisted living, and services for those with memory impairment. Additionally, the Freedom campus has donated land to Hillsborough County’s first HOSPICE HOUSE, which opened in August 2001.

In recent years, The Courtyards community has been developed and provides both independent and assisted living homes. Its Assisted Living Community includes a two-story building with three styles of apartments totaling over 100 suites, and a special needs unit devoted to the care of Alzheimer’s and Dementia residents. From The Courtyards community grew Aston Care Systems, Inc., which is now replicating its Sun City Center community model on a regional basis.

Today, under the management of Watermark Communities Inc., Sun City Center is one of the country’s largest and most popular retirement communities. Since 1961, the community itself has grown to include more than 16,000 residents and still reflects the original philosophy of community pride combined with active lifestyles, good health and an extraordinary quality of life. Active retirees who call Sun City Center home enjoy the full range of professional services, shopping, dining and entertainment facilities within its boundaries. An average of 300 homes are constructed each year, with build-out expected around 2010, boasting a population of over 20,000.


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