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The Founding of Ruskin, Florida

Ruskin Triangleby The Ruskin Chamber of Commerce

After having experienced failures as president of two different Ruskin-plan colleges in the Midwest, Dr. George McAnelly Miller had an idea that the primitive woods and coast of southwest Florida would be an ideal site for a new cooperative venture. He was looking for an isolated spot away from outside interference, a climate favorable to agriculture, and enough land to develop an economically independent community. Dr. Miller and three of his brothers-in-law agreed to trade property in Missouri for 12,000 acres in Florida. Thus, his dream became reality.

Dr. Miller moved with his wife Adaline and children to the site of Ruskin in 1906. A few years later, three of his wife's brothers, A.P., N.E. and L.L. Dickman joined them here. Some of the other early settlers came from other failed Ruskins in Tennessee and Georgia.

From his previous experience, Dr. Miller already knew how to get things started and what to avoid in a cooperative community. The founders purchased land, subdivided it, and created a marketing and development company. The Ruskin Homemakers sold the plots. Part of the proceeds from sales went to the Commongood Society for general community improvements and expenses of Ruskin College. The idea for this form of cooperative society and use of its own script cam from the other Ruskins. The covenant contained provisions against profanity, smoking and drinking. Landowners were required to be white.

The community attempted to adhere to principles of shared public property and responsibility. For instance, the park and the college grounds were communally held public spaces, some chores were shared among the group for the common good, and women as well as men could own property and vote.

Ruskin College was a central feature of the community. The college buildings were erected from locally available timber. Student's days were divided into thirds, with work, study and relaxation claiming equal portions of their days. The curriculum was varied and liberal.

In its early days, Ruskin was an isolated community. Tampa and St. Petersburg could only be reached by boat ride which took several hours each way.

Plenty of timber and turpentine were available for construction, although hauling it required a pair of oxen. Artesian wells supplied good water, and good soil and a temperate climate were ideal for growing fruits and vegetables. The surrounding waters supplied fish, shellfish and fowl. For the rest of its needs, the town organized a cooperative general store.

The college continued until World War I, when many young people either went into the armed services or took jobs in the cities and juts never returned. In 1919 Dr. Miller died during a trip to promote a book he had written. Also near this time a fire destroyed most of the college buildings.

Although these combined tragedies ended the college and the heyday of the cooperative enterprise, Ruskin survived. In fact, the Ruskin Commongood society operated until the 1960's.

 

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