Eastern Hillsborough County Post Office Towns

On July 22, 2008, the Board of County Commissioners designated the Knowles House, a two-story, symmetrical Frame Vernacular-style house, as a historic Landmark. The circa 1915 Knowles House was constructed from local heart pine timber by Robert H. Knowles. This house is clad in clapboard siding and is topped by a pyramidal hipped roof. A hipped roof also covers the screened main entrance porch, which wraps around the south and west sides of the building. Vernacular houses with square plans were commonly built with pyramidal roofs during the early decades of the 20th century. These roofs required more complex framing, but were less expensive to build since they needed fewer long-spanning rafters. Through the use of the heart pine timber and the incorporation of a sleeping porch and a wraparound porch in the design, the Knowles House exhibits construction materials and design adaptive to the Florida environment.

Robert’s father, Henry Marion Knowles, was appointed “Postmaster at Oaklawn, in the County of Hillsboro, State of Florida” by the Postmaster General of the United States of America on June 10, 1902. In 1908, the post office was renamed after the Knowles family. When Henry died in 1910, his son Robert H. Knowles, one of eight children, took over the Postmaster position. The Knowles post office closed on June 15, 1915, and the postal service was moved to the nearby Valrico post office. Knowles appeared on a 1917 map from Mawson’s Geographic Manual and New Atlas and on a 1920 U.S. Railroad Administration map.

The Knowles post office was one of many in Hillsborough County that is no longer extant. One of the earliest post offices in the County was the Alafia office, established in 1855. The Alafia community was initially settled through the Armed Occupation Act of 1842. Fort Alafia, a garrison and supply depot, was established in 1849, and the army constructed a crude road from Fort Alafia to Fort Brooke, contributing to the growth of the community. Fort Alafia was closed by 1859, but the community continued to grow, in part due to the lumber industry. The Alafia post office was discontinued and reestablished several times until 1920, the same year that Alafia’s Warnell Lumber and Veneering Company closed, and the mail finally was routed to Durant.

In eastern Hillsborough County, one of the most enduring communities has been Brandon. The Brandon post office was established in 1890, with Victoria M. Brandon as the first postmaster. It owes its success in part to its proximity to the railroad. Other communities along rail lines also prospered, at least for some period of time. The last part of the nineteenth century saw a boom in railroad construction in Florida, and with it, a population surge. Between 1880 and 1886, 1,200 miles of railroad track were laid in Florida. In 1880, Florida’s population of approximately 270,000 resided predominantly north of the Tampa Bay area. By 1890, the rail lines extended south of Charlotte Harbor and Jupiter Inlet.

In 1883, Henry B. Plant connected the South Florida Railroad from Lakeland to Port Tampa. Post offices at Mango, (est. 1880), Seffner (est. 1884), Sparkman (est. 1884), and Sydney (est. 1882) were located along this rail line. Mango and Seffner remain identifiable communities today. The Sydney office was renamed “Cork” in 1884, and its name was changed again to Dover in 1890. The 1891 plat of Dover centered on the rail corridor, and the community rapidly became known as a shipping hub for nearby farms.

Another community in eastern Hillsborough County to change its name early in its existence was Fish Hawk. The Fish Hawk post office was established in February 1902, with Sarah T. Boyett as the postmaster. Two months later, Fish Hawk was renamed after the postmaster’s husband, Thomas Boyett.

The Florida Central & Peninsular system completed its rail line from Plant City to Tampa in 1890. This line ran south of the South Florida Railroad, through the communities of Turkey Creek, Sidney, Valrico, Brandon, and Limona. Of these communities, Limona was the earliest with a post office, established 1878. The post offices at Sidney, Valrico, and Brandon were established in the same year that the Florida Central & Peninsular rail came through, and the Turkey Creek office was established two years later. Other communities in eastern Hillsborough County, like Keysville, Hopewell, Lillibridge, and Welcome, prospered along the rail lines built to serve the lumber, timber, and phosphate industries.

Communities large enough to require a post office also sprang up along the rivers, which provided a transportation network well before the arrival of the railroad. A post office was established at Peru, on the south bank of the Alafia River, in 1879. Peru experienced substantial growth when phosphates were discovered along the river and the Peruvian Phosphate Company built a plant on the north side of the river. However, river mining proved to be less lucrative than land mining of phosphate. The post office was shut in 1900, and the mail was routed through the Riverview office, which had been established in 1891. Riverview thrived, mainly because of the lack of a bridge across the Alafia River to Peru. A bridge was constructed in 1901, and by the 1920s Riverview had expanded to both sides of the river and consumed Peru.

Article by Elaine Lund

From the Open Porch of The Nest

Photo by Gregory Walden

In 1992 the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners passed a Historic Preservation Ordinance, and in September of 1993 recognized and designated the County’s first historic Landmarks. Among the very first was the Moseley Homestead, affectionately called The Nest. It was designated for its adaptation to the Florida climate and as an outstanding Florida vernacular house surrounded by diverse vegetation. It is interesting to look back and see that this designation stands today as valid as it did then and to see how much the past can illuminate the present and the future. The Nest is now under the auspices of Timberly Trust, Inc., a nonprofit organization set up to care for it and carry out its mission of education and preservation. For a peep into this land the following is taken from a recent letter:

“From the open porch of The Nest, a unique historic Florida vernacular homestead dating from 1886, you can look out into the native woods of old Florida, hear red birds chirp, see a zebra butterfly, or watch the sun’s long beams make patterns against the walls. Reflecting on this house reminds us once again how much we can use the past and how uplifting that trip can be. For here are represented wise uses of energy efficient ideas. The house is built up off the ground, with high ceilings, cross ventilation, corner windows, high vents, sunscreens, and above all a large central open porch, open in four directions to catch any breeze on a hot day. With the increase of interest in saving energy, and the economy on everyone’s mind, ideas implemented in the design of this house built in 1886, have much to teach us about sustainable design.

For these reasons and for the beauty and history of the place, visitors, faculty and architectural students from the University of South Florida come to study the house and experience it and the diverse native vegetation surrounding it. Combined with adaptation to the Florida climate are decorative ideas influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, predominately exemplified by the wall covering of the main room. It is called The Palm, so named for the covering made from the native palmetto fiber and decorated with a vine motif and serving also as an insulation element. The house and interiors were designed by Julia Daniels Moseley, the artistic wife of Charles Scott Moseley. He was a notable watch inventor of the 19th century who settled here in 1882.

Julia’s idea for the house was that of letting the outside in and enjoying and taking full advantage of the Florida climate. That she achieved this is distinctively shown here. You can read the early history of The Nest in our book “Come to my Sunland”, published by the University Press of Florida. The Nest is recognized in the National Register of Historic Places and is a Hillsborough County Historic Landmark.

Our ongoing programs include preservation and management of the property as well as gathering of historical data on the house and its surrounding community. Preservation and interpretation are key to all we do. Recently we have been reviewing the status of tentative land use management plans for the native growth around The Nest and guiding tours of architectural graduate students from the University of South Florida.

As a result of our educational work, we have inspired a graduate student to do a Master of Architecture thesis on Florida vernacular houses using passive air cooling and other energy saving methods. We helped another graduate student expand an oral history program into detailed history of Limona and the Delaney Creek water system. We have provided information to historian James Denham of Lakeland Southern College on Victoria Brandon, who in 1890 gave 40 acres to establish Brandon. This resulted in a chapter on a book of notable Florida and Georgia women by historian Cantor Brown. We worked with Alexander Ratensky, formerly Dean of the University Of South Florida School Of Architecture, to save old glass negatives tentatively identified as in the Limona area. We have savored the remarks of young visitors who described The Nest’s canopied entrance drive as the “Time Tunnel”, and of another who asked, “Is this a rain forest?””

The Timberly Trust Inc. is a non profit 501(c)(3) organization committed to preserving The Nest and its significant historic natural landscape. Donations large or small are extremely important for us to maintain our 501(c)(3) status and would be greatly appreciated. All contributions add to the test for community support that the IRS reviews. With the support of people like you we can continue to keep The Nest’s heritage reaching out in these challenging times. If you would like to make a donation please contact Martha Sherman at mshermanarchitect@msn.com.

Article submitted by Julia Moseley

Great American Teach-In

Tampa Preservation, Inc. participated in the Great American Teach-In this past November. Six fourth grade classes of excellent, eager-to-learn students at Forest Hills Elementary learned about Tampa’s rich history and heritage through the book If Our House Could Talk, featuring the 1914 National Register listed Leiman-Wilson House located in the Hyde Park Historic District.


TPI Education Coordinator and the book’s author, Robin Gonzalez, shared items that she bought on EBay, including stereo-view cards from the Spanish-American War, along with lemonade glasses and a cut glass vase bought at a yard sale from the previous Leiman-Wilson House owners. When asked by one student why anyone would want these old things, Mrs. Gonzalez replied, “I think you just want a little piece of history.”


After reading the book and a lot of Question and Answer time, each student received their own copy of the book to keep. Mrs. Gonzalez asked that they all think about becoming preservationists, and judging from their conversations, some of them are already picking out buildings that need their help!


* If Our House Could Talk is a TPI publication that young and old alike can enjoy. It makes a great Holiday gift or stocking stuffer. The book is available for purchase at Inkwood Books, the Henry B. Plant Museum Store or through TPI for larger orders.

Burgert Brothers Calendar

The new 2009 Burgert Brothers Calendar celebrates the Tampa Bay Hotel, its history, and its preservation. The calendar is produced to raise funds to preserve and restore the Burgert Brothers Historic Photographic Collection while educating the public about this wonderful documentation of our community’s past. Calendars can be purchased for $5.00 at all Hillsborough County Branch Libraries and at the Tampa Bay History Center. They are also available at Inkwood Books and local Barnes and Noble bookstores.

The Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection is an archive of approximately 15,000 local Tampa Bay area images taken from the late 1800s to the late 1950s. Images are available on-line at the Hillsborough County Public Library website. The library catalog can be searched by keyword through the library’s website at www.hcplc.org. The originals are located in the History & Genealogy Department of the John F. Germany Public Library in downtown Tampa and are available for research by the public. Reprints of the photographs from the negatives are available through a local photography studio. Ordering procedure and prices are also available on the library’s website.

Ruskin History

Dr. George McAnelly Miller is credited with the founding of Ruskin, Florida. Miller, a follower of the English writer and social critic John Ruskin, had previously founded colleges in Missouri and Illinois based on the belief that a college education should be available to the masses. These colleges provided agricultural or industrial jobs for students to assist with tuition and board costs, but required that even those who could afford the education work alongside those who could not. After a fire swept through the Ruskin College in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, Miller moved his wife and five children to Hillsborough County in search of a new campus in 1906. With considerable assistance from his brother-in-law, Albert Peter Dickman, Miller acquired land for his new Ruskin College in 1907. Altogether, Miller and Dickman purchased 13,000 acres between the Little Manatee River and Apollo Beach.

Miller’s wife, Adeline, established the first post office at Ruskin on August 7, 1908. The Ruskin Commongood Society platted Ruskin in 1910. Every person who bought a piece of Ruskin also bought a membership in the cooperative Ruskin Commongood Society. Nearly seven thousand acres sold within the first year. White men and women who bought land in Ruskin were prohibited from swearing, smoking cigarettes, and drinking. The Ruskin plat included the land for the college and two parks, which were owned in common by all members of the Ruskin Commongood Society, as was the cooperative general store. Ruskin was isolated in its early years; Tampa could only be reached by boat, and travelling to the Wimauma train depot could take a full day. Ruskin became largely self-sufficient, and even printed its own local community scrip to be used at the general store.

Ten percent of all land sales went to fund the new Ruskin College, which opened in 1910. Dr. Miller served as the college president, and Adeline Miller served as the vice-president. The college buildings were constructed of local lumber, as were the homes of the founding families. Ruskin College offered a liberal arts education. The college grew in popularity until the start of World War I, when most of the students left to enlist in the armed services or to support the wartime efforts by working in cities. Ruskin College closed in 1917, due to the lack of enrollment. In 1918, a fire destroyed all the buildings on campus except for the Arts Building. Dr. Miller died in 1919.

Ruskin grew slowly but steadily through the Land Boom years of the early 1920s. Ruskin continued as a strong agricultural community, weathering the Great Depression with its growing family farms. Paul Dickman, a son of A.P. Dickman, was a particularly prolific farmer and inventor of farm equipment. He is credited with innovations in tomato harvesting and packaging. In 1941, Paul Dickman became one of the founding members of the Ruskin Vegetable Corporation, a packing cooperative of Ruskin farmers, and the Ruskin Vegetable Distributors, a sales organization.

The annual springtime Ruskin Tomato Festival began in 1935. This agricultural fair celebrated the variety of crops that kept Ruskin a prosperous community, but it place due emphasis on the tomato, even crowning an annual Ruskin Tomato Queen. Today this festival has been revived as the Ruskin Tomato and Heritage Festival.

Despite the fire that destroyed most of the Ruskin College campus, several notable historic buildings remain in use in Ruskin. The 1914 George McA. Miller House is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Adeline Miller designed the house, which is now owned by the Ruskin Woman’s Club, with influences from Swiss chalets and American bungalows. The 1910 A.P. Dickman House, a Hillsborough County Landmark, is a private residence.

The Ruskin Centennial celebration was kicked off on August 7, 2008, to commemorate the founding of the first post office. This day was marked with speakers at the Ruskin Woman’s Club and a tour of the National Register-listed building. The Ruskin Historical Society put together a self-guided walking tour of Ruskin’s historic buildings, including the Miller House, the A.P. Dickman House, and the L.L. Dickman House. From September 15 – October 11, 2008, Ruskin will be participating in The Big Draw, a month-long series of arts events to celebrate Ruskin’s history.

Information about Ruskin Centennial events, including a map of the Ruskin Historical Society’s walking tour, can be found online at http://www.ruskinhistory.org/.

Article by Elaine Lund

American Bungalow features Tampa

In the spring of 2007, the prestigious architectural publication, American Bungalow, sent their chief photographer, Alex Vertikoff to Seminole Heights to photograph their beautiful bungalows for inclusion in the magazine. Alex, who has photographed hundreds of houses all over the country, was amazed by the wide variety of bungalow styles he found, and thrilled to play a part in revealing the charm of the neighborhood to the magazine’s vast, international audience.

The story of Seminole Heights early years as a trolley car suburb, its heartbreaking decline and vibrant renaissance will appear in the winter issue, to be distributed in November. Future editions will feature Hyde Park and Ybor City. Purchase your copy from Sherry’s YesterDaze Vintage Clothing & Antiques at 5207 N. Florida Ave., in Seminole Heights at a discounted price.