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 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