Former Palmetto manor finds its past, future in Ruskin

mjohnson@bradenton.comFebruary 16, 2014 

RUSKIN -- Eight years after boating under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge with the most publicized load of cargo Tampa Bay has ever seen, George and Nancy Corbett are finally feeling relaxed.

Three weeks ago, the Corbetts held an open house for Lamb Manor, the three-story, 7,000-square-foot, 210-ton Victorian mansion the couple barged from Palmetto to Ruskin. Fully restored and then some after a $1.9 million renovation, the home now likely looks much as it did when it was built 104 years ago. Still facing a southern exposure, it is surrounded by trees on five acres that back up to the Little Manatee River.

It's a piece of Old Florida.

"It was probably similar then in Palmetto to what it is here now," said George Corbett.

The setting is so close to the original that the National Register of Historic Places relisted it after the move and renovation. Never mind the fact that it's no longer painted baby blue.

Now perched atop a concrete and stone first floor, the

manor is grander than ever. Painted light green with white accenting its broad porches and big windows, the manor house features its original wood floors, soaring plaster ceilings, and century-old double-hung windows.

The house is clearly a labor of love for the Corbetts, both 66, who have renovated numerous homes during their 38-year marriage. Originally slated for a two- or three-year renovation, Lamb Manor required more than seven years of work to bring it back to life in its new location. The Lambs traveled the country to find antique window transoms, woodwork and other details needed to fix more than 100 years of ills.

Riverfront fixture

First owned by Asa Lamb, a Mississippi banker who settled in Palmetto, the home was a fixture on the riverfront for decades. In 2006, a developer purchased the three acres on Riverside Drive that was home to Lamb Manor. He needed the house moved to make room for a condominium tower.

Fortunately for the house, the Corbetts had previously contacted Manatee County historian Cathy Slusser to tell her they were looking for a historic house to restore. Slusser called them when she heard that Lamb Manor was available. The Corbetts worked with the property's previous owner for three years to arrange the move.

Although a number of other people were interested in the house, the Corbetts had the resources to move and renovate it. The house had to go out to sea, as it was too wide to pass through any of the bridges on the Manatee River.

Kim Brownie, the Fort Pierce house mover who took on the Lamb Manor job, lifted the entire house -- including its delicate porte-cochere -- onto a platform. His crew drove it across Riverside Drive on 32 hydraulic wheels, then gently placed it and another building from the property on a barge bound for Ruskin.

Lamb Manor narrowly escaped being swamped by high winds, heavy seas, and a waterspout on its journey north. For his trouble, Brownie said he charged about $250,000 for the move.

All of the major television networks covered the move. The coverage reached an estimated audience of 30 million.

Since then, the renovation work has been comparatively sedate. The Corbetts moved from their Winter Haven home at the time to live aboard their boat for the first year of the project. Later, they moved into a guest house they built on the property. They've lived in Lamb Manor for the past three years as they completed various construction projects in the house.

New features in the home include a four-story elevator, a custom kitchen adorned with cabinet doors salvaged from ancient churches, and a "jungle room" in what used to be the manor's attic. While most of the home is decorated with furniture dating to the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, the attic room is carpeted, insulated for sound, and decorated with a sectional couch, papasan chairs, and two stuffed toy apes hanging from trapezes attached to the ceiling.

"We wanted a place where adults and children could feel comfortable," said Nancy Corbett, who plans on having her three children and seven grandchildren visit the house as often as possible.

The Corbetts plan to split their time between Ruskin and Lake Toxaway, N.C., where they own and operate a retreat for Baptist ministers.

Lamb Manor may not be the couple's last renovation project. Sitting in his living room last week, George Corbett said he may look for another project house in the near future.

The statement got him a quiet look from his wife, who smiled slightly and said nothing.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.

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