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Valentine House begins new life as preserve gateway

MANATEE — The Valentine House begins a new life Saturday.

Part of the Preston family homestead for more than 100 years in North Palmetto, the classic Old Florida two-story structure will be dedicated as the Robinson Preserve visitors center.

A ribbon cutting will start the event at Robinson Preserve, 1704 99th St. N.W., followed by an open house from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“I think it’s going to be a fantastic,” said Melissa Nell, Manatee County Natural Resources volunteer/education division manager. “A lot of people have waited for the reopening and I think they’re going to be pleased with what they see.”

During the public tour, county natural resources staff will explain some of the building’s history.

The Valentine House was built in the late 1800s on land covered by several hundred acres of citrus groves owned by the Preston family’s Manatee Fruit Co.

By the mid-2000s, the old home and a smaller neighboring building were in disrepair. Rather than demolish them, the Preston family donated the two structures to Manatee County.

In 2007, both were transported by barge — the smaller one to Emerson Point Park and the Valentine House to Robinson Preserve, where it will be the gateway to the Manatee County’s largest coastal preserve at 487 acres.

“The true economics of saving, relocating and using historic structures cannot be fashioned in dollars and cents,” said Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County Natural Resources director. “Instead, it should be viewed as playing an important role in historic preservation and in keeping the memories alive for future generations.”

Robinson Farms donated $6.4 million worth of land for a preserve in 2003, the county paid $10 million for the remainder and a $6 million restoration project began in 2006, funded by grants from federal and state environmental agencies.

Visitors can glimpse the natural ecosystem of Robinson Preserve at a miniature marine life touch tank inside the Valentine House.

Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Inc., Pooches for the Planet and the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program will have information for the public.

Wagon tours ($3 adults, $2 children) will be offered throughout the day.

For more information, call 748-4501 ext. 4605. Or e-mail melissa.nell@mymanatee.org.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, Fl. 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.

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