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Donations inject life into Myakka City Historic School House project

The final $60,000 was raised to finish the community center project in late 2024.

The Myakka City Historical Society's Walter Carlton and Marilyn Coker talk to "major donors" Barbara and Bob Anson about the Myakka City Historic School House project.
The Myakka City Historical Society's Walter Carlton and Marilyn Coker talk to "major donors" Barbara and Bob Anson about the Myakka City Historic School House project.
Photo by Jay Heater
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Built in 1914, the Myakka City Historic School House generated a wealth of stories that the community hopes can be retold by future generations.

For example, 74-year-old Walter Carlton remembered his own time at the school when students were gathered for a program in the school's auditorium. Suddenly, one of Carlton's classmates fell through the ceiling over the auditorium, and hung above the stage. The student had snuck up there to watch the program and figured he had pulled it off until his leg broke through. Fortunately, he hung there until teachers could get him out, and he wasn't hurt.

Carlton's father, Brian Carlton, graduated on that same auditorium stage in 1941.

Carlton, who is the project manager leading the restoration process through the Myakka Historical Society, said that while the community has been used to delays in the now 31-year-old project, opening day for the community events center/library/museum will be before 2024 ends.

The project has received a "major" donation from Myakka City's Bob and Barbara Anson and two other "substantial" donations from two local residents who didn't want to be identified. Those donations covered the final $60,000 needed to "put the building into use."

Carlton, who became involved in the project in 2016, said while those donations will cover the needed acquisition of air conditioning units, the finishing of the auditorium floor, the plumbing needed for bathrooms and the kitchen; and other various items, the project still will need donations for "furniture, display cases and seating."

However, he said all the projects to get the doors open can be finished rather quickly now that they have the money, and he expects an open house for donors by Halloween.

Marilyn Coker, who has worked on the project since the beginning in 1992, is hoping for the Halloween open house, but with so much dictated by volunteer labor, she is focused on having an event held in the auditorium at Christmas.

The three gifts from Bob and Barbara Anson and two other community members have Coker, 87, believing it finally will happen. Two years ago, she purchased the cantata — the "Seven Last Words of Christ" — with the hope of playing it at a grand opening event. Now it looks like she will.

"It's always been my dream," she said.

Since 1992, the community has raised nearly $1 million on the renovation of the 5,500-square-foot school house that was built in 1914. There have been major donations along the way. In December 2017, the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation announced a $100,000 grant to help with the restoration. Manatee County has supported the project, providing the Myakka City Historical Society with $50,000 from its Community Services Department in 2021. The Bradenton Area Convention and Tourist Bureau previously had given $50,000 toward the project. Mosaic gave $75,000 for the new roof.

But there have been disappointments as well. The project appeared to be in line for a $246,319 grant from the Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation in 2017 when it was listed as its No. 34 preservation project in the state. Instead, the project was cut from the state's $83 billion budget signed by then-Gov. Rick Scott.

Two years ago, Carlton said $75,000 was needed to finish the building. That money proved hard to come by in the small community — until now.

"I found out they needed $60,000 to finish, and we wanted to help," said Bob Anson, a rancher who moved to Myakka City in 1974. Barbara Anson owns Barbara Anson Realty and has been in business in Myakka for 44 years.

"It is very important to see the Myakka City Historic School House brought back to life," Bob Anson said. "We can make use of it."

But couldn't the community have built a museum, a community center and a library?

"A new building wouldn't have this character," he said. "This brings back past memories."

Memories also have been generated since the project began. Coker remembered in 1996, when the school house was moved from the Manatee County Maintenance Yard to its current location, that it was full of pigeons. They tried to get rid of the pigeons during the moving process, but the pigeons followed the building to its new site.

"They came right along," Coker said. "We had a hard time getting rid of them."

But they finally did.

Woodpeckers now present a challenge, as Carlton is working to scare them away from the structure. But he doesn't mind those relatively mild challenges now that the money is in place to finish the building.

Everyone involved in the project is grateful for the volunteer work to make a 2024 opening feasible.

Freedom Flooring used the old auditorium flooring to replace all the problem areas in the rest of the building. Then the auditorium floor was replaced with reclaimed heart pine.

George Bunyak has done all the installation of the air conditioning system for free. All the duct work is done and just awaiting the units. Carlton said the air condition will be finished in two to three weeks.

Contractor Doug Grosse has been an important part of the process, working on anything that needed to be done. Currently, he is working on putting a floor under the elevated stage so that can be used as storage space. Mark Dawn has been working on floors for free. 

Neil Sutton has handled the plumbing work and Ken Horne has been generous with his electrical work. The project could still use some volunteers who can do power washing or painting.

"We didn't have electric in the school until 1950," Carlton said. "Then we used to have movies in the building because people didn't have television."

When the school is ready to open, Coker will bring out the stage's curtains that she packed away when the school closed.

"They are velvet," she said. "Navy blue with long, gold braids. They are beautiful. We had class in Myakka."



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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