Historic 119-year-old Reasoner home becomes rubble



Before (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

Before (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

After (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

After (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

[/twentytwenty] Slide the arrows to see the Reasoner home before and after demolition. (Staff photos by Harold Bubil)

MANATEE COUNTY — It stood for 119 years and came down in just an hour.

Beth Salem, the historic home of Manatee County’s pioneering Reasoner family, was demolished Tuesday morning to make way for a RaceTrac gas station.

GALLERY: Click here to see more before and after demolition photos of Beth Salem in Oneco

“It’s a melancholy kind of day,” said Andy Reasoner, who sold the property to RaceTrac last fall and watched the demolition. “It is kind of like losing a family member with a terminal illness. You know it is not going to get better. The house was not going to get restored. It was just a matter of time and you’ve done all you can do.”

Beth Salem, a landmark house in Oneco, prior to demolition. It was torn down Tuesday, June 30, 2015, to make way for a RaceTrac gas station. (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

Beth Salem, a landmark house in Oneco, prior to demolition. It was torn down Tuesday, June 30, 2015, to make way for a RaceTrac gas station. (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

Reasoner, great-grandson of Royal Palm Nurseries co-founder Egbert Reasoner, restored the house in 2003 but found the taxes and upkeep too expensive. He said previously that he did not want to burden his children with the property. He has expressed dismay that the property was valued not as a house, but at “highest and best use.” He hopes the county will do more to save other historic properties.

RaceTrac’s offer for the land was too good to refuse, and he attempted to sell the house to “the right buyer” — someone who would move the house to vacant land next door and not scrap it.

That did not happen, and moving it off-site to a county park would have been “prohibitively expensive,” Reasoner said, because of power lines on State Road 70 that serve Anna Maria Island and that could not be interrupted.

The $1.95 million sale closed last fall. For the past few days, crews have been clearing the land, which had many fine old oak trees, around the house. One oak in the rear of the property is being saved.

The gas station could be complete in as soon as four months, Reasoner said. He praised the buyer’s patience in giving him time to market the house.

“We did a lot of salvage,” Reasoner said. “The only thing that was left was the floor. All the trims, glass, doors, fireplaces, mantels came out.”

One of the finest

Beth Salem was one of the finest homes in Manatee County, which then included Sarasota, when it was built in 1896 by Egbert Reasoner.

By then Reasoner Brothers Royal Palm Nurseries was 15 years old. Egbert Reasoner founded the company with his brother, Pliny, on what is now State Road 70 in Oneco. They became known as the “plant pioneers,” experimenting, collecting and growing to find which plants would thrive in Southwest Florida and which would not.

Beth Salem, a landmark house in Oneco, is torn down. (Photo provided by Andy Reasoner)

Beth Salem, a landmark house in Oneco, is torn down. (Photo provided by Andy Reasoner)

The Reasoners were known for popularizing the royal palm, the hibiscus, the gold tree and the pink grapefruit. Pliny Reasoner had such extensive knowledge that the government chose him to write the USDA’s Bulletin No. 1, “Condition of Tropical Fruit in the U.S.”

While collecting seeds and plant varieties in the Everglades, Cuba and the Caribbean, Pliny contracted yellow fever and died in 1888, at age 25.

Egbert carried on the business, and it flourished much as the plants they imported and cultivated. At its peak, Royal Palm Nurseries had 200 acres at what is now U.S. 301 and S.R. 70 and extending south and east. The “one company” (One Co. on railroad bills of lading) in the area gave Oneco its name.

Egbert, who died in 1926, started the first landscape architecture firm in the state, in 1918, just in time to capitalize on the 1920s Florida land boom. He continued to publish the plant catalog that has become a historical record of Florida agriculture.

Called “The Plant Pioneers” in a 1980 book by Norman J. Pinardi, Egbert and Pliny were in the first and second classes of the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: June 30, 2015
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