Thursday, April 19, 2018
Business

Valrico woman fondly bids adieu to farm, miniature horses, memories

VALRICO — Evelyn Smith stared at the 26 acres surrounding her home and smiled.

There is no reason to be sad, she said. She has good memories.

Smith, 85, sold the last piece of her family's land to a home developer this year. On Saturday, she will say goodbye to all that was part of the farm. Everything on the property — barns, tractors, tools, antiques, furniture and 11 miniature horses — will be sold at auction.

Smith spent about 40 years living in the quaint 1,800-square-foot house with the mammoth yard on Lithia Pinecrest Road, about a mile south of bustling Bloomingdale Avenue.

At one time, her father, Leslie Manley, had amassed more than 200 acres of farmland in the area. Manley farmed vegetables and sugar cane and raised cattle. Smith's childhood home was just on the other side of Lithia Pinecrest.

Smith said she has enjoyed an idyllic life in the area. Her fondest memories stem from her youth: riding the family horse, Nellie, to Bloomingdale to pick up the mail, and walking to the Alafia River and roaming the land, overflowing with grass and trees, with her two brothers and friends.

"It was all woods," she said, grinning. "It was our playground."

Smith was born in Tampa and moved with her family to Valrico when she was about 8. Her father bought his first tract of land in the area in 1936.

Evelyn and husband Carl built a home on their piece of the Manley property in 1973, a few years after Carl retired from the Air Force. They had two sons, Randall and Kenneth, and Smith helped her husband with his Genie garage door opener business. The couple used the 26 acres to raise and sell cattle and miniature horses. Her husband died in 2004.

Smith stayed on the land, aided by her sons. The boys mended fences and helped take care of the property and horses. They never nagged her to sell. When Smith recently decided it was time to part with the property, her kids asked her over and over if she was sure.

"I feel like I'm ready to let it go," she said quietly, her eyes wandering from one part of the land to another. "My life here was very good. I enjoyed my time. I'm ready to do different things. I'm ready now to do the things I've always wanted to do."

That means a little traveling. She will also spend time with family. She must also finish decorating her new home in Brandon. The home is in a typical housing development, but the back windows provide a vista of trees and open space.

"I think I'm going to be all right," she said, laughing.

John Harris of Harris Auctions LLC is helping Smith sell the farm items and the animals through an auction, which starts at 10 a.m. Saturday. Harris said they've uncovered treasures like an antique bell and an alligator gun holster.

"Everywhere I look I find something," he said.

Smith says she will miss tending her garden and caring for the horses. She thinks the animals will miss her, too, saying they like to cuddle when she goes outside. She acquired her first group of horses in 1985. She hopes they get another devoted owner.

As she readies for the next phase of her life, Smith said she'll be back to keep an eye on the housing development that will soon sprout from the land she once called home sweet home.

"I'll drive by the subdivision," she said. "I'll visit the model homes. I plan on doing all of that."

Monica Bennett can be reached at [email protected]

   
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