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Big blue house cruises to its new home: Ruskin

They came behind oxen to the shores of the Manatee River, a Mississippi banker with his wife and eight kids and a kettle full of Confederate gold. Someone pointed them south, toward an uncharted place that became Palmetto, where one of the banker's sons built himself a mansion by the sea.

And there it stood, Asa Lamb's Queen Anne Victorian, from 1910 forward, watching Florida fill up with people and their things.

The blue paint chipped. The porch sagged. It became a refuge for the mentally ill. It became less than eye-pleasing. It then sat abandoned, to face the uncertainty of time in a place where history often bows to money or the wind.

Its fate came to town a few years ago with a dream-chasing developer from Kentucky, and folks in Manatee County were concerned. The developer, Bob Breeden, wanted the land under Lamb Manor for a seven-story condo tower to be called Regatta Pointe.

But the history-minded authorities had a condition for Breeden: preserve the blue house.

Breeden shopped for a buyer and found one last year in George and Nancy Corbett, a Winter Haven couple who operate a North Carolina retreat, Canaan Land, for Baptist ministers. The Corbetts own land 20 miles north, in Ruskin, on the Little Manatee River, a perfect plat for such a home.

But how do you move a three-story, 220-ton, five-bedroom, 5,000-square-foot home from Palmetto to Ruskin?

By water, came the answer, and on Monday, men from Brownie Moving and Heavy Hauling used hydraulic lifts to put it on a barge, and pushed it toward the bay. It was reported the move would cost $250,000, but the company wouldn't say what it charged the Corbetts.

Tuesday morning, the tugboat Regina T pushed it toward open water while boats circled and the news media hovered in helicopters. The house looked uncomfortable on the bay. Someone wondered what its ghosts were thinking.

"Not everything old is worth saving," Breeden said while monitoring the move with others from a yacht nearby. "But there are a few things that are worth the time and trouble."

As it moved toward the Sunshine Skyway bridge, motorists pulled to the side of Interstate 275 for a look before they were shooed away by police.

Lenore Stewart, 84, the great-granddaughter of that Mississippi banker, was relieved that folks saw fit to preserve the home. She turned and watched a piece of Old Florida move at 3 knots toward its future.

"I mean, just look at it there," she said.

Breeden popped the cork on a bottle of champagne.

"To the blue house," he said.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or 813-661-2443.

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