Roberts Ranch home rehabilitation project seeks to preserve Immokalee history
Five hundred years after cattle were brought to Florida, a rehabilitation project aimed at preserving the state's rich agricultural heritage began at an Immokalee museum this week.
The Roberts Ranch home located at the Immokalee Pioneer Museum at Roberts Ranch was built in the 1920s. Robert Roberts, who built a ranching empire that spanned more than 100,000 acres at its peak, lived in the home with his wife and nine children.
"This is one of very few remaining, intact, early 20th-century cattle or agricultural homesteads in the state of Florida,” said Amanda Townsend, Collier County’s museum director. “This is the foundation of agriculture importance in Florida.”
The stabilization and rehabilitation project at the ranch home began with packing up artifacts and displays at the home on Monday. The items will be placed in storage while construction takes place.
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The project will include foundation work, chimney repointing, second-floor structural stabilization, hurricane protection and the installation of a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.
Repairs will also be made to historic fabric at the home, including rotted and termite-damaged wood sidings. Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps will be added to the side of the home.
“So many people think of only beaches and tourism as our state's products, and that's not true at all.” Townsend said. “Our contribution to the nation's breadbasket is incredible, and Immokalee embodies that. This helps people understand that history.”
Most of the funding for the project is coming from a grant from the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources.
The grant is worth $455,800, while the county will contribute about $214,000 to the project with money from its museum operating and capital funds.
County commissioners authorized an amendment to the grant agreement and a purchase order for the project at its June 8 meeting, which allowed work to begin this week.
A portion of the property at the Immokalee Pioneer Museum at Roberts Ranch was donated to the county by the Roberts family as a gift in 1996. Additional acreage was purchased from the family by the county in 1999, the Daily News reported.
The museum now includes 13 acres and provides visitors the opportunity to experience daily working life on a Southwest Florida pioneer homestead and citrus grove from the early 1900s.
About a dozen other historic buildings are located at the museum besides the Roberts Ranch home, including a church the family attended and the smaller home they lived in after first acquiring the property.
After acquiring the property in the 1990s and restoring the buildings to their era of historic significance, it's time for a second round of renovation and stabilization at the ranch home, Townsend said.
“It’s just to make sure that we can preserve this little piece of history for many more generations to come,” Townsend said. “This will ensure it's all set for another 30, 40 or 50 years.”
Brent Trout, museum manager at Immokalee Pioneer Museum at Roberts Ranch, said the stabilization and rehabilitation project at the ranch home will take about six months to complete.
The home is expected to be back open to the public right after Christmas. In the meantime, the rest of the museum and historic buildings on site will remain open, Trout said.
“This family (the Roberts family) here is important to Immokalee,” Trout said. “This family is important to Collier County. This is what made Collier County what Collier County is, and this house is the pinnacle of it all.”
The Roberts family acquired the property in Immokalee and lived in a tiny home before overcoming decades of ups and downs to establish the cattle empire, Trout said.
“They went from the shanty to the castle,” Trout said. “This is the American Dream that you can come here and establish yourself with hard work.”
Many descendants of Roberts still live in Southwest Florida and have helped ensure the home looks and feels like it did when he was still alive and running Red Cattle Company.
A spot on the front porch area of the home was identified by descendants as where Roberts would kick up his feet after working on the ranch. Part of the woodwork is worn down in the area from the man’s boot.
“That's the physical evidence of that whole lifestyle that pioneered this community,” Townsend said. “It’s the original guy sitting and being the king of his castle. It’s easy to think this is just an old, wooden house, but there’s a lot, a lot more to it.”