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Cattleman's group builds headquarters

[Times photo: Stephen Coddington]
Bruce Kaufman, a contractor and member of the cattleman's association, helps steady the first section of wall being erected at the barn-raising.

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 20, 2001

FLORAL CITY -- A corner-lot cow pasture took one step closer to becoming a historical site as members of some of the county's pioneer family held a barn-raising.

The building will be headquarters for the close-knit members of the Citrus County Cattleman's Association. Many of the members are descendents of pioneer Citrus County cattle ranchers.

"I'm a sixth-generation Citrus County native," said Larry Rooks, a cattleman and part of the barn-raising crew Saturday. "Actually, six generations on one side and five on the other."

The building replaces a historically valuable meeting hall that served the community of Pleasant Grove, at the crossroads of county roads 480 and 591.

Look just south of the new buildings and you'll see the original meeting hall. It also doubled as a voting precinct and children's play area, said many of the cattlemen whose families had been around for a generation or two.

"I remember square dancing in there," said John Thomas, president of the cattleman's association, which has about 100 members.

The old building was rolled across County Road 490 many decades ago, also by a local volunteer crew. The building was rolled across the road by placing logs underneath it and sliding it along.

Right behind the old building sits the old outhouse, now slanted a bit.

"We wish we could put the toilet back inside there, but now there's no way zoning could allow that," said Eloise Van Ness, a highly respected member of the cattle community for whom the livestock pavilion at the fairgrounds is named.

Presently, Van Ness is struggling against time's effect on her aging body for the strength to hold on to the family's cattle ranch off Croft Road. It is also being threatened by shopping centers and the many communities around it.

Cattle ranching in Citrus County is not a lucrative business. Many ranchers also own other small businesses. Thomas, for example, owns a plumbing supply store.

"You're not going to get rich. The secret to making even a couple thousand of dollars is to own your own land, which I have for many years," he said. "Then you can make a living."

Thomas is aware of the impact of the Suncoast Parkway on his ranch, but he plans on staying.

"This land will never be for sale, at any price," he said.

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