HISTORICAL PHOTOS & ANECDOTES

Beth Salem, The Reasoner Homestead, is located on the historic Royal Palm Nurseries site. Completed in June, 1896, the house displays transitional characteristics of the Shingle Style incorporating the gabled Victorian Villa of the Queen Anne style and the powerful influence of the American Colonial, a unique national residential style. The builder was reported to be George Primley of Tampa, Florida, who is responsible for other Manatee County building projects including construction of several stores on Main Street in downtown Bradenton. The residence was designed "along the lines of many homes in the Midwest at that time" and has been described as "one of the pleasantest of houses".

Sarah and Egbert Reasoner

In October 1895, Egbert N. Reasoner married a retired minister's daughter, Sarah Burrows Anderson, from Iowa. Beth Salem was a gift from Sarah’s father, Dr. Anderson. It was said that the house would cost $4,000 and would be one of the "handsomest residences in the country" upon completion. The house was constructed according to a set of plans given to the newlyweds by Sarah's cousin, architect Parke T. Burrows. Mr. Burrows has a total of six buildings in Florida and Iowa, including Beth Salem, on the National Register of Historic Places.

Egbert & Sarah's Children: Pliny, Julia and
Norman on front porch of Beth Salem

The site of Beth Salem is Oneco, an unincorporated area of Manatee County. Oneco is approximately 6 miles from downtown Bradenton, the nearest incorporated city. It has been alleged that Oneco got its name as a result of Reasoner Brothers’ Nurseries. Railway bills of lading identified the town as a One Co. stop; thus, the name Oneco. The nursery was the town's largest and most significant enterprise for many years. The home has never been moved, but the illusion of a changed appearance exists as 53rd Avenue East/State Road 70 have been expanded in more recent years.

Water tower to the west of Beth Salem
Egbert Reasoner (far right) with nursery employees
Beth Salem (from west)

Due to the nursery's need for irrigation, water towers were erected on the property. As a result, it was possible for this home to have the first indoor bathrooms in Southwest Florida.

One of the most personal features of the house is this original carved mantle piece, the work of Charles Hitchings, a friend and neighbor of the Reasoner’s when the house was built. The carving shows the date of completion of the home; the name "Beth Salem" (House of Peace), “May Peace be Within Thy Walls”; the six-pointed Star of Creation; and side carvings of the native Mockingbird and Yellow Jasmine.

The interior walls of Beth Salem are plaster and lathe and the house retains all of its original interior doors and hardware. Original built-in bookcases and a built-in window seat adorn the library today. Egbert Reasoner's grandson and namesake, E.S. "Bud" Reasoner, was born in this room in 1926. At that time, the finish on all the home's woodwork was the varnished dark walnut used when the home was built in 1896.

The original landscape around the house was laid out to "resemble the ways of nature" based on Mr. Reasoner's theory of "carrying out the informal groupings of the Great Gardener" as the ideal plan of landscape gardening. Features included hickory, oak trees and bamboo. Unspoiled wetlands, hidden by thick vegetation, extend along the southern end of the property. Today, much of the landscaping in the front of the home is comprised of Reasoner introductions to Florida.

On October 25, 1921, a hurricane with 100mph winds ravaged the Tampa Bay area. The storm surge hit the community of Cortez, 11 miles west of this site, destroying everything on the waterfront except the village's first store and an inn. Beth Salem survived the impact, but the home's original roof was blown off in the high winds. The roof was repaired, but unbeknownst to the family, the chimney had twisted slightly, creating a crack in the mortar. The following winter, embers from the fireplace started a fire in the wall. A prompt call sent the Bradenton Fire Department crew speeding (on the city’s first gas powered fire truck) to the house which they were able to save, but the original floors were "ruined". After the fire, the downstairs floors were resurfaced with a thin Oak and Cherry flooring. Today, the dark spots on the floor mark where each nail from this layer had rusted. When the current renovation project began, and after 70 years of wear, the Oak and Cherry floors weren't salvageable. Painstaking removal of each nail exposed the floors you see today, which are antique Heart Pine, harvested from the Oneco area.

 

Egbert, Julia, Pliny, Norman and Sarah Reasoner family portrait in east yard of Beth Salem