After going through a worrisome period of uncertainty during the past 18 months, the historic Laura Riding Jackson House has found a new home: a grassy acre and a half on the Vero Beach campus of Indian River State College.
The agreement between the Laura Riding Jackson Foundation and IRSC became official Nov. 27 when the college’s Board of Trustees unanimously signed off on it. Both entities are thrilled with what they view as a strong, synergetic partnership.
The 108-year-old house is significant as an example of traditional Florida ‘cracker’ architecture and because it was the longtime home of renowned 20th century poet and literary entrepreneur Laura Riding Jackson.
The house was moved from its original Wabasso location to the nearby Environmental Learning Center campus 25 years ago. There it became home to writing classes and workshops, literary gatherings and the popular annual “Poetry and BBQ” fundraiser.
Uncertainty about its future arose in mid-2017, when new ELC leadership informed the Foundation that the house would have to be moved to make way for a proposed multimillion-dollar expansion project at the Center.
Because no timeframe was given for when the house had to be relocated, and the 5-year lease was coming up for renewal that December, the Foundation board found itself scrambling to figure out what to do next – when to move the house, where to move the house, how to move the house.
After a January 2018 story in Vero Beach 32963 revealed the home’s plight, Foundation president Marie Stiefel scheduled a meeting to gather ideas and options from the public. Support for the house turned out to be overwhelming and multiple relocation possibilities were suggested. “We have felt alone – but we’re not,” Stiefel said at the time. “There is so much support: it is a tribute to the people of Vero Beach.”
Indian River State College, via Provost Casey Lunceford, was one of the most enthusiastic suitors of the historic house: The college’s Vero Beach campus, he said, offers a convenient location, plenty of space, sufficient parking and a venue compatible with the home’s many historic and literary associations.
“It’s ideal,” he said at the time. “We like the educational aspect. The west side of our campus is very open and natural. Accessibility is not a problem. We have the space, and we’d be glad to host it.”
Talks progressed and, in July, Lunceford confirmed that “we are in the process of preparing a “memorandum of understanding.”
After the college’s Board of Trustees approved the plan last week, Lunceford and college director of communications Suzanne Seldes met with Stiefel and Foundation board members to share the good news.
Lunceford and Seldes say they are looking forward to finding ways the home’s literary and historical aspects can enrich the school’s educational offerings, as well as its community outreach efforts. It is anticipated the house and its programs will draw a fitting demographic to the campus, especially young people interested in poetry, literature and history.
The home’s future site, said Lunceford, will be on the west side of the Mueller campus, behind and between the Brackett Library and the Schumann Center. In its new, more convenient location, the house will continue and expand its mission as a literary gathering place for poetry programs, classes, workshops, discussion groups, speakers and special events.
A lot of work lies ahead before the move can take place, and no timeframe has been established. “We have to get our ducks in a row,” Stiefel says.
The Foundation board is considering various fundraising possibilities – grants, events and other avenues – to raise the estimated $150,000 that will be needed to disassemble the century-old structure, move it from south of the Wabasso Causeway to the college campus, and reassemble it on the new site.