Much of the history of the Lutz and Land O’ Lakes communities might have been lost to the ages, if it weren’t for the dogged pursuits of Elizabeth Riegler MacManus, who spent much of her life gathering photographs and documents, and recording interviews with old-timers from the area.
During her lifetime, she amassed an enormous amount of material, leading her and her daughter, Susan A. MacManus, to collaborate on two local history books, “Citrus, Sawmills, Critters & Crackers: Life in Early Lutz and Central Pasco County” and the other “Going, Going … Almost Gone: Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Pioneers Share Their Precious Memories,” published after Elizabeth’s death.
Now, the new The Elizabeth Riegler MacManus Digital Collection of Lutz Pioneer History will preserve that local history for generations to come.
A special event was held on Sept. 20 at the Lutz Branch Library to celebrate the collection’s unveiling.
“For those of you who know the rich history of Lutz, you’ll appreciate the plethora of historic materials that tell the memorable story of this pioneer town and the area surrounding it, as seen through the eyes and experiences of the Riegler and MacManus families,” Jeffrey Huggins, master of ceremonies at the Sept. 20 unveiling, told the crowd.
“Thousands of photographs have been digitally scanned and are available at our library website, which is HCPLC.org, and you’ll be able to view those and generations to come will be able to view those beautiful photographs that we have of the area,” he said.
Speakers at the event were Dr. Susan A. MacManus and Dr. Gary Mormino.
Susan is a retired distinguished professor of political science from the University of South Florida (USF), and Mormino is a retired history professor.
Susan began her remarks by cheerfully greeting the crowd with “good morning, crackers,” — eliciting laughter from a crowd who recognized the moniker assigned to native Floridians.
She thanked the audience for being there and noted that so many in the room had played a role in helping to preserve community history.
“The truth of the matter is that this collection would not have been anything without the contributions of you and your families over time,” Susan said, in a video that was recorded by students and a teacher from Academy at the Lakes. They recorded it, so those who were unable to attend the event could watch it.
“So many of you gave interviews, photos,” Susan told the crowd.
“I remember my mother telling me she would go to some of your homes and people would just give her a one-of-a-kind photo and trust her to take it out and get it back, at a time when those kinds of things were so rare.
“My mom’s love of history came from her parents’ histories,” Susan said.
“My grandfather, as many of you know, Mike Riegler, was the first permanent settler of what was called North Tampa. It was a settlement that ultimately became Lutz.
“I think what all of this did was generate in my mom an interest in talking to people and finding out where their families came from.”
That interest in people, and in history, led Elizabeth to record personal stories and collect artifacts.
Susan discovered the treasure trove that Elizabeth had amassed when she returned to Land O’ Lakes, to teach at USF.
While at her parents’ home she noticed a box overflowing with cassette tapes.
She asked: “Momma, what is that?”
“She said: ‘Oh, they’re just tapes. I’ve been taping the histories and experiences of old-timers.’”
“I said: ‘What are you going to do with those things?”
She said: “I think maybe someday, I’ll write something.”
That’s when Susan and her mother went to work on “Citrus, Sawmills, Critters & Crackers.” Then they did the sequel.
The digital collection includes old documents, photographs, maps and other materials.
“Some of my most precious memories were really through sorting through the thousands and thousands of photos Mama had piled up on the living room table,” Susan told the audience at the collection’s unveiling.
She said her mother was interested in gathering materials, regardless of what it took to get them. In one case, a woman invited her to come to take a look at items that had been stored in a chicken coop.
Elizabeth went and found a gold mine of information that otherwise would have been lost, Susan said.
Mormino’s talk offered a perspective on how Lutz fits into the big picture of Florida.
“It’s absolutely in the center. You may think you’re on the fringes, but you’re not.
“The Florida dream used to be a really big deal.
“The idea was that there’s something special about a place where it’s 70 degrees in February.
“More importantly, it’s the possibility of a better life,” he said.
“If I could return in a time machine, the place I would go would be the Lutz Depot.
“Fresh fish coming over from Tarpon Springs, and vegetables and fruit being shipped out.
“That would have been a fascinating window on the time.
“Even the peeping of baby chicks,” he said.
Lutz offered a dream setting to pioneers — with its natural resources, setting and the availability of fresh water, Mormino said.
Then he talked specifically about Elizabeth and Susan.
“Consider the role of Elizabeth Riegler MacManus and her daughter — without these two people, we wouldn’t be here. You wouldn’t be reading histories.
“Individuals matter, today, more than ever, I think.
“We tend to discount the possibility of what one family, one person, can do.”
“Historians, in the future, first of all, will be very grateful to the MacManus family and their contributions,” Mormino said.
Huggins expressed the library’s appreciation for the contributions of the families of Susan MacManus, Lou MacManus and Cameron MacManus — who made the digital collection possible.
Susan expressed her gratitude to everyone who attended the event and to all of those who had a role in bringing the digital collection to life.
“I just wanted to say that on behalf of the three families, the three children, my sister Lou, my brother who passed away in a plane crash a few years ago, and me, we just want to tell you all, thank you for everything.”
She also paid tribute to Elizabeth.
“My mother’s life reflects the words she lived by. They’re familiar to many in this room who share the same philosophy of life: Faith, family and friends, and a motto to live with, which is treat your neighbor as yourself.”
Published October 04, 2023