When Leland and Annette Baumgard returned to their quaint 120-year-old home in the historic Ware’s Creek neighborhood after Hurricane Irma, they found the back half of their home split from the main house and one end about 8 feet in the air.
Irma caused serious damage to their home, but the storm wasn’t going to get the best of this artist-and-writer couple who, somehow, find humor in life’s challenges.
“Honestly, when I first saw what happened, I started laughing,” Annette Baumgard said. “I just kept thinking that I’ve always wanted a tree house, but not a tree in my house.”
One of the original farmhouses along Ware’s Creek, it once produced and shipped agricultural products up Ware’s Creek and then to the Manatee River destined for other parts of the country.
The house was about 95 years old when the previous owner planted a little sapling in 1994 of what is believed to be a tree native to Costa Rica. That same year, the Baumgards purchased the historic home to make it their own after a dozen years living in Key West. The Keys are a major theme in the couple’s home now, including a key lime paint scheme on the exterior.
Leland Baumgard noticed the young sapling and his first instinct was to pull it from the ground, “because it looked like a weed and was growing like a weed.”
Twenty-five years later the massive tree, 12 feet in diameter, met up with Hurricane Irma and the majestic monster succumbed to her winds.
My neighbor stayed home during the storm and said it was a loud crashing sound that lasted for more than 10 seconds,” Leland Baumgard said.
The massive root ball, standing some 8 feet high, tore from the ground as it toppled to the south and onto a neighbor’s roof. The roots lifted the couple’s addition, built in 2004, several feet off the ground on one side, leaving the structure tipping perilously at an odd angle and splitting the addition from the main house. The couple are thankful, however, that the original farm house structure was undamaged.
Annette Baumgard said since they moved into the historic home a quarter century ago, the city has made three trips to the property to fill in a suspected sinkhole. She said it’s believed that an underground river flows beneath their property to Ware’s Creek and kept the tree well-supplied with water, increasing its growth rate.
At one time the farmhouse stood alone with crops surrounding the area during Bradenton’s agricultural heyday. Other historic homes have since filled in the subdivision.
Paul Wright owns the home next door and also was greeted after the storm by a scene of the top half of the tree and its thick branches atop his roof. Wright only recently purchased the house and was in the process of renovating it. He, too, was in good spirits.
“It is what it is,” Wright said. “My family was all out of state and no one is living in it right now. I had to redo the roof anyway, so I’m just happy everyone is OK.
“Other than that, it kind of sucks,” he said, laughing.
The Baumgards were with family elsewhere during the storm, as well. The couple kept a philosophical and spiritual attitude about what happened.
“Honestly, I kind of ended up being sad for the tree,” Leland Baumgard said. “All of this can be rebuilt, but you can’t rebuild a tree. It was magnificent.”
The couple, early on in the tree’s growth spurt, had carved a heart with their initials into the trunk. As the tree grew, the symbol of their romance grew wider and wider as the trunk expanded. It had meaning to them.
They will rebuild the addition and, like many others with damage from the storm, will wait for their insurance adjustor to get on scene. Until then, they have an open view from their living room into their backyard where their dog lies quietly just inches from where the addition split from the main house. His favorite spot to nap was only a few feet away under where Annette Baumgard’s writing desk used to be.
In the meantime, the couple continue to smile, laugh and accept what happened to their home as one of those mere obstacles that can, and will, be overcome.
“It’s a mess,” Annette Baumgard said. “But everybody’s alive. These are just things.”