While one enterprise on East Tennessee Street named the Florence Bakery existed from the late 1890s until it burned down in 1912 (owned by Mr. J.E. Bowers), it isn’t the same bakery we’re writing about in this post.
Success story from Ireland
The Florence Bakery as most recently established came to Florence in 1926 via an Irishman named Michael Curran. Coming to America with his parents when he was 7 years old, and built a strong reputation of being a fair businessman through grit, determination and hard work. His early youth was spent laboring away in the tough mining and lumber camps of the west and eventually built up enough capital to found the largest bakery in Spokane, Washington.
Following that, Mr. Curran moved to Florence, Alabama and bought the Florence Bakery 1926 (which he ran until his retirement in 1941). In September of 1926, Mr. Curran purchased Frohman Baking Company and opened the Florence Bakery at 212 N Court Street.
Tragedy strikes Florence Bakery
Five years after the Florence Bakery opened it’s doors, tragedy hit. In the early morning hours of August 19th, 1931 when an oven overheated and set fire inside of the building. Damage to the building and Mr. Curran’s equipment totaled about $3,000 (nearly $45,000 in today’s dollars). Undeterred, Michael Curran began repairs almost immediately and the Florence Bakery was reopened twelve days later.
Expansion and technology
Sales of the Sally Ann bread product line were never better in the city of Florence and profit came easy. Five short years after the fire halted production for nearly two weeks, Mr. Curran was ready for expansion. In 1934, he built a brand new, 60-foot long and 20-foot wide building on the north side of his existing operation. This new building served as a wrapping and cooling room for his baked goods. The new building addition along with the installation of state-of-the-art machinery over the next couple of years made the Florence Bakery one of the most modern bakeries in the South. The two most notable modern updates that took the Florence Bakery to this point were the addition of air conditioning (the first southern bakery to do so) and the installation of an electrically operated roasting oven. This new oven boasted a capacity of 240 loaves of bread every 30 minutes and was almost entirely automatic. The heat was controlled by thermostats and the oven was fired by an automatic stoker.
In the 1800s, before cars had been invented, one way people got around was in wagons. Florence had several wagon and buggy manufacturing companies throughout the 19th century (most pre-1870). But the biggest and most famous of them was the Florence Wagon Co.
The Florence Wagon Factory came to East Florence, Alabama, from Atlanta, Georgia at the height of Florence’s industrial boom in 1889. At the time it was one of about sixty plants and businesses located in the booming city.
Founded by Dr. Alfred David Bellamy (1847-1913), a native New Yorker from Georgia, its first president, the plant quickly grew to be the second largest wagon manufactory in North America, second only to the Studebaker Company.
Bellamy graduated from medical school in Chicago, but had to quit his practice in Atlanta after his hearing went bad. He then founded a wagon factory in Atlanta. The Doctor relocated it to Florence in 1889 because of the nearby timber forests, the Tennessee River and the railroad. It was cheaper to ship from Florence than Atlanta.
Besides building a wide range of “Light Running Florence” wagons, including its famous Farmer’s Handy Wagon, it also manufactured and sold buggies through its subsidiary the Florence Vehicle Company, and, in its later years as demands for wagons decreased, began producing lawn furniture; the company also did job machine work, as well as planing, matching and dressing lumber, and according to the Florence Herald by June of 1889 employed 200 wheelwrights, blacksmiths, painters and mechanics. By February of 1890 the factory work force had decreased to only 75 hands. Only nine moths later, in October of 1890, the company roster had increased to 125 hands. By January of 1897 a force of 160 hands was at work; by February of 1907 the Florence Times reported a force of 250 hands. However by September of 1933, at height of the Great Depression, the number of hands had decreased to just 30.
The Herald reported in January of 1890 that the Factory’s second shipment of 75 wagons had just left for Atlanta, to be followed every few days by further shipments. In February of 1892 the factory received 150 orders for wagons, fifty of which were destined for Florida. In September of 1894 the factory shipped 528 wagons. By 1897, its annual productivity was 6,000 wagons-this would later increase to 15,000. By about 1900 it was turning out 20-25 wagons a day.
Supposedly the second-largest wagon manufactory in North America (second only to Studebaker) and located on the Tennessee River, the plant had its own steamboat landing and railroad spur, dry house and lumber yard. The Wagon Factory also issued its own scrip (company money). Also the company had its own brass band, a company baseball team called the Wood Sawyers, an employee newspaper called The Florence Wagging Tongue, a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), a library for the employees founded and stocked by Dr. Bellamy, as well as a commissary (restaurant), a Sunday school, “the Club House Sunday School,” founded by Mrs. Hamaker, wife of Supt. Hamaker, separate housing for black and white employees, a water tower (moved from Handy’s Hill in West Florence, in 1893), and its own fire department. In 1893 an Employees Improvement Association (E. I. A.) was founded which held dances, contests and other fundraisers, including raising money to take care of sick employees.
The plant had the most up-to-date equipment available, including a large Hamilton Corliss engine and an indoor sprinkler system added in 1901. In October of 1894 electric lights were installed; by February of 1896 five telephones had been installed in the various different departments and in May of 1900 a “rapid roller copying machine” for copying letters on a long roll of paper was added, along with an “addressograph for addressing company letters.
In 1905 the company founded a subsidiary company, the Florence Vehicle Company, whose offices and show room were on the ground floor of the old Florence Hotel building, built ca. 1884, which building still exists and is now 111 South Court Street. The Vehicle Company served as a retail outlet for the company’s wagons and buggies.
By 1906, 2 1-8 red hickory wagon with seat and no brake cost $26. A delivery wagon on a 1 1-4 solid steel axle with any firm name lettered on the side at no extra cost was $65. A 2 3-4 wagon complete with spring seat and gear brake was $57.50 and a 2 1-8 Florence with spring seat, no brake cost $30.50. A 3 1-4 log wagon with 3 inch tires cost $90.
During WWI the company built wagons for the US Army Expedition to France. Prior to this, it had shipped orders of wagons to several oversees locations and foreign countries, including Hawaii, Puerto Rico, India, South Africa, Russia, and Mexico.
After the invention of cars as demand for wagons decreased in the 1920s and 30s, the factory wasn’t able to diversify and eventually relocated to North Carolina in the 1940s. The Florence Wagon Club exists to honor the memory of this Florence industry. Each May the club holds a Wagon Works Festival at McFarland Park at which restored Florence Wagons are displayed and tribute is paid to the men and women of the Florence Wagon Company who, during its over fifty years of loyal service, made “Light Running Florence” a household word.
The Florence plant was bought in April of 1941 by the firm of Trenholm & Starr, Inc., of Chattanooga, Tennessee, which operated cotton warehouses. The new owners planned to use the plant for some type of national defense purposes during WWII, which they never actually did. The last remnants of the company were purchased and relocated to Hickory, North Carolina, along with some of the employees.
In the late Spring of 1926, a new creamery called the Florence Milk Company was established. Organized out of five separate dairies which were: Clear Creek Dairy Farms, Springdale Dairy, Sweetwater Dairy, Meadow Brook Dairy, and Young Bros. Dairy.
Before this merger, each individual dairy delivered milk to local people’s doorsteps independently. They each had their own clientele. The organization into the Florence Milk Company was a way to expand the local milk deliver business for each of this farms without having to expand their farms bigger than they could manage. The customers would get a higher quality product, and better customer service this way. Each individual dairy would still maintain their regular herd of cattle and continue to furnish a strict, quality product of Grade A raw milk. Instead of delivering their milk to homes, however, they began to sell their entire output of milk to the Florence Milk Company.
The Florence Milk Company’s creamery business was equipped with the most modern machinery that money could buy. They claimed themselves as the most modern creamery anywhere in the country. The plant, at the time, was the only one in the country that handled only Grade A Pasteurized raw milk and was under constant supervision of the United States Government.The Florence Milk Company’s plant averaged over 350 gallons of milk every day, but held a maximum capacity of 1,500 gallons daily. The Florence Milk Company also made and sold over a thousand pounds of butter per week.
The Florence Gas Light and Fuel Company was incorporated in 1891, under the laws of the state, with a capital of $55,000 ($1,447,368 in 2015) The plant was most admirably located on Water Street, adjoining the property of the Leftwich Lumber company on the banks of Sweetwater with the belt line railroad within a few feet of the main building. There were two main buildings which made up the plant along with it’s gas holder, coal sheds, etc. The first building, which was 34×68 feet and fireproof, contained four benches of retorts, a scrubber, an exhauster and a condenser. The second building contained four purifying boxes eight feet square, a station meter, and a governor for regulating the pressure on the city mains. The plant cost $33,000 to build, which, in 2015, is the equivalent of $868,421 and utilized all of the latest improved machinery that was available.
Said of the superintendent at the time in an issue of the Florence times:
M.A. Baum as superintendent and manager of the plant, is a man thoroughly understanding the ever detail of the business. He directs personally its affairs and conducts same to the entire satisfaction of the community, furnishing as strong, though soft and mellow a light as can be found in any city of the South. Mr. Baum was born in Germany, leaving his old home across the sea and coming to America in 1883. He first located in Ohio, thence in Kentucky and Georgia and finally here. Progressive and enterprising in everything pertaining to the welfare of the community and prosperous in the management of the business entrusted unto him, he is a credit to the business element and the citizenship of Florence, and his success is but the result of industry and honesty.
In 1888, noted engineer and builder, J.W. Nichols, was awarded the contract for erecting the Florence Shoe Factory. The company has a capital stock of thirty thousand dollars (equivalent to over $750,000 in today’s dollars), and built a first-class factory. John Jones and R.T. Simpson owned and worked the Florence Shoe factory for three years before selling it to long-time shoe industry expert, Jacob J. Snyder of Ohio.
J.J. Snyder and his three sons assumed control of the Florence Shoe Company in September of 1891 and immediately went to work manufacturing their shoe supply for the upcoming Spring Trade. With over 40 years of experience in the shoe manufacturing industry, Mr. Snyder was known throughout the Southern states and had no trouble brining his shoes to market and making his new purchase of the Florence Shoe Factory a success.
The Florence Shoe Company navigated their business very carefully creating a first-class factory that helped to build up Florence in many ways. The shoes that they turned out were very superior, and like everything else manufactured in Florence, was sought after by purchasers and consumers alike. Mr. Snyder most certainly had one of the top shoe factories in all of the South and ensured to keep it that way by owning several valuable patents relative to the shoe manufacturing process.