For about a week and a half, several folks from Jasper related to me that a Mr. Dan Reynolds, son of one of the former owners of Jasper’s now long gone Big Top Tobacco Warehouse was trying to get in touch with me. I wondered why? My family never sold tobacco at the Big Top, not my immediate family. Daddy and Uncle Warren designated and sold their tobacco for the most part with the late Ernest S. “Butch” and Virginia Bridges Chandler at Chandler’s Tobacco Warehouses in Jasper, Florida, and, later at the Lake City Tobacco Warehouse with Howard and Roberta Whitaker, the late Clyde Morris, and later Roger Davis.
I finally talked with Mr. Reynolds who lives in Owensboro, Kentucky, where his father, at one time, owned interest in a warehouse there. It was fairly common for warehouse owners to own tobacco warehouses in North Carolina or Kentucky and here, since the selling season was at different times of the year. Our selling season here began around the middle or July and lasted until the end of August and in North Carolina the sales lasted until later in the fall and, in Kentucky tobacco, usually burley tobacco was sold into the winter months.
Mr. Reynolds was born in 1953, and his father died in 1965 which effectively brought an end to his visits to Jasper and Hamilton County. He was conducting some research about his memories here as a child and like a lot of folks who go looking for a “sameness” to the past, he didn’t find it, not even the warehouse itself which was situated about where the Jasper Civic Center is located. The warehouse burned at some time in the 80’s. This was after his half-brothers and sister sold their final interest in the warehouse in 1970.
As Dan Reynolds began telling the story of his visits to Jasper, it was the story of so many places that the interstate highways systems passed by. Jasper is one of those places. Located too far from the interstate, the construction of the interstate highway system killed many small towns across the nation, but Jasper’s final death knell, in my opinion, as far as regression, did not occur, truthfully, until the tobacco markets were shut down.
Reynolds remembered Jasper, Florida, the way many of us who are 55 plus, as a bustling little town with three tobacco markets, a movie theater, several grocery stores, a fruit market, a bakery, two drug stores, at least three clothing stores, a hardware store. All of those businesses with the exception of Jasper Hardware are now gone. They weren’t all gone even when I began teaching in Jasper in 1981, but not long thereafter, most were gone, and, yet, the warm hearts of the people, Jackson’s and Kayo’s Drug Stores, Stephanie’s and a couple of other businesses held on a while longer.
White Springs changed too and Jennings. The closing of the schools in all the small towns a few years ago, in White Springs, the diminished flow of the Sulphur Springs, the opportunity lost for the Suwannee River Water Management District to remain in White Springs. What I do know is Dan Reynolds’ phone call made began to think as I approach my 61st Christmas.
Now, I can go online and order about anything and it will be shipped to my door directly. As convenient as that is, I miss going into local businesses or phoning Willene Drury in Jasper, or the late Betty Tannenbaum at the Lovely Shop in Lake City, or the late Hazel Stewart at Bruce’s and saying “I want to spend thus and so, pick out something for Mama or my sister-in-law, and wrap it, and I will be by to pick it up.” I guess in some ways it wasn’t that different, but it was, I looked forward to my visits to local stores. I looked forward to my visits with the late Woodrow Wise and Kayo McGhin and the late Williams Jackson and Mr. and Mrs. Levin in Jasper and Mr. and Mrs. Lang. There’s a lot of about the new world I like, but there’s a lot more I don’t like. I miss the old world, but I know it’s never coming back and the days of personalized service are about a thing of the past.
The few home-owned and operated businesses we have remaining, I encourage everyone when you can to patronize them, they need that patronage, and we need them in our community.
Mr. Reynolds’ tobacco halcyon days are over, dead as a doornail like Ebenezer Scrooge’s friend, Jacob Marley. A few of us remember the sing song chant of the auctioneer that brought smiles to many area farmers, paid for school clothes, vehicles, home improvements and was the pillar of an economy in the north central Florida for over a half century.
I wish Dan Reynolds all the best in this search of the names of businesses in Jasper and where they were located and in writing a memoir for his children, but I think a quote from Patrick Smith’s “Florida: A Land Remembered” will pretty well sum up Mr. Reynolds’ search, not his memories, but his search:
“There is no more Punta Rassa as you knew it,' Toby Cypress said, his eyes reflecting sadness. 'It is all gone, Sol, just as Lake Okeechobee as we once knew it is gone, and the custard-apple forest is gone, and the bald cypress trees are gone. You are trying to capture the fog, and no one can do that,'" Chapter 1, p. 6. As we celebrate this holiday season, make it special by remembering each face, each smile, each kind word, and each detail. All too soon, some of it and, in many cases, a lot of it, will be gone like the Big Top Tobacco Warehouse and the days when Tobacco was King in rural north central Florida.
From the Eight Mile Still on the Woodpecker Route north of White Springs, wishing you a day filled with joy, peace, and, above all, lots of love and laughter.