Having lived here all my life, I often come across old buildings, streets, events, etc. for which their history has been forgotten, or at least no longer generally known. The topic of today’s article is one of those pieces of history, at least for me.
I have known about the existence of the ConFletWorth Building, which is part of the Suwannee County Agricultural Coliseum Complex, for practically all of my life. As an adult, I sometimes wondered about the source of the name. Perhaps it was because growing up, I was not involved with FFA, 4-H, the fair, or other farm-related activities at the Coliseum, despite living in the country and sometimes helping my grandparents with cows, crops, etc.
Regardless of my reasons, learning the source of the building’s name has been one of those many items on my historical to-do list for several years, even though it wouldn’t surprise me if the namesake information is on the side of the building somewhere. I recently was fortunate enough to come across the history of the building by accident while researching another topic for a patron at the Courthouse. Perhaps some of my readers (especially the “more mature” ones who have lived here all their lives and remember the dedication of the building themselves) already know and remember this, but for many others, whether you are younger like me or people fresh to the area, this may be new information…
As discussed in earlier articles, Suwannee County has held fairs in a variety of locations for more than 100 years. Being a predominantly agricultural community, these fairs involve in a great deal of animals. After the completion of the Agricultural Coliseum on the west side of Live Oak in 1955, it was decided that further buildings were necessary for livestock and fair exhibits. The county, with assistance from the Fair Association, provided half of the total cost of $50,000 for the needed structures; the State Department of Agriculture provided the matching funds. The main building was the livestock arena, which could seat 380 people, plus it had a 58 x 58 foot show ring (one of the largest inside show rings of its kind in Florida at the time), with an adjoining 100-animal capacity cattle barn. The barn also had wash racks to simultaneously wash 10 cows at a time.
The livestock buildings were completed in 1965, and at that year’s fair (held in October), the name of the new arena would be announced in an official dedication ceremony to much fanfare. Vincent Jones, Suwannee High School vocational agriculture instructor, was the master of ceremonies, and Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Doyle Conner was the featured speaker at the event. Ed N. Butler chaired the celebratory program.
ConFletWorth, the name selected by the Fair Association’s Board of Directors, was chosen to honor three men who had made the new livestock arena possible: Doyle Conner; T. J. Fletcher Sr.; and Louie C. Wadsworth. Doyle Conner was long-time Commissioner of Agriculture; he would hold the position from 1961-1991, when he retired and became US Ambassador to Mongolia. Conner had also previously served in the Florida House of Representatives, to which he had been elected while still a student at the University of Florida, and became the youngest Speaker of the House in 1958 at the age of only 28. T. J. Fletcher Sr. was a long-time farmer from the O’Brien area who was general manager of the County Fair and active with the Fair Association for many years (I’ll probably be doing an article about him in the future). Louie Wadsworth was publisher of the Suwannee Democrat, a long-time leader in the Florida National Guard, and president of the Fair Association at the time the buildings were completed (I’ll tell you more about him in a future article as well). The men were pleasantly surprised by the new building’s name.
After more than 50 years and relatively little change, the ConFletWorth Building continues to serve Suwannee County today.
Join me next week…
Eric Musgrove can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 386-362-0564.