Graves Brothers Company began as Graves Lumber Company in 1895 as a logging business in Geneva, Alabama by brothers James Edwin Graves, Jr. and Walter Graves. The company harvested trees and transported the logs on the Chatawhatcee River via log carts pulled by oxen. Later, the brothers moved to DeFuniak Springs, FL, borrowed money from a Pensacola bank and built their own sawmill in Pine Log, FL. By 1906, the brothers had acquired large timber tracts in Liberty County where they built a large mill in what is now the town of Hosford, FL.
They literally had to build a town in Hosford. This included a hotel, commissary, office and employee dwellings including providing all the electricity. The company store or "commissary" was the trading center for several turpentine stills and other small saw mills up and down the L&N railroad. The store sold everything from silk stockings to coffins. Refrigeration for the groceries came from 300 lb. blocks of ice that arrived from the plant in Apalachicola, FL once a week. The town of Hosford depended on Graves Brothers Company's commissary for their livelihood. James Edwin's son, James Richard 'Rip' Graves, worked in the commissary during summer vacation following his freshmen year at the University of Florida in 1926. He said he never enjoyed another summer as much as this one.
In 1919, the Company purchased land in what is now Indian River County under the name Sebastian Land Company. They purchased 32,000 acres from Bion H. Barnett, founder and principal owner of Barnett National Bank of Jacksonville. The main operation consisted of turpentine stills, cattle ranching and timber. Vegetables such as potatoes and tomatoes were later grown on the property. The first citrus groves were set in 1921. The early years of the agricultural operation were very successful producing excellent crops of potatoes and tomatoes. They were sold under the brand SELCO, a Sebastian land Company acronym, in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh and Chicago. The Company established the Sebastian River Drainage District in hopes of developing the land after the timber had been harvested. But the land depression in 1925 thwarted this plan.
In 1928, the company built an all electric sawmill in Carabelle, FL. The mill used a General Electric steam turbine. The Hosford mill was closed due to rising costs and the scarcity of timber. The company moved its operation to the electric plant in Carabelle. Shortly after, the Carabelle mill and timber contracts were sold to the W.B Harbeson Company of Pensacola for $1,600,000 and the main activities of the company were moved to Wabasso where in 1928, the company purchased its 1st packinghouse. A new packinghouse was later built next door in 1930, where it operates today at the intersection of US 1 and C.R. 510. Following the closing of the Hosford and Carabelle Mills, all employees moved with the company to the Wabasso operation. Many local families trace their roots back to these same working families. A sawmill was built across the railroad tracks from the packinghouse and a locomotive called "Ninespot" was purchased to haul the timber. Ole Ninespot was last seen on exhibition on the west side of U.S. 19 near Lebanon, FL.
It was during the late 20's and early 30's that James Richard 'Rip' Graves had come to work for his father and Uncle Walter in the family business. However, during the difficult years of the early 30's, Rip worked for the Sinclair Oil Company. In 1946, Rip and his father, James Edwin, decided to purchase his Uncle Walter's family's share of the company. Uncle Walter had passed away in 1937. By this time, Graves Brothers Company had essentially exited the timber business and transitioned into a vertically integrated citrus operation, including production, harvesting, packing and selling. Due to the depression, the Company was down to around 2,500 acres of land. During the difficult years, all creditors and employees were paid mainly through the sale of land, displaying the company's commitment to the founding principals of integrity and loyalty to its employees.
James Richard 'Rip' Graves successfully ran the company for about 30 years during which many changes and innovations took place, including the invention of orange concentrate in 1949. In the late 1960's and early 1970's, the company expanded its citrus operation into southern Indian River County, into St. Lucie County in the 1980's and then Hendry County in the 1990's. With the dawn of the 21st century, the company's 3rd century, came an unprecedented series of 3 major hurricanes which appear to have changed the state's citrus landscape forever.
Rip handed ownership of the company over to his son, James Richard Graves Jr. and daughter, Elizabeth Graves Bass, in 1976. Richard ran the business successfully for 25 years. Richard and his nephew, Jeffrey Edwin Bass (4th generation), began working together in 1991. At the present time, the company is being run by Jeff, Elizabeth Graves Bass' son and James Edwin's great grandson. Graves Brothers Company is the oldest continuous family-run business in Indian River County.
The Univest Building, 2770 Indian River Blvd.; Suite 201, Vero Beach, Florida 32960, 772-562-3886