Hosford Mill, 1906 Hosford, Florida
Graves Brothers Company began in 1895 as Graves Lumber Company, a logging business in Geneva, Alabama started by brothers James Edwin Graves, Jr. and Walter Graves. The company began by harvesting trees and floating the logs down the Choctawhatchee River to sawmills for processing. Later, the brothers moved to Florida, borrowed money from a Pensacola bank and built their own sawmill in Pine Log, FL. By 1906, the brothers had acquired sizeable timber tracts in Liberty County, FL where they built a large sawmill in what is now the town of Hosford.
Since no town existed in Hosford in 1906, James and Walter had to build one. This included building a hotel, a commissary, a business office and multiple employee dwellings. This also included providing electricity for the town. The company store or "commissary" was the trading center for several turpentine stills and smaller sawmills up and down the L&N railroad line. The commissary sold everything from silk stockings to coffins. Refrigeration for perishable groceries came from 300 lb. blocks of ice delivered once a week from the plant in Apalachicola, FL. Most of the citizens of Hosford depended on the Graves Brothers Company's commissary for their livelihood. James Edwin's son, James Richard 'Rip' Graves, worked in the commissary the summer following his freshman year at the University of Florida in 1926. He said he never enjoyed another summer as much as that one.
In 1919, the company purchased land in what is now Indian River County under the name Sebastian Land Company. A total of 32,000 acres were purchased from Bion H. Barnett, founder and principal owner of Barnett National Bank of Jacksonville. The company's main operation at that time consisted of turpentine stills, cattle ranching and timber. Later, vegetables were grown on the property. The early years of the agricultural operation were very successful; producing excellent crops of potatoes and tomatoes. These crops were sold in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh and Chicago under the brand name SELCO (an acronym for Sebastian Land Company). The first citrus groves were planted in 1921. The company also established the Sebastian River Drainage District during that time in hopes of developing the land after the timber had been harvested. Unfortunately, that plan was ruined by the land depression which occurred in 1925.
In 1928, the company built an electric sawmill in Carrabelle, FL which utilized a General Electric steam turbine. The Hosford mill was then closed and the company moved its operation to the electric plant in Carrabelle. Shortly thereafter, the Carrabelle mill and timber contracts were sold to the W.B. Harbeson Company of Pensacola for $1,600,000 and the main activities of Graves Brothers Company were moved to Wabasso, FL (Indian River County), where it bought its first packinghouse in 1928. Upon closing the mills in Hosford and Carrabelle, all company employees moved to Wabasso to remain with the company. Many local families can trace their roots back to those company employees. In 1930, the company built a new packinghouse at the intersection of U.S. 1 and C.R. 510 where it remains today. A sawmill was built across the railroad tracks from the Wabasso 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.
In the late 1920's, James Richard 'Rip' Graves came to work for his father and Uncle Walter in the family business. In the early 1930's, due to the Great Depression, Rip had to leave the company and work for the Sinclair Oil Company. Rip returned to the company upon the death of his uncle, Walter Graves, in 1937.
In 1946, Rip and his father, James Edwin, purchased Walter's family's share of the company. By that time, Graves Brothers Company had essentially exited the timber business and transitioned into a vertically integrated citrus operation, including production, harvesting, packing and selling. During the difficult years of the Great Depression, the company sold much of its land holdings in order to pay creditors and employees. This commitment to the company's founding principles of integrity and loyalty decreased its land ownership to approximately 2,500 acres.
James Richard 'Rip' Graves successfully ran the company from 1946 to 1976. During Rip's leadership, many changes and innovations took place in the citrus industry, including the invention of orange concentrate in 1949. The company expanded its citrus and agricultural operations three times: into southern Indian River County in the late 1960's and early 1970's, 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 third century in business, came an unprecedented series of three major hurricanes which appear to have changed Florida's citrus landscape forever.
Rip handed ownership of the company over to his son, James Richard Graves Jr., 'Richard', and daughter, Elizabeth Graves Bass, in 1976. Richard ran the business successfully for the next 25 years. Richard and his nephew, Jeffrey Edwin Bass (fourth 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 continuously family-run business in Indian River County.