East Coast Lumber

St. Lucie Historical Society, Inc.

  Saint Lucie County Centennial Celebrants

East Coast Lumber  

 

    On May 15 at the beginning of the last century, four men sat together in Eau Gallie, Florida, and wrote the charter for a new business they had formed.  On a hot summer day two months later--July 12, 1902--they adopted by-laws and East Coast Lumber and Supply Company, Inc., was born.

    The four men, J. B. Conrad, G. F. Paddison, Frank E. Bond, and George M. Robbins were all familiar with the lumber business.  Conrad, Bond, and Paddison owned yards at Titusville, Eau Gallie and Fort Pierce; Robbins was a local attorney.  Their businesses created a venture that thrives today.  

    East Coast Lumber's first president was J. B. Conrad, who chaired that July 1902 meeting which formally gave birth to the firm.  George M. Robbins was secretary for the newly developing firm; G. F. Paddison was named general manager.  

    A fifth man, R. P. Paddison, was also issued stock in this new company.  Each share was valued at $100 the total shares amounted to $25,000.  Mr. Paddison was included for par value of lawful money or in other supplies dealt in by the company.  Part of the "other supplies" included facilities, livestock, and a schooner. The Sunny South was used to move lumber and supplies in a day before roads were a feasible way to transport such items on Florida's east coast.

    Eau Gallie was the home of East Coast Lumber and the four founders of the firm determined that annual stockholders and directors meetings would be held there each July.  By that October, however, they held another meeting because the firm was ready for expansion.  The board made arrangements to to lease part of the Florida East Coast Railway Company wharf at Eau Gallie to build a warehouse for storing crate materials.  

    The following year East Coast Lumber continued to grow.  They purchased Bond & Bond Company, Inc., West Palm Beach.  To aid in the movement of supplies at this yard they leased dock privileges at the foot of Althea Street from H. M. Flagler.  East Coast Lumber's statement of resources by July 1903 included just over nine dollars in stationary supplies, a $300 boat (probably the Sunny South), more than $27,000 in merchandise, and almost half that amount due to the firm on account.

    Two years after the company's founding, 250 shares where still held by the same five men: Conrad, Bond, Robbin (the minority stockholder), G. F. and R. P. Paddison.  At the board meeting capital stock was increased to $50,000, issued to present stockholders in proportion to their respective holdings.  Old stock certificates were taken up and new certificates issued.  A "Sinking Fund" of $571.28 was set aside to cover possible losses.  Sales of the preceding twelve months had increased to $191,757.01; resources included an electric light plant and more than $500 in livestock and wagons.  The former was a recent innovation for the company, the latter absolutely necessary for moving and delivering supplies to customers and between yards.  The board felt East Coast Lumber was ready for further expansion and resolved to buy three plots of land in Ft. Pierce from A. C. Dittmar and C. T. McCarty.

    In 1905 East Coast Lumber declared its first dividend of eight percent.  They were able to do this despite losses from bad accounts in excess of $15,000.  The board decided that the future bad accounts would be charged to profit and loss, rather than the amusingly named "Sinking Fund".  The board opened a planing mill at Laws' Mill, near Orange City, which was sold a year later to William Laws.

    By 1907, East Coast Lumber had operations in Eau Gallie, Ft. Pierce, Cocoa, and West Palm Beach.  In May and June of 1908 the general manager, shop foreman, and yard managers were forced to take salary reductions due to cash flow problems, but by July, the board reimbursed the men in full.  That year they were approached by a buyer for the West Palm Beach yard.  Although they made the decision not to sell, a year later they had indeed sold it.  The Titusville operation was so small in 1908 that there were only $5 in office fixtures and less than $4,000 in merchandise and by 1909 that was reduced to $200.

    Seven years after the company's founding, the board first voted employee bonuses.  Five hundred dollars was appropriated and divided among three employees, including Miss E. Mathers.  It would seem that even in the first decade of the century, East Coast Lumber believed in equal opportunity.

    In January 1912, East Coast Lumber recorded a loss from fire in 1911 at Eau Gallie, in November.  Founder Robbins died that year.  W. E. Tylander was elected to the board in January 1913 to fill Robbins' place.  In March he made East Coast Lumber's assistant general manager.  

    From it's inception much of East Coast Lumber's business came from the local fruit and vegetable growers.  The company provided them with ready-to-assemble crate "kits."  These consisted of wooden slats and wire, packed flat, to assemble shipping crates for pineapples, citrus fruits, and vegetables.  The kits even included tissue--with the Indian River imprint--for wrapping the produce.  The growers began having difficulties in 1914 and by June of 1915 there had been a marginal tomato crop and the pineapple and orange crops had failed.  Despite the grave situation with the growers, who were unable to meet their obligations to East Coast Lumber, the company was able to declare a five percent dividend.  

    Both Paddison and Conrad died in 1915.  The company purchased a motorcycle and sold their remaining Brevard County Telephone Co. stock to purchase a Ford runabout.  In January 1916, new board members elected were R. M. Bond, E. R. Conrad, George F. Paddison, Jr. and W. Tylander.  That year the company purchased Biscayne Lumber & Supply of Miami.

    East Coast Lumber cooperated with the government during World War I by curtailing non-essential construction and in supplying materials and mill work for army air stations.  The company purchased about $8,000 in Liberty Bonds.  By wars end they dismantled the Novelty Works at Eau Gallie and erected a new millwork plant at Ft. Pierce.  That same year treasurer was authorized to enter into a contract with the city to purchase electricity for the millwork plant rather than depending on their own out-dated electric plant.

    By 1922 East Coast Lumber had reduced it's livestock to less than $100 in value.  They had already moved into the age of the auto, with more than $15,000 worth of motorized vehicles---quite a few when you consider that vehicles could be purchased at that time for a few hundred dollars.

    The most significant event for East Coast Lumber in 1925 was hiring a young truck driver named Nels E. Hallstrom.  Reared on a local citrus and pineapple plantation, his father was was friendly with W. E. Tylander, then the driving force behind the company.  Hallstom's beginning salary for six days a week, nine hours a day was $16.50.  A hard worker, after two weeks Hallstom's salary was raised to $18. per week.  (Nels became general manager in 1957.)

 

St. Lucie Historical Society, Inc.

P.O. Box 578

Fort Pierce, Florida 34954-0578

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Board of Directors prepare refreshments for East Coast Lumber Exhibit Opening Event, May 10, 2002.

Photos by: Glenn Carraway