Abandoned Jacksonville: Jones Chambliss Meat Packers

October 1, 2014 4 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

When traveling on the forgotten side streets of Jacksonville's older neighborhoods, one can't help but have a bit of "factory nostalgia" due to the eerily quiet ruins of industrial sites that once buzzed with activity. Here's a story of the rise and fall of a slaughterhouse just north of Riverside and west of Brooklyn: Jones-Chambliss Meat Packers.

The Jones-Chambliss Company was officially first incorporated in January 1911 with $30,000 in capital. The company's name was a combination of its founders, Charles A. Jones and John O. Chambliss. According to Ice & Refrigeration, Volume 42, in January 1912, plans were publicly announced to build a meat cooler and refrigeration plant in the western section of the city. This business was located near the Riverside Viaduct. However, according to city directories, it appears this business did not last long.

1950s Sanborn map illustrating the layout of Jones Chambliss slaughterhouse.

That same year, with Walter and William Graddick, Barney Hart, Robert Stewart, and William Smith, John Chambliss launched another business at 406 Forest Street. Built in the middle of an established African-American neighborhood, this business was a slaughterhouse called the Jacksonville Cattle Company.  In July 1916, a one story brick abattoir was added to the site, just east of the Atlantic Coast Line railroad crossing. The building was designed by architect Ransom Buffalo. Like Henry J. Klutho, Buffalo, was known for his Prairie School architectural designs. Most of which, were residences built in Riverside. By 1920, John Chambliss had become the president of Jacksonville Cattle Company.

A year later, with his original partner, Charles A. Jones (who had become the manager of Morris & Company at 640 West Bay Street), and Alfred H. Goedert, Jones-Chambliss Meat Packers was established, taking the place of the Jacksonville Cattle Company at the Forest Street site. The company specialized in wholesale slaughtering and packing as a distributor of "Better Brand Products." Originally, Jones served as the company's president, while Chambliss became the treasurer and Goedert the secretary. As a part of the transition, upgrades were made to the site. According to Refrigeration World, Volume 56 in October 1921, upgrades included the installation of a 30-ton machine and refrigeration equipment.

Strike at Jones-Chambliss Meat Packers in 1949. Photograph courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library at http://digitalcollections.library.gsu.edu/cdm/ref/collection/labor/id/2096

In 1937, the abattoir was expanded with a two story reinforced concrete building with face brick.  As a part of the site's operations, a cattle pen for confining livestock was located at the rear of the property. Brisk business and growth resulted in additional expansion to the abattoir in 1938 and 1939. By 1940, the site included a dog food plant to the north of the 55,390-square foot slaughterhouse and cattle pen at 141 Pleasant Street.

Working in the slaughterhouse wasn't easy. The words of Marie Hendricks Brooks provides a glimpse into the life of an employee at Jones-Chambliss. "I left home (Union County, FL) in the fall of 1935 to look for work with 65 cents and a pair of shoes borrowed from Mabel Forsythe. I never had an opportunity to return the shoes, I wore them out! Eventually I found a job at Jones Chambliss Meat Packing Company making wieners at .20 cents per hour, the work was hard and nasty. I later got a job at Wilson & Co. making .25 cents per hour."

In 1949, demanding better treatment, employees associated with the United Packinghouse Workers of America went on strike hoping for better wages and working conditions.

Jones-Chambliss Meat Packing Company on Forest Street in 1949. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/52878

With contracts to provide meat products to the US Navy and Air Force, Jones-Chambliss would undergo massive expansions under the leadership of Alfred H. Goedert. In 1963, on the east side of Pleasant Street, an 8,784-square foot, 20' high concrete block structure was added to the industrial complex. This structure included a boiler house, additional office, and warehouse space.

In 1966, the company expanded its complex with the construction and opening of Henry's Hickory House, a meat and bacon slicing plant, on the other side of the railroad. Henry's Hickory House was designed by John L. Goedert, who had joined the family business after serving in the United States Coast Guard during World War II, and in the United States Army during the Korean Conflict. John Goedert's role with the business placed him in charge of construction and plant expansion. In addition to Henry's Hickory House, John Goedert also designed and built a 7,000-head cattle feed lot for Jones-Chambliss in Fort White, FL.

Henry's Hickory House in 1973. Photograph courtesy of Rick Hebenstrelt at https://www.flickr.com/photos/ricko19/3570593542/

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