Lost Jacksonville: A Slice of the Midwest

November 9, 2012 2 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Jacksonville's urban core is full of forgotten sites that were significant at one point in time. Today, Metro Jacksonville shares the history of Moncrief's Seaboard Allied Milling Corporation, which was the first flour mill constructed in Florida.

The history behind Florida's first flour mill begins in 1,166 miles west of Jacksonville in the small town of Atchison, Kansas.  There, in 1916, Otto Bresky started his career as a flour broker leading him to purchase his own mill two years later.  In 1928, Bresky's company became known as Rodney Milling. After acquiring Ismert-Hinke Milling in 1938 and Consolidated Flour Mills in 1950, Bresky merged his company with Hathaway Industries, Inc. in 1959.  As a result of the merger, the company became known as the Seaboard Allied Milling Corporation.

Encouraged by post World War II modernizing transportation facilities, a trend in the industry to mill flour close to areas of consumption rather than production led to Seaboard implementing this strategy in the 1960s.  Already operating flour mills at Kansas City, Topeka, and McPherson, Kansas, Seaboard's first mill east of the Mississippi River was completed in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1962.  Two years later, in September 1964, though Jacksonville's Committee of 100, the company announced its intentions to invest in Jacksonville. The purpose of the Jacksonville mill would be to distribute flour exclusively to industrial bakeries in North Florida and South Georgia. The selected five-acre site was at the new Expressway Industrial Park along Moncrief Creek in Northwest Jacksonville.

A 1960s Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce image of new Wiesenfield Warehouse Company and Seaboard Allied Milling buildings.

The 100-acre Expressway Industrial Park was developed by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, which had a continuing program of acquiring land along its tracks to encourage rail-served industrial development.  The 100-acre site had the benefit of having ACL rail frontage on the north end of the property and access to the Jacksonville Expressway Authority's new 20th Street Expressway (now MLK Parkway) to the south.  Along with the Wiesenfield Warehouse Company, which opened a 200,000 square foot building across the street, Seaboard Allied's Jacksonville mill would serve as the initial anchors of the new industrial district.

This 1988 image illustrates a much larger milling operation than the original 1966 facility.  Image courtesy of bdh408 at http://www.panoramio.com/photo/51618519

Opening in 1966, Florida's first commercial flour mill was designed to be highly automated at the time. The milling of flour was accomplished by grinding grain between stones or steel wheels. Grain would come to the Jacksonville mill by truck or train and be transported by conveyor to the head house at the top of the elevator. From there, the grain would be distributed to one of several ten story reinforced concrete storage bins capable of holding as much as 422,000 bushels. Running at full strength, the four story mill could produce up to 250,000 pounds of flour a day.

Over the next decade, Seaboard added more South and East Coast mills in Virginia, Louisiana, and New York.  In addition, the company agressively expanded overseas with new mills in Ecuador, Sierra Leone, Guyana, Liberia, and Nigeria.  However, by the 1982, the industry had become increasingly competitive causing Seaboard to sell the Jacksonville Moncrief facility was sold, along with all of its domestic milling operations to Cargill, Inc. for $40 million.  Out of the flour milling industry, the company changed its name to the Seaboard Corporation and moved into the poultry and pork processing industries.  Today, still owned by heirs of Otto Bresky, the company now ranks among the top five U.S. pork producers.

William Wallace Cargill. Image courtesy of http://www.cargill.com/company/history/index.jsp

Bringing in $119.5 billion in 2011 revenue, Minnetonka, Minnesota based Cargill, Incorporated is the largest privately held corporation in the United States.  Its history dates back to 1865 when William W. Cargill purchased a grain flat house in Conover, Iowa.  Cargill greatly benefited from the Soviet Union entering the grain markets in the 1970's.  With annual revenues approaching $30 billion by 1976, the company became a major target of the government on allegations of manipulating the market.

Under Whitney MacMillan's leadership, Cargill diversified with new operations in beef, pork and poultry processing, steel making, citrus processing, petroleum trading and merchandising, international metals, fibers and tropical commodities origination and trading and fertilizer production. Armed with a ton of cash, and a desire to add to its portfolio of operations, Cargill acquired the Jacksonville flour mill and Seaboard's other domestic mills for $40 million in 1982. Some of these areas became staples of Cargill's growth; others did not perform as expected and were sold. But Cargill's experience with diversification produced dramatic results. By its 125th anniversary in 1990, Cargill, its subsidiaries and affiliates were found in 57 countries representing nearly 55,000 employees.

Despite Cargill's overall success, the domestic flour milling industry gradually declined, decreasing from 279 mills in 1973 to 201 in 1998.  In 2001, Cargill announced its intentions to close three of its 19 mills.  The three mills selected were in Jacksonville, Springfield, Illinois, and Topeka, Kansas.  Between the three mills, 80 people would lose their jobs. According Cargill spokesman David Feider, there were several reasons for the Jacksonville closure.  

"Overcapacity in the milling industry coupled with location disadvantages, rising energy and transportation costs -- those factors made it impossible to continue to supply our customers efficiently from those mills."

From left to right, the evolution of Florida's first flour mill over 18 years: 1994-Cargill mill in full operation, 2005-flour mill abandoned but still intact, and 2012-dismantled mill remaining today.

By the time of its closing on May 31, 2001, the Jacksonville flour mill had been in operation for 35 years.  During that time the mill had been expanded to produce up to 700,000 pounds of flour a day for bulk distribution and institutional bakeries.  Currently, there are only three flour mills; Tampa, Indiantown, and Macon, in the states of Florida and Georgia combined.  When Jacksonville's mill closed in 2001, Cargill initially planned to keep it intact, in the event that demand for flour increased.  However, in 2007, a significant portion of the complex was dismantled. Today, not much is left of Florida's first flour milling facility.  However, with remaining buildings and eight grain elevators rising as high as ten stories, it still commands a dominating presence along Moncrief's West 33rd Street.

From right to left: slipformed reinforced concrete grain elevator, four story flour mill, and 8,500 square foot warehouse.

Article by Ennis Davis