Monday, January 08, 2007

Three Orlando Produce Enterprises

by David Parmer

The coming of a railroad brings euphoria and optimism to the small communities in its path. Orlando was blessed when the West Virginia & Pittsburgh Railroad laid the steel rails through the Oil Creek Valley. It was doubly blessed when the Coal and Coke Railroad also chose Orlando as a route for its rail line.

Although the primary motive of the building of the Coal and Coke Railway was to exploit coal reserves which lay in Braxton and Clay Counties and the bountiful timber resources which covered most of central West Virginia, small farmers throughout central West Virginia suddenly had a market for agricultural produce for the first time with the access to rail traffic.

Beham Henline's Agency, early 1890s
Beham Henline of Orlando was an early entrant into the use of the railways to buy and sell agricultural produce. (See Sept '06 entry Beham Henline's Business Records) In the early 1890s Henline began acting as an agent for small Orlando area farmers in the selling of agricultural produce to larger city customers who were now accessible with the building of the West Virginia & Pittsburgh Railroad. Henline conducted this business throughout the 1890s. Henline's brokering business never reached anything approaching large scale and remained a "mom and pop" type business. A more large scale operation was however to come to Orlando with the incorporation of the Orlando Produce and Commission Company.

Orlando Produce and Commission Company, 1907
In 1907, N. H. McCoy and W. A. Haymond of Gem, J. M. Berry of Heaters, A. R. Weber of Weston, O. J. Whitesel of Roanoke, and Michael Vincent Moran of Orlando incorporated the Orlando Produce and Commission Company, each of the incorporators being shareholders with one share each. The stated purpose of the corporation was to buy agricultural produce, lumber and any other saleable merchandise and to resell the same as brokers, in exchange for which a commission would be paid. A large commodious three story building was built along the Coal and Coke Railroad right of way to house the operations. N. H. McCoy1 was designated as the manager of the business.

Orlando Fruit and Produce Company, 1909
In 1909, the wholesaling activity in Orlando seemed to be big enough for another competitor, and in that year, a Parkersburg entrepreneur C. Z. Ruth2, along with R. H. Kidd of Burnsville, C. H. Allman of Orlando, C. D. Bumgardner and H. W. Russell, both of Parkersburg, incorporated a business to be known as the Orlando Fruit and Produce Company. Ruth was the major shareholder of the new enterprise with ten shares of the outstanding stock, Kidd held five shares, and Allman, Bumgardner and Russell each held one share. The stated purpose of this corporation was much like the stated purpose of the Orlando Produce and Commission Company but emphasized the buying and selling of fruit. Nearly every farmer in and around Orlando maintained small orchards which were popping up everywhere, thanks primarily to the booming mail order nursery stock businesses which were marketing fruit trees throughout the region. A wholesale buyer of the fruit production was just what the fruit growers needed. The Orlando Fruit and Produce Company built a large frame structure near the depot to accomodate its operations. The building remains standing today and is owned by the Burgett family. (See photo to the left.) The Orlando Fruit and Produce Company appointed R. H. Kidd3 as the day to day manager of the business.

The euphoria and optimism of the budding capitalists of the wholesale businesses in Orlando did not pay off and both wholesale houses closed within a few short years of opening. Many businesses opened and closed just as quickly throughout America in the early 20th century, mostly as the result of overbuilding, a lack of population to keep the businesses going, and economic expectations which were exaggerated by the building of the railroads. In this case, Orlando fared no differently than did a lot of small towns in West Virginia and in the United States during this period of our history.

Left is the warehouse that served the Orlando Fruit and Produce Company. Note the American flag in this 1960s photo. W.D. Brown owned the warehouse at this time and the Post Office, under the direction of Pete Henline, was located in the northeast corner of the warehouse. This is the American flag that flies at every Post Office.

1. Nola H. McCoy?

2. C.Z. Ruth was the brother of Burnsville's Mayor Ruth. Dale Barnett tells us that in the 1950s or 1960s Mr Ruth made a gift of $1,000,000 to St Joseph’s Hospital in Parkersburg to build a wing onto the hospital with the proviso that there would be an apartment in the wing he could live in until he died. Mr Ruth had no immediate family. One million dollars was quite a bit of money in those days. Mr. Ruth had a number of furniture stores in the Parkersburg area.

3. Robert H. Kidd was the nephew of Burnsville Wholesale Grocer Frank Kidd.

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