Revisiting a decades-old slaughterhouse

The backstory of a decades-old Jacksonville slaughterhouse.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - When one hears the term "Stockyards," Jacksonville may be the last city to come to mind. However, it played a major role in the expansion of the American meat packing industry a century ago. 

The meat packing industry is well known for its impact on the American Midwest. In cities like Fort Worth, TX, industry lore has transformed early 20th century plants into national attractions. In others, like Jacksonville, the story and impact on today's society has been lost.

The Armour & Company slaughterhosue on Talleyrand in 1917.  Image courtesy of Florida State Archives.

According to page 707 of the January 30, 1919  Government Control of Meat-Packing Industry, Armour & Company's decision to establish a packing house in Jacksonville resulted in the increased production of cattle in Florida and the Southeastern United States.

Amour & Company was a slaughterhouse and meatpacking company founded in Chicago, Illinois in 1867 by the Armour brothers. By 1880, the company was Chicago's most important business and helped make the city and its Union Stock Yards the center of the American meatpacking industry.

1910 image of Chicago Armour slaughterhouse courtesy of Wikipedia at:

In the midst of a cattle shortage, Florida jumped on Armour's radar in 1912 when the company was offered 5,000 heads of grass cattle in Kissimmee.  After purchasing the cattle and shipping it to St. Louis, Armour sent representatives to scout the area and found prospects for beef production so good that they considered locating a plant in the state.  Once this became known, prominent businessmen of Jacksonville reached out and urged Armour to erect a plant at Jacksonville.  

To insure a regular supply of livestock for the plant, Armour established an Interstate Stockyard near the Talleyrand slaughterhouse in 1916.  By 1919, the Armour-owned Jacksonville plant was the only meat packing plant constructed by the "Big Five" in the Southeastern United States.  At the time, the big five were Omaha's Cudahy Meatpacking and Chicago-based Armour, Swift & Company, Morris & Company and Wilson & Company.

Although Armour's plant would cease to exist by the mid-20th century, another Armour link remains in Jacksonville today.  Armour established the Armour Refrigerator Line in 1883 in order to compete with rivals George Hammond (Detroit-based Hammond Company) and Gustavus Swift (Swift & Company).  By 1900, the Armour had the largest private refrigerator car fleet in America.  

In 1919, the Federal Trade Commission ordered the company's sale for anti-trust reasons.  That entity became known as Fruit Growers Express (FGE), with its major repair shops at Jacksonville and Alexandria, VA.  Today, FGE is controlled by CSX.

The story of Farris & Company starts with Najeeb Easa Farris, a Syrian immigrant who was born on April 6, 1883.  According to Immigrant Jacksonville: A Profile of Immigrant Groups in Jacksonville, FL, 1890-1920, a UNF Digital Commons document, during the turn of the 20th century, Syrian immigrants in Jacksonville typically owned businesses selling produce, dry goods, and groceries.  Adult members of the family worked with relatives until they could start their own establishments.  

In 1910, Najeeb Farris and his wife Eva owned the Farris & Company dry goods store at 410 Davis Street in LaVilla.  By 1920, Syrians had become the fifth largest foreign born group in Jacksonville behind immigrants from England, Russia, Germany, and Canada.  This document goes on to state that Syrians were especially proud of their accomplishments because of the prejudice they encountered when they settled in Jacksonville.  Because most of the Syrian immigrants were Catholics, they were especially visible as targets of both racial and religious prejudice in a city that had become a center of anti-Catholic agitation between 1910 and 1917.

View looking down Beaver Street from King Street intersection in 1952.  The perimeter of what was the Beaver Street Stockyards can be seen on the right.  The Farris & Company slaughterhouse was constructed at the rear of this property in 1921.  Image courtesy of Florida State Archives.

By 1920, Frank E. Dennis had established the National Stockyard at the intersection of Enterprise (Beaver) and King Streets, just west of Jacksonville.  This stockyard was constructed for the proper receipt and handling of cattle coming to the local market.  In 1921, Najeeb Farris established an adjacent meatpacking plant for beef production.  According to POWER, Volume 53, Issue 12 (3/22/1921), Farris' 4-story slaughterhouse was estimated to cost $50,000 to construct.  

Sanborn Maps from 1925 at the Main Public Library's Special Collections illustrate a fire-proof structure with brick and tile walls, a roof and floors made of reinforced concrete.  A rail siding entered the property from the west to deliver shipments of livestock to the slaughterhouse's cattle pens.

1960 aerial of livestock yard and slaughterhouse site on West Beaver Street.

Najeeb Farris was the company's president.  Richard Farris was the vice president and Seabert Farris the secretary.  City Directories at the Main Public Library's Special Collections Department indicate all lived with their wives at 239 West 3rd Street in Springfield.  This residence was adjacent to the Dr. Horace Drew Residence overlooking Klutho Park and the downtown skyline.  It was demolished during the late 1960s for a parking lot.

Running a Google search on the term "Farris and Company" identified a summary of a November 16, 1933 Supreme Court of Florida case at Find A Case.  This case, involving C.R. Duffin v. W.A. Tucker, provides additional insight into the company's operation and business model. In this particular dispute, it was revealed that C.R. Duffin was a traveling salesman employed by Farris & Company, a Florida corporation with headquarters in Jacksonville, FL.  

The document said concern is in the wholesale meat packing and meat produce business.  Products produced and sold by Farris & Company included neck-bones, beef liver, pig tails, baloney, ribs, white bacon and Florida smoke bacon.

The document also states that drivers of refrigerated trucks owned and operated by Farris were sent to various cities accompanied by salesmen.  The salesman's role was to take orders for delivery of goods at a future date, while the driver delivered the goods ordered during previous trips.  Sales were only made to retail merchants and never to the individual consumer.

With this business model, goods left the Jacksonville plant by refrigerated truck and were delivered to the refrigerator of the merchant, being out of refrigeration only a few minutes at a time.  Prior to this business model, shipment by express or other common carriers resulted in, goods becoming warm, mellow, and exposed to innumerable flies, dirt and other contaminating influences.

City Directories last list Farris and Company in 1958.  At that time Najeeb was the president, Sam Farris the vice president, and Julia Brown the company's secretary.  When the site's meat packing days ended, the property was taken over and operated as a cold storage warehouse for N.G. Wade Investment Company.  

A Google search on N.G. Wade results in the obituary of Neill Gillespie Wade III, who passed on March 24, 2004 in Folkston, GA.  It states that the company was founded by his father Neil Gillespie Wade, Jr.  Neil Gillespie was born March 3, 1886 in Cumberland County, NC, died October 31, 1950 and was buried in Oaklawn Cemetary in Jacksonville, FL.  His company, N.G. Wade Investment Company still exists today and is located at 569 Edgewood Avenue South.

Today, the meatpacking industry is the largest manufacturing industry in rural America. Meat production in the 1960s and 1970s shifted from urban to rural areas, where large plants often operate two shifts in places with many animals and few residents.  It remains one of the most dangerous manufacturing jobs in the country with common injuries that include muscular trauma, repetitive motion disease, cuts, and strains.

Since 2001, the slaughterhouse site has been used as the home location of Lockwood Quality Demolition, Inc.  However, the 91-year old slaughterhouse that Najeeb Farris constructed quietly remains standing as a memory of Jacksonville's days as an urban meatpacking center.

Article by Ennis Davis | Read and Join the Discussions about this Article

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