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Bowling Green, Florida: An Early History

Edited by Spessard Stone from The Tampa Morning Tribune of January 10, 1909



        Naming of Town

In the early days there was a number of families living in the vicinity of the place from Bowling Green, Ky., and when it had reached such a state of importance that it was found necessary to christen the neighborhood it was suggested that it be called Chester, in honor of Mr. A. M. Chester, now a resident of Bowling Green, and who has resided there for the past twenty-five years.

Mr. Chester was modestly inclined and sidestepped the name to permit the contingent from the bibulous clime of old Kentuck, to name the place Bowling Green. This was twenty-two years ago.

The town is built on land homesteaded by Mr. A. M. Chester, he having contributed forty acres to the railway (which built into Bowling Green in 1886) for its depot, side tracks and warehouse.

      A. M. Chester

Mr. Chester, from whom we secured the facts to frame the early portion of this article, moved to Bowling Green in 1883, there being only the family of N. M. Bryan and P. H. Peeples living in the community at that time.

Mr. A. M. Chester is a gentleman of most excellent moral attributes. He served through the Indian war of 1856-7, suffered many hardships and did whatever was in his power to assist the state of Florida to assume the place it has among the states of the nation, and is now living a quiet retired life in Bowling Green with his good old wife and their lovable daughter, Miss Callie.

        Genesis

There was no school, no church, store, postoffice or other establishment.

When the railway was built through to Punta Gorda twenty-two years ago, a preaching place and small school house were erected two miles southwest of the city, across Payne's creek.

In 1886 the Methodists erected a church and the first church services were held in Bowling Green in February of that year, the parson being W. C. Jordan, now deceased.

A school house was built a mile west of Bowling Green but was only used one year, and it then being removed to Bowling Green.

The postoffice was also one mile west and was called Utica, but this name was not permitted to remain on the map very long, as Bowling Green absorbed the postoffice also and put Utica down and out for all time to come.

In 1886 B. C. Jones & Co. and Bryan Bros. both erected small stores, the first to be claimed by Bowling Green, to which additions of all kinds of business establishments have been made from that time to this.

The first saw-mill to be placed in operation in the Bowling Green district began operation in 1886, being primarily for the purpose of furnishing building material for local use.

        Pioneers

Among the old settlers who lived in the vicinity but remote from the railway, and whose names are now familiar to those acquainted in Bowling Green, were Bryan, Carlton, Durrance, Knight, Langford, Mason, Peeples, Sauls, Stevens, Tillis, and Wilkinson.

        Citrus

The first orange grove in the community was on the old Boney place, in what is known as the Utica settlement. It is not definitely known who planted this grove, but it is known to be the pioneer producer of the orange producer of the vicinity.

The great development in orange culture in the Bowling Green locality has taken place since the big freeze.

After the community began to grow larger, it gradually drifted into the culture of citrus fruits, the shipments having reached as many as 120,000 boxes in one season within recent years.

Bowling Green oranges, grapefruit and tangerines have become famous throughout the large citrus fruit consuming centers of this country.

        General Farming

The efforts of the early settlers were devoted to stock raising as the ranges afforded unlimited pasturage and the profits were large when considered in relation to the amount of energy expended. Sheep do well, cattle are in their natural health here. Horses can be grown with a fine profit. The writer has known of hogs that reached the magnificent weight of 583 pounds.

It was discovered some ten years ago that the soil around Bowling Green was splendidly adapted to early vegetable growing. The land in this vicinity is well-adapted to the growth of all Florida crops, among them being corn, millet, upland rice, sugar cane, Irish potatoes, chufas, upon which hogs are fattened, peanuts, field peas, velvet beans, cassava, and all kinds of vegetables.

        Growth

The city has grown very rapidly within the last few years. Five years ago there were only three stores. Now there are dozens of business places. Within the last two years fifty buildings, large and small, have been erected.

The business section of the city faces the railroad and the residence portion sets back some distance from the railroad, which runs through the center of the city from north to south.

Bowling Green has four passenger trains per day, express, telephone, telegraph, one bank, two millinery stores, seven general merchandise stores, one barber shop with hot and cold baths, two hotels, four saw-mills in the vicinity, one artificial stone factory, three orange packing houses, one well equipped livery stable.

[Also] one meat market, one tomato canning plant, one real estate agent, one insurance agent, two doctors, a Methodist, Baptist and Christian church, a very fine school, one bakery, one blacksmith and various other commercial establishments.

There are lodges of Masons and Woodmen of the World.

      State Bank

The State Bank of Bowling Green was organized in May, 1908. It was successor to the private banking firm of W. R. Minor & Co. Its capital is $20,000, and its deposits amount to $49,483.23. The bank occupies its own building. The officers are J. H. Durrance, president; G. H. Gill, vice-president.

Directors are J. H. Durrance, cattle and oranges; G. H. Gill, cattle and oranges; W. R. Minor, formerly of the banking firm of W. R. Minor & Co.; J. G. Lewis, director First National Bank, St. Petersburg; C. B. Meesick, turpentine operator; T. R. Starke, merchant; A. O. Jones, merchant; J. J. Parrish, orange broker; C. C. Chollar, capitalist, Arcadia; and O. E. Rudisell, investments.

        Phosphate

The phosphate interests in an around Bowling Green are bound to prove very profitable to the city. There are large quantities of phosphate deposits in the vicinity. There are two very large and comprehensive phosphate plants operating near the city, and it is predicted that they are merely the forerunners for many others that are bound to follow.

        Civic Leaders

When the city was incorporated one year ago, a full quota of city officials were elected.

The city officials are J. A. McCollum, Mayor; W. R. Minor, City Clerk and Treasurer; N. F. McDonald, Tax Assessor; S. A. Cox, City Marshal and Collector. The councilmen are T. R. Starke, President of the Council; N. M. Bryan, C. A. Bryan, G. N. Albritton and A. O. Jones.

        School

Bowling Green is a junior high school with an enrollment of 160 pupils. We have ten grades, with about thirty-five pupils in the high school department. A. L. Durrance [is] principal.


        The People

Bowling Green occupies a square mile of land [and has] a population of five hundred persons. Its residents are a righteous, God-fearing people, filled to a commendable degree with honor and integrity. The town is "dry."

There are three churches in Bowling Green, with all the attendant societies and guilds. Much interest is taken in church matters and each of the churches have good, active congregations.

If you remove to Bowling Green, you need have no fear but what your children will be thrown in contact with conditions that will prove a decided advantage to them in developing their manhood and womanhood.

This article was published in The Herald-Advocate (Wauchula, Fla.) of July 2, 1998.

See also:

Bowling Green, Florida in the Spring of 1887

Bowling Green, Florida In April 1887

Bowling Green, Florida Of April 1887

Bowling Green, Florida Of 1896

Bowling Green's Big Blaze of December 1903

October 10, 2001, March 16 & December 19, 2004