Cox Furniture Warehouse
602 S. Main St., Gainesville, FL
The Cox Furniture Warehouse is located in the Seville Addition of Gainesville, platted in 1903. It was part of the estate of Robert Harper Seville, a 30-acre tract south of the center of the city of Gainesville, which was inherited by his widow, Jane after Robert Seville’s death in 1872. Mrs. Seville sold various sections of the property to expanding Gainesville businesses. In the late 1880s she sold 1/2 acre tract to J.R. Eddins who built a sawmill and planing mill on the property. The 1887 Sanborn Map shows the J.R. Eddins Planing Mill and Sash, Door and Blind Factory with a spur line from the main railroad tracks running down southwest Main Street. By 1909 Eddins had added dry kilns, and the Success Ice Company was in an adjacent lot.
In 1911 Jane Seville sold the northeast corner of Lot 13, measuring approximately 200 feet by 150 feet, to the Hartsfield Grocery Company. The Hartsfield Grocery Company was Gainesville’s oldest and largest wholesale grocer. Established in 1908, it was owned by B.D. Hartsfield of Moultrie, Georgia, who built a 34 x 170 brick structure on the corner of North Garden and West Orange streets. The company prospered and soon outgrew the original building. Gainesville was in the heart of a rich and productive agricultural region and was served by a number of railroad lines that linked the area to markets in Florida and other states. It was an excellent distribution center for a progressive mercantile company.
The lot chosen by the Hartsfield Grocery Company for their second warehouse was a prominent and convenient one, six blocks south of the center of downtown Gainesville, on the corner of East Pine and West Main Street and on the main line of the Atlantic Coast Line railroad. Tax records indicate that the value of the lot increased from $400 to $4000 in 1915, indicating that the warehouse was built around 1914. Like Mr. Eddins, Hartsfield had a private spur line built so that rail cars could be driven right into the warehouse for loading and unloading. An elevator lifted heavy loads to the second floor. A storage room in the rear for highly flammable hay had a solid brick wall separating it from the main warehouse.
In 1917 the Hartsfield Grocery Company and the warehouse property were purchased by the Lewis-Chitty Wholesale Grocery Company, a Jacksonville firm. Arthur B. Chitty, the brother of prominent Gainesville businessmen, headed the company, which was expanding throughout the state. By 1925, the Lewis-Chitty Company had wholesale warehouses in seven Florida cities, including Jacksonville, Miami, and Tampa. The company provided retail stores with a wide variety of groceries, notions, tobacco, and other necessities.
The Lewis-Chitty Co. Wholesale Grocery appears on the 1922 edition of the Sanborn map of Gainesville and indicates that the building had electric lights and steam heat. Hay was stored in the rear section of the building. The rail spur that ran into the building branched off the main ACL rail line, which at that time ran down the middle of Main Street. An open loading platform was located along the south side of the building. By 1925 the Lewis-Chitty Company had sold their Gainesville warehouse to Daniel B. Cox, the owner of Cox’s Furniture Store located in downtown Gainesville.
Cox was a native of Alachua County. He had attended business school in Kentucky, and after he returned to Florida taught for a time in Melrose, Micanopy, and Bell. He received the appointment of State Superintendent of Public Instruction in Tallahassee and while residing in the state capital purchased a furniture store there in 1906. He returned to Gainesville in 1917 and bought the Gainesville Furniture Company (established in 1904) whose store was located on West Main Street across from the Alachua County Courthouse. He renamed the business the Cox Furniture Store and by 1925 had purchased the large brick warehouse on South Main Street for additional storage. His was the largest store of its kind in Gainesville and accounted for 35 percent of the furniture business in the city. He established branches in Ocala and Lake City in 1932 and later opened stores in Cross City, Tallahassee, and Orlando. Mr. Cox also served in the Florida legislature.
When the main Cox Furniture Store burned in 1938, the retail business moved into the front section of the warehouse. A year later the firm relocated its retail sales back in the center of town, into the remodeled Baird Theater at the corner of East Main and Union (now 19 SE First Avenue). The warehouse was used for furniture repair and refinishing as well as storage. It later served as an outlet for discounted furniture. In 1942 the railroad tracks which had run into the building to facilitate loading and unloading were covered with wood flooring and the doorway that had admitted the rail cars was filled in with concrete blocks. The train no longer ran down Main Street after 1948, and the rail siding that ran along the side of the warehouse became obsolete. In 1990 the Cox Furniture Company ceased operations. The warehouse stood vacant until it was purchased in 1992 by the present owners who have been renovating the structure for use as offices. The renovation has been undertaken using the federal tax incentives for the rehabilitation of historic buildings.
Cox Furniture Warehouse is a National Register of Historic Places.