Abandoned Florida: The W.P. Sumner Company
A look inside an abandoned building with 109 years of interesting historical stories to share.
Once part of Jacksonville’s Ward Street red-light district, this brick structure was constructed in 1910 for the W.P. Sumner Company. The company was first founded in 1887 by William and Alberta Sumner as a grocery store mainly dealing with butter and cheese. When William died in 1900, their son Charles took over the business. On May 3, 1903, Sumner’s business was destroyed along with over 2,360 building during the Great Fire of 1901.
The business was reopened on Laura Street where it quickly grew leading to the need for a larger facility. this is when the four-story brick building on Ward Street would be constructed. Sumner operated a six-ton ice plant on the first floor, the second floor was used for cold storage, and the third and fourth floors were used for dry storage. While the manufacturing operations were located in the four-story structure, the business’ retail was done through the connected single-story building.
Charles Sumner died in 1915 and his business ceased operations as well. A number of small businesses would occupy the buildings until 1920, when it would be occupied by the J.R Berrier Ice Cream Company. By this time, Ward Street had been renamed Houston Street, and what was the city’s red-light district was now filled with retail stores and wholesale businesses.
Jefferson Richard Berrier had a sketchy history, both as a businessman and as a person. He operated his ice cream company until 1929 when he sold the business to Foremost Dairies. He went back into the ice cream business in the late-1930s, operating a company in Jacksonville and another in Richmond, Virginia. While setting up the company in Virginia, Berrier’s brother was accidentally electrocuted when testing the switchboard which was being installed, killing him. Berrier refused to pay out his late brother’s workmen’s compensation to his wife.
In the early-1950s, with nearly one hundred accounts, Berrier decided the ice cream business wasn’t profitable anymore and stopped delivering to those accounts. This resulted in the loss of all but only a handful of accounts who were willing to pickup their goods from the plant. When questioned by the Federal Trade Commission, he claimed his business had declined due to competition from larger companies such as Velda Farms, Foremost, and the now-defunct Borden. He later recanted his statement and simply explained he was out of town too much to properly take care of his business.