Opening a connection to our past

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Opening a connection to our past

March 10, 2017 - 16:48
Donna Burkes and Kylee Hill ring up customers at the  Richloam General Store grand opening on Feb. 25th, 2017.

On the eastern outskirts of Hernando County, a few miles east of 75, about a half mile south of 50, down a limerock road stands a small general store and post office whose history is connected to several early industries of Florida: timber, turpentine, the railroad and agricultural development. Proprietors Eric and Donna Burkes, who also operate a sign production business, rebuilt the structure in 2016 as a way to attract customers. The Burkes began the sign business in their home next door three years ago, following Eric’s retirement from the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office.

The business quickly outgrew the space. They decided to expand to the rear of the historic general store and post office once owned and operated by Eric’s uncle, Sid Brinson. The portion of the building that they use for the sign business was once the living quarters for the storekeeper. It is complete with a working fireplace constructed from bricks reclaimed from the remains of a turpentine still on the property.

The Post Office portion of the Richloam General Store

It had always been Eric’s goal to renovate and reopen the store. Eric’s father John Brinson owned the property before him. John Brinson purchased it from his uncle Sid Brinson who operated the Post Office and General Store from 1920 until 1936. Eric explained, “The goal is to step into a 1920’s working general store but at the same time try to preserve the history.” They hope to be able to begin operating the post office over the summer under The USPS Village Postal Program. Fortunately Eric’s father John Brinson was able to see the store fully restored and operational before he passed away.

Eric Burkes has also preserved the history through a book he authored, History of Richloam. In the book he explains that Sid Brinson came to Florida in 1913 from Georgia to work as the Superintendent for the Schroeder Lumber Company. The Schroeder Lumber Company purchased several thousands of acres in an area known as “Kalon” in the 1890’s.

History of RIchloam by Eric Burkes

The Schroeder Lumber Company would harvest the trees for timber and then construct homes on the land to market and sell to potential buyers from the Northeast. They renamed the area “Richloam” because it means rich soil and was more helpful in selling the area to potential land buyers. The Schroeder Lumber Company owned a lodge where they would put up guests interested in purchasing property. Here they even maintained a farm where they would display a variety of crops that could grow in the area.

In his book, Burkes details the railroad that ran through the area, the Orange Belt Railroad which connected Sanford to Saint Petersburg. He explains that potential buyers would travel down to Richloam on the railroad. In 1902, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad purchased the line and eventually established “a Train Depot and Express Office” at the Richloam Store. Farmers shipped out their crops from the depot. Perhaps a token of the railroad’s wide reach, while rebuilding the general store, the Burkes discovered a ticket inside the wall for the Chicago Zoological Park, which opened in July 1934. The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad aka “The Goat” ran through Richloam until 1967.

A jar of pumpkin seeds, a ticket to the Chicago Zoological Park and a hammer were found in the wall during renovations

The Burkes found an assortment of other relics both in the walls and on the grounds of the Richloam Store including a hammer used in the 1928 re-construction of the store following a fire earlier that year. It is thought that the fire was started to cover up evidence of a robbery (a federal crime when a post office is involved).

Eric Burkes explained that the original 1928 metal structure of the Richloam general store remains, but the wood had been badly damaged by termites so he had to replace the majority of it. Before the renovation he said, “You could just about push the whole building down with your hands. It underwent a long drawn out process, but we’ve got it restored back to its original state.”

Aerial view of the general store property. The store is front left, while the train depot is located to the right.

The store was originally called “Brinson and Boyett General Merchandise” as it was joint venture between Sid Brinson and Elbert “Son” H. Boyett. Boyett left the business sometime around 1929 as by 1930, Sid Brinson was the only name listed on the business license.

Along with the train depot, and the general store/post office, the property was also home to an ice house, a smokehouse and a turpentine still. The store served the people of Richloam and the surrounding areas, including the town of Slaughter and Clay Sink.

Sid Brinson closed the store and post office in 1936, the same year that Schroeder Land Company sold their last remaining 36,000 acres to the Federal Government for $3 an acre. The purchase was part of the US Land Resettlement Administration’s Withlacoochee Land Use Project. The goal of the US Land Resettlement Administration (RA) was to resettle "struggling urban and rural families to communities planned by the federal government." The RA was conceived by Rexford G. Tugwell, an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Columbia University professor. FDR established the RA by Executive Order and placed Tugwell at it's head. The RA obtained the land for what was to become the Withlacoochee State Forest from private landowners between 1936 and 1939 under the provisions of the U.S. Land Resettlement Administration.

After closing the store, Sid Brinson left for Sarasota to work again for the Schroeder Land Company. The State of Florida purchased Richloam from the federal government in 1958 through a land-lease agreement for $6.2 million with payment made over 25 years.

Community members celebrating the grand opening of the Richloam General Store.

The Richloam General Store, now open for business again, is a nod to the early industries that drove the development of the area. It’s also a great place to appreciate a slower pace of life and chat with locals on the front porch. They offer locally made goods and penny candy. If you’re a Hernando County history enthusiast, a copy of Burkes’ book, A History of Richloam, belongs on your shelf. You can purchase it at the Richloam Store.

They are located at 38215 Richloam Clay Sink Rd, Webster, FL 33597 and open Monday through Friday 8 am - 4pm.