Okeechobee County, 

Florida 

A Pictorial History--Page 12

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WAM First Cannery at Princeton.JPG (55077 bytes)Walter Markham had been coming to Florida since his first trip to Dade County in 1924, where he built his first Florida Tomato Cannery.  Walter came from a farming family in Bedford Country, Virginia that had been canning tomatoes since the end of the Civil War.

 Loading Tomatoes 1930.JPG (28303 bytes)He had heard of the large tracts of tomatoes being grown in Florida during the winter months, and decided in 1924 to take advantage of the slack time that winter brings in Virginia.  After spending some time in Larkin (South Miami), Florida, he moved south to the small town of Princeton in Dade County, and built his first Florida tomato cannery.  From the mid twenties through the later part of the 1930’s Walter ran the cannery in Princeton, Florida in the winter, and went back to Virginia each spring to work his farm, and run his tomato cannery there. 

By the late 1930’s Walter’s two sons Allen and Roscoe were at the age where theyFirst Year 1938.JPG (143505 bytes) were ready to move out on their own.  Tomato farming had become a thriving industry in the Okeechobee-Ft. Pierce area by the mid 1930’s.   It was at this time that Walter and his sons Allen and Roscoe decided to expand their Tomato Canning Operations to include Okeechobee, Florida. 

Webbs Hotel.jpg (54679 bytes)It was a cool fall day in 1938 when our caravan entered Kenansville, Florida.  This is where the highway stopped, and the wilderness began. Prior to leaving Virginia, we had been informed that  the new highway  from Holopaw to Okeechobee had been completed.  But due to heavy summer rains that year, the road was behind schedule, and not opens from Kenansville on.

Peavine_Trail_.JPG (51368 bytes)The Markham’s wondered how they would get the several trucks of canning machinery on to Okeechobee.  After talking with the local service station owner, they were assured they could take the “Peavine Trail” to Bassinger, and then on to Okeechobee.  Although this road was only a sand grade, he said they should have no trouble.   There were many bridges that they would have to cross but the attendant said the “Peavine” was an old abandon railroad grade, and he thought the bridges would hold  the heavy trucks without any problems.  So on we came, approaching each bridge with much doubt and anxiety.  We finally reached Okeechobee in the late afternoon of October 24, 1938.

Page Auto Camp II.JPG (87834 bytes)This was quite a shock according to my mother, as she had not expected such a small and rugged place.   We spent the first few nights at Page’s Auto Camp, but later we rented several rooms at the Freeze Apartments, that were located just east of the First Baptist Church, where we stayed for several months.  In 1939 we lived for several months in the McMullen Apartments just north of the First Baptist Church.  After this we moved into a house across the street from Freeze Apartments, where Norm’s Locksmith is today.   In January of 1940 my sister Martha Ann Markham Pitts was born in this house. 

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