Investment banker’s dreams dashed south of Green Cove Springs

Mary Jo McTammany
Posted 11/14/18

In 1917, an Ohio entrepreneur, Col. Robert L. Dollings, purchased 14,000 acres from the estate of John G. Borden of condensed milk fame.

Suddenly, Green Cove Springs’ Qui-Si-Sana Hotel was …

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Investment banker’s dreams dashed south of Green Cove Springs

Posted

In 1917, an Ohio entrepreneur, Col. Robert L. Dollings, purchased 14,000 acres from the estate of John G. Borden of condensed milk fame.

Suddenly, Green Cove Springs’ Qui-Si-Sana Hotel was swarming with agricultural experts. They were mostly from Ohio and spent their days sampling, soil and testing the water. They spent the evenings gathering in small groups around the hotel’s dining room and lounges puffing cigars and pouring over design plans and surveys.

Workers immediately set about ripping out stumps left in the ground from years of harvesting planted pines. They averaged 350 to 400 stumps a day with Dollings’ patented stumping machine.

Over 200 miles of hog proof fencing were installed surrounding and sub-dividing Borden’s old Walkill tract into two operations separated by the Atlantic Coastline railway tracks. Signs announcing “Walkill Stock Farms” popped up along the fence lines.

The good Colonel was no lofty dreamer but a bottom line businessman intent on creating what he called “factory farms” run along the lines of industrial and manufacturing plants operations in the north and mid-west. He preached that a farm must “earn its keep and pay dividends”.

The organization was simple with a general manager and five superintendents each in charge of a department – hogs, cattle, farm (growing crops), construction and machinery. Every item purchased or labor used was attributed to a specific department. Laborers were paid at the end of each day and by morning every penny was charged to the appropriate profit center.

Houses were provided on the property for all superintendents and laborers. All farm equipment was the latest in modern innovation including 16” riding plows, large and small tractors and cultivating implements. Dollings was convinced that labor should be specialized to achieve the best production and to ask a posthole digger to work a plow was inviting failure.

Twenty-four huge silos, each with a 150 ton capacity, were built on the property. After the first few silos were constructed of wood and proved to require frequent maintenance, they were built of concrete.

The operation bred Hereford cattle with Florida scrub cattle earning it the name of the “home of the White-face” for the former breed’s distinctive markings. Special feeding and grazing regimes produced champion Duroc-Jersey hogs, brood mares and stallions.

Dollings’ operation was the first in Florida to raise Angora goats with a herd of 10,000 including a buck that routinely produced 13 pounds of wool at shearing and was valued at $300,000.

Walkill Farms was thriving in March of 1918 when they dominated the annual Florida State Fair and Exposition and won the President’s Cup, two other impressive trophies and multiple blue ribbons.

With his fingers in other massive investment projects across the country and investors hard to come by, Dollings found himself stretched too thin and the house of cards crashed to the ground

A few years later Sheriff John Hall purchased the land despite warnings that it had “bankrupted almost everyone who owned it.” It didn’t bankrupt him.

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