Tri-City Ledger -

By Russell Brown
Guest Writer 

Coon's store survived the Great Depression


June 20, 2019

The Alger-Sullivan museums are over-packed with items that recall the history of Century and the surrounding area. Many of these are photos, some are pieces of machinery or tools, others only trinkets, but almost all of these things have a story attached. Among these artifacts, in a frame hanging inconspicuously on a crowded wall, is an old letter. This is the story of that letter.

Robert Coon was born in 1872 in Michigan. After completing only the fifth grade, he began work at about the age of eleven. As a young man, he held a series of jobs near that state's large cities and in 1899 at the age of twenty-seven, married his wife Lois.

He was working as a laborer in a large factory around 1920 when he was introduced to stories of a small, prosperous saw mill town in the Deep South. Mr. Coon soon brought his family to the Florida Panhandle town of Century, and before 1926 had opened a general store near the town; he was then forty-six years old.

Coon's store was located at the end of today's County Road 4 on the high ground in front of the county's vacant court building. Advertisements of the store's inventory in 1930 included groceries, local vegetables in season, tobacco, candies, fabrics, shoes and notions.

Coon's store prospered for several years, but then came the Great Depression, hitting America in 1929. Even though the nearby Alger-Sullivan sawmill continued to operate through these years, pay was always meager for workers and the mill's commissary gave credit. In the early 1930s, like many Americans, Mr. Coon was almost broke.

There is an old saying stating the certainty of two things in a person's lifetime, death and taxes. During good years, taxes seem only a necessary irritation. During the years of the Great Depression, they were often overwhelming. And so it was for Mr. Coon. Even so, the tax man comes.

In Florida, property tax is the burden. In the early twentieth century property value assessments were sent out by letter in the early part of the year, and collections were then made by a visit from the tax collector to every community in the county. This method made the payment of taxes much more personal than today.

On March 2, 1933, shortly after receiving his yearly assessment, Mr. Coon typed a letter of protest to Escambia County's tax collector, Mr. T. T. Wentworth. The following is that letter as written, I have added only periods at sentence ends.

Dear sir

Jest received your letter stating that you had me aseded for 250 personal poropety. now I want to know how you git that way. first place I never hav paid one cent Persanal tax sence I hav ben in this state and in the next place Im exempted from 500 dolars and in the 3 place I will sell you or any body else all the persanal property that I hav got for 200 dolars. Now I want know if you are ready to buy if so come up and git it. I don't consider what little stock that I hav in my store comes under that head as Im pain 19.50 licences on about 100 dolars worth of stock and still you are not satsfde, you are taxing me to death with out a doubt. You hav got me acsed on my land the same as you had me in 1927 and the land is not worth more than ¼ what it was in 1927 now. You mint jest as well rub this deal off your books because the man that told that I had any such amount of stock dosent know what he is talking about and if he still thinks that he is rite send him up and buy what I have got and see if he dosent loos money. Us poor devels are taxed to death. I cant rent my plase for enough to pay the taxes. The harder the times are the hire the taxes is. Don't you think us pore delves has gott liv. Hoping this wil satafie you I remain yours as ever ROBERT J. COON

Although we don't know the results of his complaint, Mr. Coon's business survived the high taxes of the Depression. It operated for many more years, but is remembered in its last years as only a grocery. Mr. Coon also lived a long life. He passed away in 1954 at the age of 82. He and his wife Lois are buried at the cemetery of the Byrneville Methodist Church.

Thank you to those who came to the society's fund raiser yard sale. On that day we also had a visit by a family visiting from Indiana who came to see the old locomotive. They were fascinated with the displays and stories of our area's history. Come by and see for yourself, 850-256-3980.


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