Bonifay Heading Company Brought Employment To Bonifay and Holmes County

Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 04:59 PM.

In Holmes County’s early development, the virgin pine forests were the incentive for many pioneer families coming to the area. Timber for lumber and the related naval stores industry were major contributors to the economy. But a later business boon in the 1930's was when Grief Brothers Cooperage Company brought its Heading Company to Bonifay. For my younger readers a cooper is one who makes containers of staves and metal bands and a cooperage is a place where such containers are made.

Wooden barrels and kegs had many uses. The turpentine industry and the whiskey industry as well as the shipping industry relied on wooden barrels to ship their products. I can remember when nails came in kegs. Other hardware items were also shipped in kegs. Though the Bonifay Heading Company didn’t make the barrels and kegs, they were an important part of the process.

They made the barrel heads, the round piece with which the top of the barrel of gum or other product was sealed for shipment. They also made the staves with which the kegs were made.

I don’t know the number of employees the mill had, but through the years, many families were connected with the mill. I talked with Ray Brooks, Bruce Roberts, and Son Chance all of whom had contact with the mill. Both Ray’s parents had worked there and they had lived in a house near where the mill was located.

Bruce Roberts is the son of the late John L. Roberts who was the mill Superintendent at the time of its closing in the mid 1950's. They also lived near the mill in what was known as the Sessoms house across from Jerkins Inc. Grace Donaldson worked there with Roberts as office receptionist/typist and Minter Seig was the mill boss.

Prior to Roberts as mill superintendent was Merrill Tucker. Son Chance said that he was in Mr. Tucker’s boy’s Sunday School class at First Baptist Church. During that time, King Sandusky was the mill boss. At some point during its history, Bonifay Heading Co employed James Davis, a one-armed black man as night watchman. He also cut the cudzu around the property with a sling blade. Bruce told me that Davis lived at "Happy Corner" on Oklahoma Street near the railroad track.

Son Chance’s father Jim Chance and his crew logged and delivered the wood to the mill where it was green cut and put into the drying kilns. Using mule teams and oxen teams, the logs were felled and trimmed in the woods; then, loaded on trucks. Often, the load would be so heavy the team or teams of oxen would have to help move the truck to firm ground where it could proceed under its own power. Mr. Dave Leavins and others worked with Mr. Chance. Son’s uncle Rufe Devon was a timber cruiser for the company. Henry Bruner, the father of the late George Henry Bruner hauled away the crooks and sold them for whatever he could get for them. Some helpers of Mr. Bruner’s were Arthur D. And Hubert. Payne.

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