Third Street before G Street was built. Faraway Inn property would be on the right; our Captain’s Quarters cottage visible lower right. Photo courtesy of Nickie Rucker, whose father built the Faraway Inn (then called Edgewater Cottages) in the 1940s.
The Cedar Keys: Pencils, Lumber, Palm Fiber, and Brushes
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, supported by David Yulee Levy’s Florida Railroad, the Cedar Keys were home to mills of the Faber and Eagle pencil companies, Suwannee Lumber Company, Fenimore Steam and Planing, and the Standard Manufacturing Company which developed a process and produced brush fibers and whisk brushes from young cabbage palms.
On January 9, 2007, the Florida Division of SESAF, in cooperation with the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources, presented a state of Florida historic site marker to the city of Cedar Key. This marker was the third in a continuing series of markers commemorating special places, people, and events in Florida’s forest history.
Text of the Marker
Harvesting redcedars (a form of juniper) for pencil manufacturing, along with pines and baldcypress for lumber, was of great importance to the Cedar Keys and the early development of North Florida in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In 1849, German entrepreneur J. Eberhard Faber (1830-1884) arrived in New York hunting splinter-free wood for pencils. He found abundant redcedar in Florida’s Gulf Hammock/Waccasassa Bay area between the Suwannee and Withlacoochee Rivers. He bought land and timber, floated logs to the Keys, and shipped logs to the family factory in Germany. In 1858, Faber built a slat mill on Atsena Otie (Depot Key), directly south of this location, and shipped slats instead of logs. In 1862, he built the Faber pencil factory on New York’s East River (near the current site of the United Nations) and supplied it with slats from his Cedar Keys mill, a practice facilitated by the 1861 completion of David Levy Yulee’s (1810-1886) Florida Railroad connecting the Keys and Fernandina Beach. The Eagle Pencil Company followed Faber’s lead, building its New York factory in 1868 and supplying it with redcedar slats from its own mill built on this site in 1876. This industry flourished on the Cedar Keys until the local resources were depleted and the slat mills were destroyed by a hurricane in 1896. Augmenting Cedar Key’s redcedar-for- pencils industry of the era were other forest-based products. Yellow pine and baldcypress lumber was milled on the Keys by Suwannee Lumber and Fenimore Steam and Planing mills on Atsena Otie and Way Key, respectively. Cabbage (sabal) palms were harvested and used for dock pilings locally and as far away as Key West. Later (1910-1952), the Standard Manufacturing Company developed a process, established a mill, and produced brush fibers and Donax® whisk brushes from young cabbage palms. Palm fibers were shipped nationwide and as far as Canada, Germany, and Australia. The rich and diverse forest resources of the Cedar Keys and surrounding area, and the entrepreneurial energy of many were central to the settlement and development of the “Cedar Keys.” They provided homes and livelihood for thousands, products needed and enjoyed around the world, and a proud legacy for Florida.