History of Coleman and Ferguson, Dade City, Florida


Coleman and Ferguson

Coleman & Ferguson Co. (1934)

This article appeared in the Dade City Banner on Nov. 30, 1934, on the 50th anniversary of the company.

The Coleman & Ferguson Company, which was established in the pioneer days of Dade City, is planning to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary, December first.

This company has developed into what we believe is Florida’s largest independent country department store from a warm friendship that was started in Atlanta, Georgia, where Mr. H. W. Coleman and Mr. W. N. Ferguson first became acquainted, and this friendship lasted through life.

Mr. H. W. Coleman was born in Henry county, Georgia, about twenty miles from Atlanta, in 1856. When eighteen years of age he entered the employment of Mr. D. P. Ferguson, in Jonesboro, as a clerk. A few years later Mr. Ferguson went to Atlanta and engaged in the manufacture of wagons and implements. His son, W. N. Ferguson, was his bookkeeper, and Mr. Coleman became the traveling salesman. The two young men were the closest of friends, and along with their work attended a business college in the city together.

In 1882 Mr. Coleman married Miss Ella Dorsey of Jonesboro, and a year or two later made a business trip further south into Florida than he had gone before, and must have seen visions of the development of this state, for on his return to Atlanta he announced to his friends that he was going to Florida to stay. Mr. Ferguson was pleased with the idea and in a short time they were looking for a business site in this part of the state.

Mr. William N. Ferguson was born in Atlanta, Ga., September 10, 1860. After coming with Mr. Coleman to Dade City in 1884 he met … [illegible section]

…there was a great deal of sickness and several deaths, so one of the first purchases was “coffins,” as they were then called, and they sent Harry Carleton over to Leesburg for them.

Among their first purchases were two barrels of hard cider and some candy from “Black, the candy man,” of Atlanta. About this same time the First National Bank opened in Tampa, which was a town of about 1200 population.

Coleman and Ferguson, second building

When the Seaboard railroad was built, about 1886, the business location was not entirely satisfactory, and a new town was laid out to the south of the old site. Coleman & Ferguson bought a block in the center of the plat and built a larger store to accommodate their increasing business. This store was burned about 1896 and they erected the building which was moved back to make way for the new brick store in which they are now located.

The fire was followed by the “big freeze” which ruined so many people in Florida, but with grit and confidence Coleman & Ferguson pushed ahead with their business, overcoming every obstacle and threatened catastrophe. Their trade has come from a radius of thirty miles around Dade City, and they have done considerable jobbing business with smaller country stores. From the very start they have been foremost in the mercantile life of Dade City.

When Pasco county was set off from Hernando county and all the villages were after the county seat, Coleman & Ferguson built the first court house at a cost of $2,000 and gave it to the county. Later when a larger building was required and the site was again contested, it was bought largely through their efforts that it was retained in Dade City.

Coleman & Ferguson bought the land where the Edwinola Hotel now stands and gave it to Mr. Delcher for a hotel site. Here the first hotel stood until destroyed by fire.

Coleman and Ferguson Mr. Coleman was interested in the Bank of Pasco County since its inception, built the bank home, the first brick building in Dade City, and was vice-president and a director for a number of years before his death. He also helped materially to build the Masonic Hall, being a member of the lodge; bought and gave the land for the school house, and both he and Mr. Ferguson gave largely toward the building of the various churches and all charitable work of the community.

In 1904 Mr. J. Y. O’Neal, the present manager, was taken on by this firm, remaining with them ten years, when he resigned to assume the duties of postmaster of Dade City. This position he held for the next five years, or until the death of Mr. Coleman, which occurred in March of 1919. At this time a corporation was formed and Mr. O’Neal was made vice-president and general manager.

Mr. Ferguson retired from active participation in the company at that time, enjoying his summers in his home in North Carolina and his winters in Tampa, where he died in January 1930.

The present building of red brick and tile, two and one-half stories high, and measuring 60 x 123 feet, is located on the exact spot where the business has been conducted for thirty years. This building has cement floors and is as nearly fireproof as any building can be made. It is equipped with an automatic sprinkler system, which combined with its construction, makes the fire insurance almost nil. …

Pioneer Tells Early History of Coleman & Ferguson Co. (1934)

This letter was published in the Dade City Banner on Nov. 30, 1934.

Winter Haven, Florida,

November 8, 1934.

Mr. J. Y. O’Neal,

Manager, Coleman, Ferguson Company.

Dade City, Florida.

Dear Mr. O’Neal:

Relative to our conversation with reference to me being a pioneer customer of your store—

What do I remember the day Coleman and Ferguson opened for business at Dade City. I was just ten years of age.

Prior to Coleman and Ferguson opening business at Dade City, there had been several small stores, and when you called for many things these small merchants did not have in stock, they would take your order and have it shipped by the next wagon which was the only transportation at that time to Dade City. Coleman and Ferguson opened business with a bang, operated their own teams for moving their goods from Wildwood which was then the nearest railroad.

Their store was first located in Old Town near the present site of the Ice and Power plant. It was a huge one-story building about one hundred and fifty feet long. The people in Sumter, Hernando as well as Pasco county all thought them foolish, the idea of such a big store in this neck of the woods. The goods began to arrive by the time the roof was on the building. In a few days that store was filled with merchandise of all kinds at first, except bolt cloth goods and ladies’ dress goods. I have heard them say many times they just did not have room and time to bother with that class of merchandise. However, they had plenty of all other stock. They had a long rack built through the center of the store from front to rear; the rack held saddles of all kinds, bridles and harness and red virgin wool blankets for cattle men, cow whips, etc. This was to supply the cattle men trade. Also they had a complete stock of buggies, fine harness wagons, both one and two horse. They had guns of all dimensions, mostly muzzle loaders, as people in those days purchased black powder and shot and gun caps and did the loading with ram rod. I will say, however, the old deer hunter always brought home the bacon those days.

They also carried a complete and up-to-date stock of groceries. All flour was packed in 196 pound wood barrels, half barrels 98 pounds; very few people purchased less than half barrel of flour.

Their opening stock of shoes was the largest and most complete that had ever been shipped south of Palatka at that time, to any one firm in Florida. I have heard that verified by several old traveling shoe salesmen who knew. They drew the shoe trade from everywhere. Children bought shoes who never knew what shoes were, except homemade.

They were also pioneers in Christmas goods, toys, etc. I have seen their store so jammed with people during Christmas week that getting what you wanted to buy was like the old Country Post Office at mail opening time.

About 1887 the town of Dade City had convinced Coleman and Ferguson that they would succeed and they needed more room. Hence they built a very large two story building where the present store is located. In the meantime there had started up several stores, very good merchants, one J. T. Lawrence & Bro., and W. J. Thebeaut and Bro., and W. J. Thebeaut and Bro., but for some reason they quit; also C. C. Grace & Co., who operated a chain of gents furnishing goods all through Georgia; they also moved away.

When Coleman and Ferguson moved to their new building, their stock was as complete as humanly possible to make it. Their stock of clothing and ladies’ dress goods was as up-to-date and as high quality as the world’s market afforded. In fact, everything that C & F sold was of only goods with a world-wide reputation for quality and thoroughly established. I have never known a person to buy anything from them and complain of getting an inferior product, or being over charged or any mistake not being gladly corrected. That was the type of those men and the reputation they had throughout South Florida. Coleman and Ferguson controlled the American Fence Company products; they sold fence to all hardware dealers in South-west Florida as well as to consumers.

C & F always rendered a service and courtesy in their store that I seldom have seen equalled in any business.

The reminiscing of the Coleman, Ferguson Company affords me a great pleasure, because I have learned a great deal by observing the difference in the various characters of this life. For many years it has been my humble place in this world to gain trade for my employers by rendering a service. Often it comes to me so plainly how these pioneer merchants took hold here and made a great success. There was nothing small about C & F and I have observed that it is the little things in a business or anything else, that discourages, destroys and otherwise brings failure.

I have been a constant customer of C & F since they started business 50 years ago. I am glad to say if I could live another 50 years and Coleman and Ferguson would continue in this business, I would still trade with them. I have always admired the spirit of Coleman, Ferguson, & Co.




Mr. Sumner has a daughter and son living near Dade City, Mrs. A. V. Bugbee, who with her husband operates the restaurant and Mr. Joe Sumner who lives on one of Mr. Sumner’s nice groves.

Dade City front page