Friday, May 25, 2007

Largo Feed Store

Yesterday I visited the Largo Area Historical Society with a tour group from the Florida Historical Society meeting. Largo's historical society is housed in the historic Largo Feed Store, a 1910 building moved to its current site in 1992.

In 1910 John Gainey built a feed store out of rusticated concrete block he manufactured himself. The store was run by Francis Marion Campbell, who had moved to Largo in 1867 and also owed and operated the Hotel Largo. Campell died in 1912, and from that year until the 1980s, a succession of owners ran a feed store in this building at this location.

When in the 1980s the Florida Department of Transportation began planning to widen Bay Drive, the Largo Area Historical Society worked to have the old Largo Feed Store moved to Largo Central Park. After it reached its current home, the historical society, the city, and the Florida Department of State worked together to have the building refurbished. Now, in addition to housing historical exhibits, it serves as a multipurpose building across the street from the Largo Public Library, and near the city's cultural center.

Rusticated concrete block, also called rockfaced concrete block, was made in a mold to create a surface texture that resembles stone. Its popularity as a building material peaked between 1905 and 1930. Concrete and concrete block were popular building materials well before then, but it took two technological advances to make mass production of rusticated concrete block possible. First, Harmon S. Palmer patented a hollow concrete block manufacturing machine. Second, the method of making Portland cement was improved and standarized. With a easy manufacturing method and reliable materials, rusticated concrete block became a widely popular building material, the ideal being that with nonskilled labor, the blocks could be made at the construction site. Block machines were even sold through the Sears catalog. Advantages of the blocks included that they were less expensive to lay than brick, they imitated the appearance of a more expensive material (quarried stone), and they were fire resistant.

In 1917, F. J. Straub patented a method of making cinder blocks. Cinder blocks used aggregates to make a lighter block, and they had smooth surfaces rather than the rough surface of rock-faced blocks. By the 1930s, cinderblock had replaced rusticated concrete blocks in popularity as a building material.


"Historic of the Historic Largo Feed Store," pamphlet produced by the Largo Historical Society, Largo, Florida.

Pamela H. Simpson, "Cheap, Quick, and Easy: The Early History of Rockfaced Concrete Block Building," Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, 1989.

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