BY LOUISE PASSMORE
Our small town of Hahira, GA, with approximately 1700 population in the city limits cannot boast of a lot of industry. But it is a certainty that what may be lacking in that perspective is more than made up by a town full of pride in what we do have - with friendly, caring, people and a constant desire to make things better. And I believe that everyone tries to be ever mindful that all things are possible through God who gives us strength.
As we think about Hahira and the things it may or may not have or what it might be noted for, there is one industry which has contributed a lot to the history of the community. Specifically - Honey Bees, Beekeepers, and Beekeeper's Supplies.
Actually, as an industry, it only goes back to about 1920 here, when the first beekeeping business of any size began in Hahira. This was with the establishment of The Puett Company that dealt with the raising of queen bees and the shipping of queens and package bees all over the USA and Canada. Authentic figures are not available to me but I feel sure that the numbers of package bees and queens shipped out of Hahira each year would easily number into very many thousands. During this time, it seems, was when Hahira became known as the "Queen Bee Capital of the World". I am sure that we no longer can boast that title but we do hang on to it anyway as part of the beekeeping heritage of Hahira.
The Puett Company came to a too soon demise in 1971 with the sudden death of Garnett Puett, Jr., who was the owner at that time. He was the third generation to own The Puett Company. Its actual inception began with Garnett's grandfather in 1913, according to some pamphlets that the Sr., G. G. Puett had printed up back in 1935 and 1941 and which I am lucky enough to have saved through the years of my association with the Puetts.
To further the beekeeping industry in Hahira, a branch of a national beekeeping supply firm was established here in 1953. The above-mentioned Garnett Puett, Jr., was the manager. This firm of Dadant & Sons, Inc. is the oldest and largest manufacturer of beekeeping supplies in the world. It was begun in 1863 when the Dadant family migrated from France and established a beekeeping supply firm in Hamilton, IL. where the home office still is today. Success in the business and the need for distribution points nearer to their customers led to the establishment of Branch Offices and Warehouses throughout the United States.
The Dadant Branch at Hahira, GA, was the 2nd such Branch set up by the company. The first one was located at Paris, Texas. There are now ten such branches located throughout strategic parts of the USA.
The Hahira Branch came about, I suppose, as a result of The Puett Co. purchasing beekeeping supplies from Dadant & Sons for some time and Hahira seemed to be a good central location in the Southeast. Thus - the Hahira Branch in 1953. My own entrance into the company was in 1955.
At that time, The Puett Co. and Dadant & Sons were located in an old two-story brick building which was originally a cigarette manufacturing plant back in the 1920's. They made Happy Day and O'Teen Cigarettes. Even though Hahira became a flourishing tobacco area and bore the name of "Gold Leaf City of the South", the cigarette manufacturing bit did not flourish and was forced to close.
In time, that building with its stairs to the top floor and an un-safe elevator became inadequate. Puett owned property next to that building so Puett and Dadants built a building and operated out of it to about 1977. Lack of enough space and, of course, the death of Garnett Puett, Jr. in 1971, along with no more Puett Company, led to another move for Dadant & Sons. During this time, in 1973, was when I was honored with being made manager of the Hahira Branch of Dadant & Sons, Inc. It was a great honor because it was not the kind of position that you might expect a woman to be suitable for back then. And I truly was the only woman manager that the company has had. I guess I did O.K. because they let me hang in there at it until I retired in 1996!
The above-mentioned move about 1977 was once again just next door, into one-third of a building owned by Fields Custom Cabinets in Hahira. There we stayed until 1985 when Fields needed the part of the building we were in for his own business. Then ensued a search for other quarters. Already constructed space anywhere near was not accessible or not available. However, right across the street from Fields was some available land so it was there that Dadant & Sons built the building, which housed the last Hahira Branch. We were so lucky (at least I felt so very strongly) that when we moved, the moving distance was miraculously close.
But now, and unfortunately, this office and warehouse is no longer a Dadant Branch. It has been closed in lieu of a consolidation of this branch and the Florida branch at Umatilla, FL. A new place has been constructed and is located at a mid-point in High Springs, FL.
Having been 41 years with Dadant & Sons here in Hahira from 1955 to 1996 is a span of a life filled with many "Tall Tales", wonderful friendships made with beekeepers from every corner of the country and also the meeting and knowing of three generations of the great Dadant family - Wonderful Memories that I shall cherish all the rest of my life.
In spite of the fact that most Dadant customers come - not out of Hahira itself - but from throughout the entire Southeast - this business will be missed by Hahira. Dadant & Sons, Inc. and the beekeeping industry did have impact on the inception of the Hahira Honey Bee Festival which is in its 20th year the first week in October, 2001. This city will still carry on the festivities with the stress on the Honey Bee and its importance in the economy of the entire world and our food supply and with a special visit each year during that week from the American Honey Queen.
So now we come to the close of a special historical period for Hahira and for Dadant & Sons in Hahira, as well as for The Puett Company.