J.C. Burwell: Innovator, Publisher & Businessman

In the early days of Hernando county and Brooksville an important figure was John Cabell (J.C.) Burwell. J.C. Burwell was the editor and publisher of The Brooksville Star which he started in 1888. The Brooksville Star was a weekly paper which came out on Friday and was associated with the Democratic Party. It had a circulation of around 500 people.

J.C. Burwell was a representative to the state Democratic convention which met in Jacksonville during June 1900. After forty four ballots William Sherman Jennings of Brooksville was nominated as the Democratic candidate for governor. W.S. Jennings went on to win and become the 18th Governor of Florida.

Burwell was interested in technological advancements. He established the first electric power plant in Brooksville. In 1908, he furnished the city of Brookville with twenty electric lights to replace the gas lights that lit the town square. He also purchased one of the first cars in Hernando County. Burwell also ran the Brooksville Ice and Storage Company.

Mr. Burwell was an avid "autoist." In a photo taken in 1909, he posed with his daughter Sally in his car while daughter Grace and wife Lucy were on the porch of their Brooksville home on Olive Street. In the early 20th century, Mr. Burwell's name is seen throughout area newspapers in articles like the Evening Independent's "Tampa and St. Petersburg United by Automobiles." Burwell took part in "the good roads movement" in which fellow auto-ists drove in processions to various locations in order to record times and link nearby cities.

Sally Burwell - Brooksville, Florida. 1899. Black & white photonegative, 4 x 5 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. <https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/138205>, accessed 8 May 2017.  Sally is standing in her father's pineapple garden. He had just put in an irrigation system.

Mr. Burwell discovered pineapples grow well in Hernando county. He planted pineapples in his backyard and developed the irrigation system himself. There is a beautiful photo from 1899 of his daughter Sally standing in the pineapple garden at their house on Olive Street in downtown Brooksville.

Burwell was part of a group of prominent citizens who believed that the lack of a local bank was holding Hernando county back, and set out to create a bank in Brooksville, with the support of governor. This group included: Merchant J. A Jennings, Sheriff W. E. Law, Turpentine Operators L.B. Varn, G. W. Varn, and G. C. Varn, Aripeka Saw Mill president M. A. Amorous. This group obtained a charter and established Hernando State Bank in 1905.

Hernando State Bank did not remain the only bank for long. The Manufacturer's Record, A Weekly Southern Industrial, Railroad, and Financial Newspaper on July 18, 1907 reported that "The Brooksville Banking Co of Brooksville Fla has elected officers as follows J B Norman Jr. President, JC Burwell Vice President, CA Lock Cashier. The incorporators are JC Burwell, JW McIntosh, JB Norman Jr, PS Weeks, …" In 1910, the Brooksville Banking Company became the First National Bank of Brooksville.

In 1914, when the First Presbyterian Church in Brooksville needed a new home, William A. Fulton, L.D. Hathaway, J.C. Burwell, and William M. McKethan purchased a lot at the corner of Broad St. and Orange Ave. for construction of a new church.

J.C. Burwell and Lucy Whitfield Cobb were married December 7, 1892 in Brooksville. They had two daughters: Grace Elizabeth and Sally Cabell. Miss Grace Burwell, became state supervisor of home economics. J.C. and Lucy Burwell are buried in the First Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Tallahassee.

J.C. Burwell played an important role in the early development of Brooksville. He had a hand in a newspaper, two banks, an electric company, a church and was an early adopter of automobiles.

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