L. B. Skinner

Forced To Abandon Law Because Of Eyes
Refused To Be Daunted By Freeze And Founded Fortune By Foresight Then

Failing eyesight need not curtail the real vision of a big man and there is no stronger proof than the success that L. B. Skinner has made out of a life that it was feared was wrecked by the failure of his eyes while a law student at the Union College of Law of Northwestern University at Chicago in 1881, where he was a classmate of William Jennings Bryan.  Today Mr. Skinner, aside from practically owning the Hillsboro Hotel, is one of, if not, the largest owners of Citrus groves and one of the largest shippers of citrus fruits in Florida, has made a success of a citrus handling machinery plant, having invented several appliances that are standard, and owns real estate in all sections of the state.

The business career of this man reads like a fairy tale, but it has been far from that. A faith in himself and work, with a vision that had stability, supported by a strong mind and their appliance to the problems of a pioneer has built the present Skinner interests.

Born in Watertown, Wis., in January 1861, Mr. Skinner attended Northwestern University and then entered law school in 1881. He was a classmate of Bryan when his eyesight failed him following a spell with the measles. His father was one of a number of capitalists interested in orange culture in Florida, and he started for the South. 

He reached Florida and joined a friend who had preceded him. They went to Cedar Keys and tok the first steamer out—a draft that would make most folks smile in those days, the Erle—and it landed him at Dunedin. Dunedin at that time consisted of a store, postoffice and a cotton gin. St. Petersburg was not; Clearwater, near where Bellaire is now, consisted of Turner’s store and a postoffice.

As far as Tampa went in those days, Mr. Skinner said, was Lafayette Street. The only thing north of there, the first time he came to Tampa in 1883, he says, was the courthouse and Krause’s blacksmith shop.

Mr. Skinner sent back North for a buckboard and had the first four-wheeled vehicle in what is now Pinellas county, and significantly, he was the first man in that area to own an automobile. This was in 1906.

He started the culture of oranges as soon as he arrived and added to his grove as he went along. He had a firm faith in the ultimate future of the citrus industry, and he was one of the few men in the dark days of the spring of  1895, after the big freeze, had the courage—with his vision, to go ahead. He put every cent he had into orange groves, borrowed every cent he could for the same purpose and induced others to join him in the enterprises. “This,” he states, “has made possible the present Hillsboro hotel. It is money from these groves that has built the hotel to where I now hope”It will be to stand on its own feet.”

It was previous to the freeze that Mr. Skinner turned his first business attentions to Tampa. He organized the firm of Jones, Cooper & Skinner, to engage in a real estate business here in 1892. Hugh C. McFarlane had just launched the idea of West Tampa and the new firm joined hands in the move.

Mr. Skinner built the Fortune street bridge and the property holders just across the river gave it to the electric company in return for assurances that the street car line would be extended to West Tampa.

Brought Ellinger To Tampa

One of the first acts of the Skinner firm was to bring Julius Ellinger’s big clear factory to what is now Ellinger City. The J. W. Roberts factory was built and presented to the Ellinger’s. Eighteen months later, in 1894, eleven factories were moved to Tampa in a bunch and several thousand workers brought here, “it was some task,” he told a Tribune man. “We couldn’t make our deeds fast enough, and Tampa started growing by leaps and bounds. West Tampa going right along with it.”

Later Mr. Skinner retired from the real estate business to devote his attention to his citrus interests. The white fly made its appearance and Mr. Skinner toured California seeking a washer that would clean the fruit without damaging it. There wasn’t one. He came back home in 1909 and proceeding on the basis of a man scrubbing the fruit with a soft brush, invented the Skinner washer, which was the beginning of the Skinner Manufacturing Company, at Dunedin, with a weekly payrole of $12,000 and which did a half  million dollars business last year.

Mr. Skinner’s oldest son B. C. Skinner, who had graduated from Stevens Tech., and joined the technical staff of the A. O. Smith Automobile Company resigned and joined his father in 1912 and Mr. Skinner has gradually turned the manufacturing business over to the younger man, who has contributed to a great extent the development of machinery for handling citrus fruits.

This left the elder Skinner more time for other ventures and the present Hillsboro hotel which he began in 1911, was one of his biggest ones. For the past six years he has devoted most of his attention to bringing this establishment to its present place in the hotel world, practically all of his time since 1918 having been given over to the management of the enterprise. 

Source: Tampa Tribune: 12-26-1920 

Transcribed, Formatted and Submitted by Linda Flowers

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