ESTABLISHED IN 1905,
Elberta Crate & Box Company has been serving the community of Bainbridge, Georgia for over 100 years. In 2023, Elberta Crate & Box Company continues to be one of Decatur County’s top employers with over 150 employees, a good number of which are legacies to the company, following in their parents and grandparents footprints. The manufacturing plant builds crates for a variety of produce and seafood (even frog legs) and are shipped across the continental United States. You can find crates in Elberta’s backyard of Georgia to Florida, North Carolina, California, Texas, Michigan, New York and beyond.
The formation of Elberta Crate and Box Company began 118 years ago in the central part of Georgia in a little town called Marshallville, home of amateur horticulturist Samuel H. Rumph. At an early age, he developed a new variety of peach which was large, beautifully colored, and deliciously flavored. Most importantly, this new variety of peach was hardy enough to ship long distances. In honor of his wife, Clara Elberta Moore, he named the hybridized peach “Elberta.”
The arrival of refrigerated railroad transportation provided the foundation that Georgia needed for a viable peach industry, including “Elberta” peaches. Progress was rapid and by the turn of the century, there were over eight million peach trees growing in the state with thousands of railcars leaving Georgia on an annual basis. Crates for the packing of these peaches became an important feature of the peach industry as it grew. Some of the crates were made in the neighboring town of Fort Valley, but the mill’s output could not meet the demand.
John Middleton Simmons, II was asked to come back home to Houston County by many of the new peach growers and relatives. Upon arriving home, John, II saw an opportunity to meet the growing demand for crates. In 1905, he established Elberta Crate Company in Marhsallville, Georgia, named to honor the popular “Elberta” peach.
Elberta Crate Company expanded product production to suit a growing demand for produce crates, mainly tomatoes in Florida. As a result, it was decided that a southward move would be advantageous to continue the company’s growth. Elberta Crate Company expanded into Bainbridge, Georgia. In the area, there were tracts of timber that would supply the demand, the Flint River that would transport timber for a lower cost, and railroads that would enable the prompt delivery of crates to the surrounding areas. During the first full year of production in 1916, Elberta Crate Company was booming with 250 employees.
During World War I, the demand for crates increased rapidly. By 1922, the total demand for produce crates was so great that John Simmons recruited his four sons to follow in his footsteps. Jack Simmons, the oldest of the four sons, was the first to manage the newly constructed plant in Tallahassee. David “Ramsay” Simmons, Sr. worked closely with his father, eventually becoming president of the Bainbridge plant. In 1928, Bill Simmons planted his roots in Macon and assumed the management of the Southern Crate and Veneer Company. The fourth brother, Thomas Simmons, hung out his shingle when he operated Simmons Brothers Veneer Co. which furnished the veneer to the Macon plant. Later that year, the name of the corporation was changed to Elberta Crate & Box Company.
The 1930s introduced the first wirebound box which would revolutionize the industry away from the nail-constructed crates. Throughout the Great Depression, the mills ran steadily. During World War II, further demand was put on the mills for output. In 1952, the Bainbridge operation expanded to include the manufacturing of paper overlaid veneer. Expendable pallets and slip sheets were formed from this product and used by industries throughout the United States to reduce the cost of material handling.
Still today, the citizens of Bainbridge can set their clocks by the whistle at Elberta Crate. The familiar sound of the whistle is recognized throughout the community during shift changes and the lunch hour. The most terrifying whistle, yet seldom used, is the long and never-ending wail which signifies a fire or emergency. On June 27, 1947 many rescue teams and individuals heard the dreaded emergent sound, responded promptly and worked diligently. That day, the Bainbridge plant was destroyed by fire. Within the year, Elberta Crate and Box Company was rebuilt on the same site. More recently, a large fire destroyed the veneer mill of the plant in August of 2022. Thanks to the first responders, mill employees and community of Bainbridge, Georgia, the fire was contained to one area of the mill. Within a few months, the veneer mill was back running better than ever.
SINCE ITS ESTABLISHMENT,
the Simmons family has continued to be an integral part of Elberta’s history. In the early 1950’s, after the death of founder John Middleton Simmons, II and wife Virginia, David “Ramsay” Simmons, Jr. joined his father, Ramsay, Sr., at Elberta Crate. Within 10 years, John Middleton Simmons, III, brother to Ramsay, Jr., started work at the company until his retirement. In 1976, David “Ramsay” Simmons, III joined the family business and is currently Vice President of Public Relations and is an integral part of the sales team. The same year, Ramsay, Jr. was named President of Elberta Crate until his retirement. More recently, the Simmons family continues at Elberta with the fifth generation cousins: Ladson Simmons and Jack Simmons.
Elberta Crate would not be here today if the company did not have such a strong family of workers. For the last ten years, the employees have worked under the direction of President Steve Williams, who has been joined by sons Caleb and Tyler Williams and son-in-law Michael Crosby at Elberta’s logistic company, ELIS. For 33 years, Todd Mills has worked for Elberta and now serves as Vice President of Sales, joined by his children Melissa and Michael Mills at ELIS. This year, Willie Hand celebrates 50 years of serving Elberta Crate. Other longtime employees include Aldoster Scott (44 years, warehouse), Ronnie Fowler (44 years, human relations/safety), Channel Hover (43 years, warehouse), Timmie Crawford (42 years, warehouse), Junior Hand, son of Willie Hand (40 years, maintenance), Jeff Weaver (37 years, Plant Manager), Connie Creel (28 years, Controller), Wanda Cannon (26 years, Accounts Receivable Manager), Tommy Creel (25 years, Log Procurement), David Robinson (23 years, Wirebound Supervisor), and Kenny Hollis (22 years, sales.) Elberta has 20 additional employees who have served for over 20 years, 18 employees that have a 25 year tenure, and 8 employees who have been part of the Elberta family for over 30 years. Elberta has an endless list of longtime past employees, all of whom have contributed to Elberta Crate’s legacy.
Photos in gallery: Duke Repository & Florida Memory
Nestled on the Flint River, Elberta Crate and Box Company is located just past the Dothan Road bridge. Just as faithfully as the whistle blows at shift change, Elberta Crate and Box Co. has stood the test of time, even through fire and flood. Thanks to the family of workers at Elberta Crate, the history of the company continues on and looks forward to continued innovation in the future.
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