Sydney Chase Sr. (1860-1941)
Chase & Company
Freeze of 1894 and 1895
Florida Citrus Exchange
Sydney Chase Sr. was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania on August 4, 1860. He was the eighth child of Edwin T. Chase and Lucia Coffin Chase. He attended Philadelphia Central High School, but left before graduating because he had a very shy disposition. His first career ambition was to be a sheep rancher out west. He was living in Philadelphia when the Florida citrus industry boomed and newspapers and magazines began carrying stories of great fortunes to be made in citrus. After reading just such an article in Scribner’s Magazine, Chase decided to move to Florida in 1878. Arriving first in Sanford, Chase worked for Henry M. Sanford, owner of Belair Groves and Experimental Gardens, where he learned as much as he possibly could about the cultivation of citrus.
In 1884 Chase’s brother Joshua Coffin Chase joined him in Florida to launch Chase & Co. The company offered fire insurance and fertilizer to growers, and in 1886 the brothers purchased several citrus groves and began selling their produce themselves. They were so successful that other citrus growers in the area approached them to help sell their produce too. The building of packinghouses followed. Sydney took many trips abroad marketing citrus products. His interest in building railroads in the state led him to explore possible usage of the Everglades. This led him on an exploratory expedition of the Everglades with a group led by Alonzo Church in 1892.
The severe freezes of 1894-1895 hit all of Florida hard; the Chase brothers were no exception. Due to the damage to groves around the state, growers were not able to pay premiums on Chase & Co. loans, and the demand for fertilizer plummeted. The Chase brothers then turned to the cultivation of celery to provide income, becoming the first large-scale producers of celery.
After Sydney’s brother moved to California, he began to explore other businesses, including railroads, phosphate mining and banking, all under the umbrella of Chase & Co. In 1904, Joshua returned to Florida, and the brothers began to rebuild their citrus industry, buying groves and building a fertilizer plant to support their own needs.
The brothers are also credited with the discovery of an island located between two lakes in Orlando. The discovery of this island, covered with over 1,300 citrus trees, added a large grove to the Chase’s collection. The island was named ‘Isleworth’ after a comment by Samuel’s father-in-law. Today, it has become a popular golf resort.
As the citrus industry revived, the Chase brother’s acquired more land to grow citrus; they also bought additional packinghouses and built a farming supply store. As Chase & Co. flourished, Sanford became a major citrus growing location as well as the largest orange shipping point in the state.
Sydney Chase and his brother were very protective of their industry and initially refused to join the newly formed Florida Citrus Exchange, fearing they would give up too much control of their business. After several years of negotiation with C.C. Commander, Chase & Co. joined the Florida Citrus Exchange under a complex agreement. But conflict between the Chase brothers and Florida Citrus Mutual resulted in the brothers leaving the Exchange three years later.
Eventually the Chase brothers sold their insurance business, as well as most of their citrus-related enterprises. By 1928 the main focus of Chase & Co. was in the fertilizer industry. The Florida population boom of the 1930’s and 1940’s allowed Chase & Co. the opportunity to take a new direction. The focus of their business shifted to residential garden and building supplies.
Apart from his business ventures, Sydney Chase found the time to become highly involved in his community. With his brother Joshua, they became major contributors to the building of Rollins College in Winter Park as well as to the Florida Historical Society. In their communities, they were known as civic leaders and philanthropists.
Sydney Chase died in 1941, leaving Chase & Co. in the hands of his brother and other associates. His sons, Sydney Chase Jr., Randall Chase and Frank Chase all followed the influences of their father, joining the citrus industry. Chase & Co. still exists today under the name of Sunniland, although the Chase family is no longer involved in the business.