POLK COUNTY, Fla. — A Polk County family found century-old documents that tie them to a historic cigar factory in Bartow. 

What You Need To Know

  • Bill Melvin disocvered his great-uncle was a superintendent at Thompson Cigar factory in Bartow in the 1920s.

  • The factory building has been vacant for decades and was planned to be demolished.

  • The building could be saved if someone with a plan and proper resources strikes a deal with the city commissioners.

Bill Melvin said he and his cousin were going through old boxes in a passed-down, family home when he found a satchel. 

“I realized it was a cigar satchel and it had different things in it but one thing had to do with the cigar factory,” said Melvin. “It was this picture which we later learned was my great-uncle.” 

The 90-year-old photo was of a superintendent at Thompson Cigar factory in Bartow back in the 1920s. 

“This is a direct link to the whole history of how the Cuban cigar history started in Florida,” said Melvin. “Over in Tampa they were having labor issues and Thompson Cigar Company decided that they were going to built this satellite factory and only hire non-union workers for that particular factory and at the time of its production it was out producing all of the other factories.” 

Thompson Cigar Company opened in 1925. Shortly after Melvin said the factory was producing an average of 100,000 cigars a day. 

“At that time they didn’t have media, TV anything really. They would have a gentleman come in and read all the news to the workers. He was called a lecturer,” said Melvin. 

The cigar factory has been vacant for decades. Just recently the Bartow City Commissioners voted unanimously to demolish the building. Many said the condition of the building is beyond reasonable repair. 

“The building is deteriorating,” said Commissioner Leo Longworth. “In the recent past there’s been no money put towards stabilizing the building; its condition has worsened over time.”

Commissioner Longworth said the cigar factory has been a topic of discussion at city council meetings for nearly 10 years. 

“To decide whether to demolish it or have it developed because of the condition of the building we decided that the time has come for us to made a definite decision about what to do with the building,” said Longworth.   

However, if someone with the time, plan and resources to fix the building steps up, the commissioners could be open to discussion. 

“Thus far, no one has had an actual plan that we can move forward on,” said Commissioner Longworth. “We had one potential developer in the past who has the millions to fix the cigar factory up but after he accessed it, he said it wasn’t worth it.” 

Longworth said the commissioners have started taking bids to demolish the building.