Historic Bradley’s Country Store offers link with the past
July 21st, 2015 by Red Hills
published in the Tallahassee Democrat January 15, 2015
Since 1927, travelers have ventured along red clay canopy roads to Bradley’s Country Store, located on the picturesque Centerville Road. A step into the tin-roofed store is a step back in time. Hanging from the horizontal board interior walls are washboards, pitch forks and mule harnesses of days gone by. Four generations of the Bradley family have maintained the store and renowned sausage processing.
In 1893, John and Mary Bradley built a board-and-batten farmhouse, expanding it in 1903. At first a dirt farmer, John Bradley went on to clerk in a store in the crossroad village of Centerville near Pisgah Church. Reflecting the self-sufficiency of the time, the Bradley’s produced what they could on their land, and bartered with their neighbors and Tallahassee merchants for other goods.
In 1910, Mary Bradley began making extra sausage, first selling them from her kitchen window. The family, which included five boys, also traded boiled cane syrup bottled on the farm. In 1926, the family erected a long shed boasting a roof made from Florida license plates. A grist mill, driven by a single cylinder gasoline engine with a fly wheel to grind corn into meal or grits, was also added. On Saturdays during the harvest season, local farmers would haul their wagon loads of corn to the site. Today a tractor engine powers the mill, producing Bradley’s Country Milled Grits which are nearly as famous as the family’s sausage.
In 1927 the Bradley’s built the current country store. Originally, it carried basics like coffee beans, sugar, rice, dried lima beans and a selection of canned goods. There were also dry good items like sewing cloth, mosquito netting, and even $25 wooden coffins. When their father went back to farming full time, sons Laurie and Thomas Bradley became the store’s proprietors.
Laurie continued to haul orders to Tallahassee, trading in the family’s horse and buggy for a Model A Ford and later a V-8 pickup truck. By the 1930s, a handful of capital city grocery stores were selling Bradley’s sausage. Laurie also delivered to state offices and private homes. The back of the pick-up truck featured a wooden ice box complete with a 100-pound block of ice to keep the meat and dairy products cold. On the return trip, Laurie purchased bread, ice, soda water, salt fish and dry goods for the store. Children would wait for him along the country road, knowing he put the soda pop on the ice to sell on the way back.
During the Great Depression, life was difficult in rural Leon County, as elsewhere in the country. The price of cotton, the main cash crop, plummeted as factories closed in New England. Local farmers suffered especially black sharecroppers and tenant families who faced the double burden of poverty and Jim Crow segregation laws. Many families fled north. During this difficult period, Laurie Bradley went out on a limb to help his neighbors by extending store credit, often at the consternation of his father.
In 1950, Centerville Road (now County Rd.151) was paved to Moccasin Gap, and then realigned eastward to Miccosukee. With the new road within spitting distance from the store’s front porch, Laurie Bradley ended his truck farm deliveries to the city. He enlisted the assistance of his son, Frank, to take over the business. A U. S. Navy serviceman, Frank Bradley worked for the Railway Express Company after the war, but in 1957 returned to the family business full time. He would guide and expand the business over the next four decades.
Today, Janet Fryzel, Frank’s daughter, runs Bradley’s Country Store. With two degrees from Agnes Scott College in chemistry and economics, she admits that it is her business minor that has come in most handy. According to Frank, who does his best to provide guidance at a distance, “Just about every one of us has loved the store, and at the right time it just seemed that someone has stepped forward to assure the future.”
Bradley’s Country Store remains a landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places Bradley’s famous sausage and grits are iconic trademarks of the Red Hills.
Kevin McGorty is director of Tall Timbers Land Conservancy. For over 30 years, he has enjoyed documenting the Red Hill’s rich history and working to conserve its cultural and natural heritage.