Constructed in 1905, the town of Nichols was the home of the Nichols Phosphate Mine. Like most mining towns, workers rented housing from the company that included water, electricity and garbage collection. The town also had its own school, hospital, general store, church and post office. Most remain open today.
The town’s name came from Fort Nichols which was used during the Seminole Wars. Consisting of about 120 homes and a population of 400, it ranked third among the largest phosphate town in Central Florida’s Bone Valley. The two larger towns were Brewster and Pierce with populations of 800 and 500 respectively.
In the 1950s, the companies started phasing out their company-owned towns. This was due to a couple of reasons. First, as the companies grew not all of their employees could live in the towns. Second, with roads improving and more people owning automobiles, the necessity to live close to work became less and less. The residents of Nichols were given notice that the town would close in January 1960. Employees bought company-owned homes. Operations continued at the plant and Mobil Mining and Mineral Company purchased the mine. The mining company is a subsidiary of Mobile Oil.
As a byproduct of the recovery of phosphate chemicals and fertilizers, Virginia-Carolina Chemical Company produced uranium less than a mile away. Between 1952 and 1959, the United States Atomic Energy Commission contracted with the company to produce 12 tons of uranium oxide per year and was used to produce weapons. In 1960, the facility was dissembled.
As with many companies in the phosphate industry, in the late-1980s many began experiencing layoffs and temporary closings. Nichols was temporarily shut down in 1986. By the 1990s with companies struggling to sell their phosphate fertilizer, many either sold their properties or closed completely.
In 1995, Mobile decided to get out of the phosphate rock mining business and sold its operations to the Cargill Fertilizer company. This included 27,000 acres of phosphate rock reserves in Polk and Hardee counties.
Then in 1996, the Nichols mine was sold to Agrifos Mining LLC that included 10,000 acres of phosphate reserves and the associated facilities and equipment. Mobile agreed to continue processing the phosphate rock using their plant in Pasadena, Texas. IMC Global another owner in the area of phosphate mines operated the fertilizer plant on the property.
Within a year, IMC shutter or idle all its other plants and permanently shut down in 1998. Agrifos would close its Nichols mine in August 2000 in response to economic conditions. This results in the loss of 120 jobs.
A portion of the property was sold to Mims Ranch with the intent of selling 20-month-old black Angus cows. The closed plant is a favorite spot for vandals and thieves have caused $3 million in damages. Currently, there are no plans for the facility.
Photograph by Standard Stealth