The Bone Valley encompasses portions of present-day Hardee, Hillsborough, Manatee, and Polk counties. This area contains several phosphate processing plants that assist in the production of agricultural fertilizer. Florida contains the largest known deposits of phosphate in the United States. Millions of years ago, the Florida coast was believed to be sixty miles further inland. In the late 19th century, Smithsonian archaeologists discovered large amounts of fossils in prehistoric sea beds across Central Florida. After the fossil discovery, the region forty miles south of Orlando became known as Bone Valley.
The prehistoric sea floor was located twenty-five feet below the surface. The phosphate matrix is comprised of animal bone, sand, and clay. Scientists knew that the phosphate surrounding the fossils made a great fertilizer, but it was not until the 1960s that phosphate fertilizers became chemically-enhanced which increased crop yields tremendously.
Throughout the turn of the 20th century, the Bone Valley region boomed as a dozen commercial mining companies moved to Central Florida from the North. Early miners worked by hand, using only a pickaxe and wheel barrow. It would take miners several years to mine only fifteen acres. By 1910, mechanized steam shovels were capable of doing the work of eighty men.
By the 1920s, Bone Valley became the main source of phosphate for American farmers. Approximately 75 percent of the phosphate used by farmers and gardeners across America was mined in Bone Valley. Phosphate was also sold and shipped overseas.
The town of Nichols was built in 1905 by Virginia-Carolina Chemical Company. They named it after nearby Fort Nichols, which was used in the Seminole War. The community consisted of about 120 houses with some dating back as early as 1920. At its peak, the town of Nichols had a population of 400.
Workers rented housing from their employers with water, electricity, and garbage collection included for a small fee. This was available to them only until they retired. Some two-story homes were rented to multiple families. These communities included their own general store, hospital, and school. Although the Post Office still remains open today, the town was phased out completely in the 1950s after many families moved to nearby cities for better opportunities.
Mobil Mining and Mineral Company, a subsidiary of Mobil Oil, purchased three mines across the Bone Valley region, including the Nichols mine. It is believed that Mobil built this phosphate processing facility shortly thereafter. In 1960, the remaining company-owned housing was sold to employees and relocated to nearby communities.
The demand for phosphate peaked in the 1980s. There were over 14,000 employees mining and processing phosphate across Bone Valley by 1985. By the late 1980s, foreign countries were investing heavily in mining production and their own processing plants. This sharply decreased their need to import phosphate from the United States causing the processing plants in Bone Valley to become obsolete.
By 1988, nearly every phosphate company across Bone Valley was experiencing layoffs and temporary closings. Many of the phosphate plants struggled through the 1990s and ultimately closed as the price of fertilizer decreased rapidly.
Mobil decided the company was getting out of the mining business due to overseas competition and sold the facility in 1996.
This processing plant was once one of the largest in Bone Valley consisting of over 10,000 acres. The facility closed down permanently in 2004, after 60 years of service.
After closing, the property was purchased by a private owner at auction. According to the owner, since he purchased the facility, the grounds have been a target for vandals and thieves. As much as $3 million dollars worth of metal has been stolen from the abandoned plant. There are no plans for the facility at this time. The property remains private and anyone caught on site will be considered trespassing.