In the late 1880s, William Poole moved from Georgia to the LaBelle area. He established a citrus grove, raised cattle, and opened a general trading post in the village. In 1904, one of his daughters, Corine, married Captain Melville Forrey. Forrey had immigrated to Florida from Iowa in 1896. After serving in the Spanish-American War, Forrey worked on the Everglades drainage project, as captain of the dredge boat, Caloosahatchee.
Later, he went to work at his father-in-law’s trading post. About 1914, Forrey constructed a frame building for use as a family-owned and operated store on the site of the present Forrey Building. A two-story frame residence for his family was built at the rear of the store. Forrey ‘s General Trading Store offered groceries, a meat market and some dry goods. Over the years, the store provided goods for the surrounding community and served as a gathering place for cowboys from the surrounding ranches. In addition to this success as a merchant, Captain Forrey was active in the civic life of LaBelle, including a stint as mayor. He died in 1927.
A few months after Melville Forrey’s death, his daughter, Flora, married George Burchard, a building contractor. They resided with her widowed mother, Corine Forrey, and Flora’s three younger sisters. In 1928 the family business was destroyed by the fire that began in the Royal Palm Hotel, directly across the street. The Forrey home at the rear of the property was also destroyed. Corine Forrey, using a small amount of insurance money, commissioned her son-in-law, George Burchard, and his brother, Everett (soon to be married to her daughter, Ella), to construct a new building on the former store site, with residential space for the family on the second floor.
Everett Burchard drew the plans for the Forrey Building and Annex. The two Burchard brothers constructed the building, assisted by local laborers, some of whom where customers of the former store who had outstanding balances on their accounts. These workers were paid half cash and compensated with credit on their accounts for the other half. Using a small block maker on site, the Burchard brothers, poured the building’s concrete blocks, one at a time.
The new store, Forrey’s Grocery and Meat Market, wasoperated by Flora Forrey Burchard and her husband. George was
the store’s meat butcher. Mrs. Forrey, her daughters Ida and Mary, Flora and George Burchard, and Everett and Ella Burchard, all lived on the second floor of the building.
In 1929, spurred by the success of the store, the Burchard brothers enlarged the Forrey Building with an attached Annex on the south side of the 1928 building. The Annex was completed in 1930. With its central arcade, the Annex was planned to house the town’s post office and to provide additional retail space. The post office, the community gathering place, opened in the annex on July 11, 1930, and remained there until 1964. Shortly after the annex was completed, the Forrey Grocery and Meat Market was relocated to the Annex. Their former location was then leased to Dave Alstin as a drug store. Alstin, from Clewiston, operated three drug stores in the area. Alstin’s Drug Store also served as the local Western Union office and as the bus depot for the Glades Motor Lines, operating out of Fort Myers. The drug store changed hands several times over the years. It closed in 1942, although the fixtures were left in place. The storefronts in the Annex, in addition to providing space for the post office and Forrey store, also housed a barber shop and a jewelry shop at various times.
In the early 1930s, Flora and Ella Burchard began operating a small restaurant on the Forrey property south of the Annex. By the mid-1940s, they relocated the restaurant to the Forrey Building, in the space formerly occupied by the drug store. Flora and Ella’s Restaurant occupied the rear of the first floor, and a sundries store and gift shop occupied the front portion, along with the bus depot and Western Union Office. The successful restaurant continued to be a popular community gathering place until it closed in 1990. Many of the restaurant’s early customers were loggers and workers from a nearby sawmill. Three near-by military bases also provided additional business during the war years. In the ensuing years local government leaders held unofficial meetings over meals.
Flora and Ella’s Restaurant had one of the first televisions in LaBelle and on Saturday evenings friends and customers would gather to watch programs. Over the years, famous customers were drawn by the restaurant’s reputation of good food and warm hospitality and included Norma Zimmer of the Lawrence Welk Show, Harry Reasoner, Steve Alien, Jayne Meadows, Archie Campbell, and country singer Mel Tillis. Flora Burchard helped operate the restaurant until 1969. Her sister Ella continued to hold her place in the daily operation until 1990, when she sold the business to her former daughter-in-law, Irene Burchard Trask and her husband, Alan Trask.
Mrs. Forrey continued to live on the second floor of the 1928 building until 1981. Ella and Everett Burchard continued living on the second floor until Everett Burchard’s death in 1991. Flora and George Burchard also lived there for many years until they moved to their own home nearby. When George Burchard died in 1963, Flora returned to live in the building with her mother until about 1981. The restaurant continued to occupy the building until 1993.