Palm Beach County’s Oldest Business: Lainhart and Potter Building Materials

by Martha Lainhart McKenna

This article is reprinted from the Spring 2012 issue of Tustenegee.  For proper context, please note the original publication year of all reprinted articles here, which receive only minimal editing. Note:  In 2012, after 118 years in business, Lainhart & Potter was purchased by Marjam Supply Company.

Since its inception in 1893, Lainhart and Potter Building Materials has become a staple in Florida construction. Originally founded by George W. Lainhart and George W. Potter, the business has served the needs of projects as grandiose as Henry M. Flagler’s Hotel Royal Poinciana and as modest as adding a screen porch to a house.

After serving as a carpenter’s apprentice for several years, George W. Lainhart, a native of Albany, New York, made his way to Titusville, Florida, and secured a government contract to carry mail and occasional passengers by boat along the east coast of Florida. After three years, he returned to New York briefly. A visit from his brother, William, convinced him he should return to Florida.

A founder of Lainhart and Potter, George W. Lainhart. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

George W. Potter and his brother, Dr. Richard Potter, came to Florida from Cincinnati due to George’s health.

A founder of Lainhart and Potter, George W. Potter. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

George Lainhart and George Potter became active organizing and participating in civic duties. George Lainhart was also piloting mail boats, surveying land, and exercising his building skills. Eventually, Lainhart was contracted to build an awesome estate with marble floors, mahogany staircases, and custom moldings for a Mr. McCormick. The home was later sold to Henry M. Flagler. In fact, Lainhart also constructed many of the other early buildings in the area such as the first schoolhouse (1886) and R. R. McCormick’s house, Seagull Cottage (1886). These buildings were known for their durability, withstanding the test of hurricane force winds.

Both Lainhart and Potter collaborated in building Flagler’s Hotel Royal Poinciana. Flagler, who hired the two carpenters, was so pleased with their work that he encouraged them to supply him with building materials in the future.

In 1893 Colonel E.R. Bradley advised George Lainhart to open a building materials business to supply Henry Flagler and others. It was then, with the help of a loan from Bradley, that Lainhart & Potter Building Materials was conceived.

Fleet of trucks belonging to Lainhart & Potter, ca. 1930s. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

Flagler’s railroad created a real estate boom, which allowed L&P to prosper. The first lumberyard was on Gardenia Street in West Palm Beach. The yard included stables for the mules that brought incoming lumber from the docks at the end of Clematis Street.

In 1921, due to his failing health, Potter sold his interest in the company. Lainhart left the company’s name unchanged out of respect for his partner. In the 1920s, a second land boom brought the need for a larger lumberyard, so the Gardenia Street location moved to a new site on 25th Street. A Jupiter yard was added in 1951. L&P volunteered in the community during major disasters such as the Hurricane of 1928 and Hurricane Andrew, the former being particularly devastating to the Glades. Many of the caskets for the victims of that storm were made at L&P, and company trucks were used to transport bodies to the mass grave at Tamarind Avenue and 25th Street.

George Lainhart was still president of the company when he died in 1930 at the age of 84. The founders believed in service and quality products. Although they have long since passed, the company has honored their intentions for generations.

In 2012, after 118 years in business, Lainhart & Potter was purchased by Marjam Supply Company. Marjam has offices in eleven states including five other Florida cities.

Martha McKenna is a descendant of George W. Lainhart.

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