Acquiring assets for the sake of acquiring assets wasn’t Alfred’s primary motivation. He was also keenly interested in helping Florida and its residents. The state’s economy was in shambles, especially the impoverished Panhandle. At one time the northwest part of the state had been the most populous and prosperous. Its economy had been buoyed by cotton plantations, timber, sawmills, and deep-water ports. In the 1830s, Port St. Joe had been a boomtown; the state’s first constitutional convention was held there in 1838. But an outbreak of yellow fever decimated the population in the 1840s, and the Civil War and Northern blockade led to the final economic collapse of the area in the 1860s.
Alfred had a vision for this neglected part of Florida. While most Floridians didn’t see any potential in Northwest Florida, Alfred saw opportunity in its great pine forests, in its pristine beaches, and in its natural harbors, with their close proximity to major shipping lanes serving trade between Latin America, Mobile, and New Orleans.
He summarized his intentions in 1927 when he wrote: “We are now in Florida to live and work. We expect to spend the balance of our days here. We have all the money necessary for any reasonable effort to help Florida grow and prosper. Our business undertakings should be sound, but our primary object should not be the making of money. Through helpful works, let us build up good in this state and make it a better place in which to live. In my last years, I would much rather have the people of Florida say that I helped them and their state than to double the money I now have.”