A Walk Through the Historic J.C. Newman Factory

By Ronn L
In June 8, 2018
394 Views

Twenty-four hours ago, I was in Brooklyn, enduring the cold and final gusts of a nor’easter as it moved through the region. Now I find myself walking in sunny Tampa, approaching the stately red-brick El Reloj building, home of the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. since 1953.

Spanish for “the clock,” El Reloj was built in 1910 and its official name was actually The Regensburg factory. The Tampa landmark received its nickname because of its handsome clock tower that looms over the Ybor City neighborhood. For decades, locals counted on the clock tower’s hourly chimes to schedule their days, while inside, workers at The Regensburg Co. made a popular cigar brand named Admiration.

Back then, Tampa was considered the cigar manufacturing center of the world, with some 60 cigar factories rolling cigars. All of these factories, like El Reloj, were three stories high and ran east to west, with the broadest side of building facing north. The indirect northern light made it easier for the workers inside to sort the tobacco.

Today the factory is a relic, a reminder of Ybor City’s glory days. The surrounding area is still filled with one-story “shotgun houses,” so named because you could fire a shotgun through the front door and the blast would go right out the back door without hitting anything. In the past, cigar factory workers lived in these homes, but today it’s just regular families.

The factory, however, is far from dormant. Here the Newmans produce bargain brands such as Rigoletto Black Jacks and Mexican Segundos, which are made on ancient machines that date back to the 1910s. But the Newmans have begun to once-again roll premium cigars here (more on that later).

Inside, I was greeted by Eric Newman, the affable president of J.C. Newman. Eric and his brother, Bobby, oversee the factory. Just as Eric begins his walk through of the factory, a mechanical noise comes from the next room.

“Wait a second, Andrew. Come check this out,” he says. Before I know it, he disappears into the next room, and shouts “This only happens twice a day!”

In the next room is the mechanism that controls the clock. Refurbished in 2002 by the Newmans, the clock was resetting its gears, and with a Willy Wonka-ish grin, Eric proudly pointed out how a set of weights was descending to reset the pendulum in the floor below. As it reset, one could hear the bell above chime.

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