It is always gratifying to see young men taking leading parts in the affairs of a community whether it be in business or politics, in the pulpit or the forum. Jacksonville has many such in each of these vocations. Foremost among the young men in business leadership is Charles B. Towns, State agent for the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Mr. Towns was born in January, 1862, at La Grange, Ga., and is the eldest of seven children. His father, Colonel Oliver TOwns, after the war removed to his plantation and sought to recuperate his shattered fortunes in agricultural pursuits. Like thousands of other southern gentlemen in that trying period, the struggle for him was a hard one, and his limited means prevented him from giving his elder children the benefits of an education other than was to be obtained from the common country schools, which were at that time very inadequate.
As young Charles grew older he became his father's chief assistant on the farm, leading the hands and laboring early and late. He finds pleasure to this day in remembering that he could pick more cotton and plough more furroughs in a day than any man on the farm. On one occasion he broke the record for cotton-picking in his neighborhood, and won against all competitors with three hundred and sixty pounds in one day. That was a triumph that none but a farmer boy can fully appreciate, and though Mr. Towns has broken many other records since that time in other fields of usefullness, it is doubtful if any has ever afforded him more genuine pleasure than this first early victory.
When Mr. Towns grew to manhood he decided that farm life was not congenial to his tastes, so at the age of twenty he came to Florida and settled first in Palatka. His only capital was good health, indomitable energy, and correct principles. His first work in Palatka was that of clerk in a hotel. At the end of one year he went with the Jacksonville, Tampa & Key West Railway as check clerk, and in a few months was made chief clerk in the Palatka office. At the end of a year he was made the Company's agent at Jacksonville, the most important agency on the line. In this position he remained for five years, in which time the road grew from fifty-six miles to its present numerous lines and connections. During his agency in Jacksonville he had entire charge of all the Company's local business, and was held personally responsible for all the numerous employees at this end of the line. When he resigned it was with great reluctance that the Company parted with him, as his services had always been so eminently satisfactory.
In 1889, on quitting the railroad business, he formed a partnership with Mr. Crosby Dawkins, to conduct fire, life, and accident insurance. In this line he seems to have found his true vocaiton, and ZDawkins & Towns rapidly built up a flourishing business. From the first Mr. Towns took a keen interest in the life feature, and at the end of a year the firm decided to divide the business, he taking the life feature and Mr. Dawkins the others. He at once secured the State agency for the Manhattan Life Company of New York, and his success was phenominal from the start.
After two years' experience in life insurance, he discovered that the Penn Mutual had many features of insurance which were bettr adapted to the needs of the FLorida public than any Company represented here. He accordingly induced that Company to come to FLorida, and he was made general agent for the State. After a year and a half his territory was increased by the addition of Southern Alabama.
Few men have been more successful in the insurance line than he. In 1892 he wrote more insurance than was ever written before by any other Company in the history of the State. It was the second largest business done in the country that year by the Penn Company, the first being by the general agent at Boston, whose territory included all New England.
In February, 1894, he organized the Industrial Insurance & Banking Company, in Jacksonville, of which he is President, and Mr .George M. Noaln is Secretary and Treasurer. This is the first introduction of industrial insurance into the State, and its success has been unusual and gratifying. At the end of the first five months the Company had written over 2,500 policies in Jacksonville alone.
Mr. Towns is a man full of energy and enterprise. He leads, rather than follows, and constantly originates new plans and methods and improves old ones. Whatever he undertakes is pushed with such vigor that opposition cannot withstand his onslaughts, and these are the secrets of his success. He is ever ready to aid any public enterprise and to act in harmony with every effort that has the community's advancement for its object. He is especially enthusiastic on athletics and physical culture. He has made a thorough study of the latter and of all appliances for athletic training. his early experience on the farm endowed him with an excellent constitution, which he has never neglected, and to-day he is one of the most perfect athletes in the State. He is a Director in both the Jacksonville Athletic and Bicycle Club and the Driving Park Association. Is an active member of the Board of Trade and the Seminole Club. The enviable success which Mr. Towns has achieved in business has een due wholly to his own individual efforts. He has never received financial aid from any source whatever, sae from his own labor and ingenuity.
Mr. Towns, always patriotic and believing that the best way to cement the broken ties between the North and South is for them to get married, did his part in this respect by marrying a Yankee girl, a most charming one. She was Miss Mary M. Barbour, of Providence, R. I., and the event occurred October 12th, 1887. They have one child, a beautiful daughter, and a lovely home in the charming suburg of Riverside, where they live happily with all the comforts of home. Mr. Towns' business is in that flourishing condition where he can well afford to rest upon his oars and enjoy the fruits of his achievements in the business world, enjoying the respect of the community and the admiration of younger men who are ambitious to win equal success.