After the Civil War, many settlers began to move towards the central part of the Florida Peninsula. Numerous men and women discovered "wild" orange, lemon, and grapefruit groves. The pioneers mistakenly believed that the citrus fruits were native to Florida. However, citrus fruits are actually native to Southeast Asia. The first lemon and orange groves in Florida were planted in and around St. Augustine by the Spanish. A Frenchman, Count Odet Philippe, is credited with introducing the grapefruit in the Tampa Bay area around 1823.
Before refrigeration fruit had to be taken to the market in enough time to prevent spoilage. Slow transportation meant that the fruit would arrive in poor condition.
Thus, Florida citrus had a reputation for its inferior quality. However, once a railroad line emerged in Central Florida the growth of the Citrus Industry exploded, and eventually, markets in the Northeast to Midwest were able to offer Florida citrus to its customers.
"The boys have ordered some beautiful orange trees for their grove, the man who puts them in (and is selling them) has promised to replace any that die, they will bear in about 2 years instead of waiting, as many do, for seven." - Excerpt from a letter, Helen F. Warner to her Mother, dated August 14, 1885, Winter Park, Florida.
Freezes in 1894-1895 caused tremendous damage to the industry, wiping out the incomes of grove owners and investors. Many packed up and left. Others forged on. Citrus production would not meet pre-freeze levels again until 1910.
"After nearly an hour's stay we stoped at another place where an English man had bo't [bought] 30 Acres built a home and moved in + lived there. for some time about 2 yrs the freeze came + he in disgust left leaving furniture even a ladies hat on table and news papers + also door open but screen Door closed we went in + viewed. he had also 5 Hives of Bees working busily." - Excerpt from Travel Diary, dated January
The development of the Florida Chilled Orange Juice industry revolutionized the way citrus was grown, processed and marketed. Today, FCOJ accounts for 96% of the citrus industry. The pioneer in FCOJ was Minute Maid and frozen concentrate process was developed at the CREC in Lake Alfred, FL.
Other firsts in the Citrus Industry from Central Florida include the invention of the Allen Picking Bag, still used to pick citrus today, and the Pounds Tractor, by Pounds Motor Company in Winter Garden. This was the first tractor to have rubber instead of steel wheels. Research centers located in Lake Alfred and Orlando developed new ways of growing, cultivating, and breeding citrus fruits used throughout the nation and world, making Central Florida a leader in citrus agriculture.
"All in all the St Johns River is grand; great groves of orange trees killed by the freeze + now sprouting out again - the many large Palms Pines Oaks Cypress + with the mosses often reaching nearly to the ground." - Excerpt from Travel Diary, dated December 31, 1895.
When the area was devastated by a series of freezes in the 1980s, the industry moved south, and, except for a few areas in southwest Orange County and Lake County, citrus groves stretching as far as the eye can see have been replaced by subdivisions and development.
For further information, read letters, journals and scrapbooks from those who owned or visited groves in the 19th century (Akpan and Warner letters; Travel Diary; Scott Family Scrapbook). Enjoy a short fictional story for children about life in a 19th century "Orange Hummock" (Orange Hummock).