1565 - Spaniards Bring Citrus to Florida

Did you know citrus is not native to Florida, but it arrived via the Spaniards in 1565. Like the huge majority of the residents of Lake County found the climate delightful? The soil was perfect, rainfall abundant and the hot days produced fantastic fruit.

In 1847 Captain Melton Haynes planted a citrus nursery at Tomato Hill? This kick started an industry that was to dominate Lake County for more than 125 years.

The first citrus experiment station in the world was established in Eustis in 1892 when the USDA responded to a request from Mrs. Tom Platt for help with growing her crop? Drs. Swingle and Weber along with grower Frank Savage started a plant improvement program that has produced many hybrid selections that have been an essential part of the industry. In 1876 Mr. Frank Savage came to Florida to find a place to ‘settle down’. He was advised by doctors in New York state to move to a warmer location, in fact, he was told he had less than one year to live. After some careful investigating he selected an area east of Lake Eustis as the best place he had seen in Florida! In 1881 he moved his family to a parcel of land located at Lynhurst and planted citrus trees. In 1888 a letter arrived in Washington D.C. from Mrs. Tom Platt, a Eustis resident, asking for help with growing citrus. Mr. Savage also realized there were a number of problems with the production of citrus and offered to provide 7 acres of land for research work. Two young scientists, Walter T. Swingle and Hubert John Webber, were sent from Washington to Eustis in 1892 to see what could be done to help citrus growers. They stayed in a small rooming house on Orange Ave. and with the help of Mr. Savage they established the first citrus research facility in the world. Fortunately for the citrus industry these workers were intelligent and dedicated scientists who “together entered an unknown horticultural wilderness at Eustis, Florida in 1892 to help establish the foundation of modern citrus research.” Much work was done by Swingle, Webber and Savage that benefits growers today. They were early plant breeders that developed some of our varieties such as the Orlando and Minneola tangelo. After the 1894/95 freeze destroyed the citrus industry, Drs. Swingle and Webber were called back to Washington in 1897. The research work continued with Mr. Frank Savage and his son Morris doing all the field work. Letters with instructions were sent from Dr. Swingle and cross pollicization performed by the Savages who would then harvest the fruit and send the seeds to Washington to be grown and evaluated. Those that offered promise were shipped back to Eustis as seedlings and planted in the field. Mr. Frank Savage died in 1931 some 50 years after moving to Eustis. Morris went to work with the USDA and eventually returned to Eustis working at the new laboratory established in Orlando. Thus due to the hard work and concern for the citrus industry the Savages, along with Drs. Swingle and Webber, started a citrus research and breeding program that has made tremendous contributions to the industry. From the one room at Mr. Frank Savage’s home which was used as a lab, an extensive research program has been developed with the USDA still maintaining a facility, the A. H. Whitmore Foundation Farm south of Okahumpka. At this location extensive breeding work is conducted in a search for new and improved varieties of citrus. https://www.historyoflakecountycitrus.com/1st-citrus-ars

The acres of citrus reached over 140,000 and in 1980 44 million boxes were produced – a box contains an average of 350 fruit and weighs 90 pounds – this means 13 billion pieces of fruit were picked by hand and 2 million tons were transported to the 5 processing plants and 26 fresh fruit packing houses in Lake County. Almost 29,000 were employed to grow, harvest, pack, process and market the crop. Economic impact exceeded $800M! By the way each acre of citrus captures and filters 1.25 million gallons of water each year AND citrus provided a large portion of ad valorem tax dollars yet demanded very little services – not one tree ever attended school or checked out a library book!
https://www.historyoflakecountycitrus.com/history https://www.historyoflakecountycitrus.com/citrus-varieties https://www.historyoflakecountycitrus.com/numbers-game https://www.historyoflakecountycitrus.com/packinghouses https://www.historyoflakecountycitrus.com/freezes