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A memory in a shipping label

Rediscovering Florida’s Rich Agricultural Heritage

Sometimes it’s nice to take a minute away from the garden and remember our agricultural heritage here in Seminole County. Master Gardener Kevin Jardaneh (jardaneh@knights.ucf.edu) did just that this week with a wonderful article on the Citrus industry in his home town. You can read more of Kevin’s articles [here].

Florida’s Rich Agricultural Heritage
Picture of cow pasture where former orange grove was located

Cow pastures replaced orange groves, in Orange Lake, Florida, but memories remain.

There were still orange groves stretching as far as the eye could see across the rolling expanse around Orange Lake, Florida when I lived there in the little Victorian town of McIntosh during the 1970s.  Situated between Gainesville and Ocala opposite Cross Creek, longtime home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, little has changed in McIntosh over the years except for one subdued reality.  There is virtually no trace of the booming citrus industry that was once central to life in the area.  I had heard Orange Lake referred to as the birthplace of Florida citrus, where native Americans had dropped the seeds of oranges brought by the Spanish, leaving as many as 500 wild orange trees an acre.  Those living here today under the age of 30 would likely have little idea that a symphony of bustling industry and tourism surrounding the large-scale orange production that once characterized this sleepy community.  This is a story that is doubtlessly repeated over and over across the rural communities of Florida, especially as Florida’s population continues to expand and the industry once integral to its identity continues to be threatened by Huanglongbing (HLB), or Citrus Greening.

drawing of Sampson packing house

Frank G. Sampson was once dubbed the “Orange King of Marion County.”

Yet, it wasn’t HLB that caused the sudden and complete demise of the citrus industry in McIntosh.  Rather, it was a hard freeze in 1983, coupled with the death the following year of McIntosh’s last major grower, former chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission, O.D. “Buddy” Huff.  Cow pastures replaced orange groves, and the few remaining packing houses were boarded up.  Yet, Buddy Huff represented only the

final chapter of a rich agricultural history and, indeed, an interdisciplinary narrative that would rival any James Michener novel.  Before Huff, there was Sampson, Keep, Dupuy and Schlatre.

Frank G. Sampson: Forgotten Florida Citrus Pioneer

A year ago, when I sat down with longtime resident Jo Kean, whom I had known as a child, little could I have imagined what lay behind the door she was about to open onto a place I thought I knew so well.  She began telling me about love notes she found etched into the upstairs bedroom window of her 19th century home.  In her quest to discover who had made the etchings, she embarked on a path that would lead her deep into the lives of the earliest commercial citrus growers of Orange Lake.

One of these growers was Frank G. Sampson.  Dubbed the “Orange King of Marion County,” Sampson had been a sugar cane grower in Louisiana who came to Florida after losing everything to a flood.  Sampson, along with Valsin Dupuy, a former Louisiana legislator, and Captain Calvin Keep, of the Louisiana Calvary, settled the town of Boardman, immediately next to McIntosh, in 1874.  Through continued hardship and tragedy, including devastating hard freezes in the late 19th century, Sampson, along with the intertwined families of Keep, Dupuy and Schlatre, was soon shipping thousands of boxes of citrus annually. Sampson is credited with pioneering a number of innovations in the citrus industry including several pest and disease control measures, and development the Sampson Tangelo.  Years after his death, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings even references his still prosperous groves visible from her side of the lake in Cross Creek.

Forgotten Towns and People
road through now gone town of Boardman

The town of Boardman remains in name only.

Today, there is no trace of Sampson’s three-story packing house that once sat across the railroad tracks from Jo Kean’s home.  Nor, is there any trace of the railroad tracks, or the general store, or the blacksmith, the post office, the railroad depot, the mule-drawn trams winding through the groves…or the groves.  The town of Boardman remains in name only.

During his career as a Florida citrus grower, Frank G. Sampson had served as a Vice-President of the Florida State Horticultural Society, served on executive committees for citrus fruits, and contributed regularly to the Society’s proceedings and annual meetings.  Yet, the name Sampson is not to be found among the inductees of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame.  His legacy, like surely many of his compatriots – perhaps even those forgotten growers of Oviedo, Florida, whose packing labels can still be found in local antique stores – is a legacy in danger of being forgotten…from a time that seems increasingly gone with the wind.  As a Seminole County Master Gardener, I take pride in the rich agricultural history of our state and of our community.  I look forward to seeing what else there is to discover right here in our own backyard.

5 Comments on “Rediscovering Florida’s Rich Agricultural Heritage

  1. Hi, Kaydie – I enjoyed your article very much and wish you would do more research on Sampson and a multitude of other growers who, as you’ve noted, are absent from the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Like most other organizations of this kind, people have to be nominated and then voted upon for induction. The people who are willing to take the time and effort to do the research and submit those nominations are few and far between. People are quick to note that someone is not listed who should be included. However, without that effort, our committee has no information to review. You will be happy to know that Jo Kean submitted a nomination packet on Mr. Sampson, and he is up for review again. However, the information that she sent left out several key components which you reference in your article. I would like to obtain this additional information to either add to his packet for next year’s consideration or hopefully use should he be chosen this year. Either way, I hope you will send out a call for action to other researchers and help us get more of our forgotten pioneers like Mr. Sampson on our ballot! Thank you for helping others rediscover our citrus heritage!
    All my best –
    Brenda Eubanks Burnette

    • Hi Brenda!

      It is nice to see someone else interested in the topic! This article was written by one of my former Master Gardener Volunteers, Kevin Said Jardaneh. He had a huge interest in the history of agriculture while he lived here in Florida. Unfortunately he moved to Oregon this summer. He did all of the research for this article – I just edited it and posted it for him.

      The only contact information I have for him is in the article. As he left UCF to pursue a position at a university in Oregon though, I’m not sure you’ll be able to reach him there: jardaneh@knights.ucf.edu

      Kaydie McCormick

  2. Love this article. My wife and I have recently bought Mr. Frank Sampsons orginal home in boardman and are in the process of restoring it to original. We have found lots of history on the home and property but the one thing we cant find is actual pictures of the home and packing house. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

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