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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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
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.
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
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.