USDA Lab – Eustis, FL

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.

 

John L. Jackson, Jr.

County Extension Agent - Fruit Crops

April 27, 2000

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Dr. Walter Tennyson Swingle
 

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Dr. John Herbert Weber
 

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Mr. Frank Savage