MOUNT DORA CITRUS GROWERS ASSN.
Mount Dora Growers Association, Mount Dora, FL
Sign sponsored by Simpson Fruit Co.
Mount Dora Citrus growers Association was established in 1909 and was a leading economic force in the city for more than 70 years. The cooperative was originally Citrus Culture Cooperation and then became Mount Dora Citrus Growers Association. The organization went from an association to a cooperative, date to be determined! State of Florida records show the association stopped filing in 1974.
A look at the shipments of Florida provided by the Florida Department of Agriculture shows the role of the coop in Lake County. In 1933 there were 27 packing houses registered with the Department of Agriculture. Mount Dora CGA shipped over 8,000 cartons and was number 11 in fruit packed. By 1938 the number of packinghouses in Lake County registered with the state had dropped to 11. Mount Dora CGA showed a dramatic increase in shipments (over 68,000 cartons) and was number 8 in Lake County. The 1971 report shows 16 facilities with Mount Dora CGA now packing over 762,000 cartons ranking number 3 in the county behind Lake Region Packing in Tavares and Golden Gem Growers in Umatilla! Not only did the coop run a packinghouse, they managed a large acreage in Lake, Orange and Seminole counties. Mount Dora CGA had a large work force, most of the employees worked in the packing house and a large portion were women that graded and packed the fruit. Many provided a much appreciated second income for their family. The nice thing about a citrus packinghouse was it did not start the season until school started in the fall, and shut down in the spring before summer break started for the schools. Many employees were moms that could pack fruit and raise a family. The freezes of the 80’s shut down Mount Dora CGA with the doors closing in 1996.
Long time coop manager G. B. (“Crip”) Hulbert and the board of directors kept the coop running strong for many years. Bob Blair guided Mount Dora until the freezes of the 1980’s forced the organization to shut the doors.
Citrus was the dominate industry in Mount Dora for more than 100 years. The following are some comments relative to the industry:
The earliest settlers planted small citrus groves around their homes. By 1891, there was enough citrus production to support a packing house and several fertilizer plants. The Great Freeze of 1895 dealt a setback to the citrus industry, but it soon recovered to become the largest and most important industry in Lake County for decades.
World War II and its nearly insatiable demands for agricultural products of nearly all types lifted Mount Dora out of the Depression. During the war German POWs were housed east of Leesburg at what is now Lake Sumter State College. These POWs worked in the groves and fields for local farmers, including the Mount Dora Growers Cooperative. Millions of US Servicemen passed through Florida during the war. Many liked what they saw and would return after the war.
The citrus industry was nearly completely destroyed by a series of freezes in the 1980s. Lake County had been a leader in the industry for nearly 100 years. The Mount Dora Growers Cooperative, which had been in business in one form or another since 1909 closed, putting several hundred people out of work. An immediate consequence of the decline of citrus was the opening up of cheap land for real estate development.
Mount Dora Historical Society newsletter
From the late 1890’s, the citrus industry has played a vital role in the development of Mount Dora. Many families from the north were drawn to Mount Dora with the dream of becoming successful citrus growers. ‘Doc” Henry is recorded as planting the first orange grove in Mount Dora in 1873. David and Mary Simpson were the first to homestead in Mount Dora, and quickly established an orange grove on their property. Today, the Simpson Fruit Company, Incorporated is still in operation. The industry survived numerous winter freezes to become a thriving and dominant industry in the mid-1950s, providing employment opportunities for both white and African-American residents.
Mt. Dora Green Mountain Scenic Byway
A Glance into the Past - The History of Citrus in Mount Dora, Florida to 1900 was written by Martha Stokley Arterburn, June 1961 as a partial fulfillment for a Masters Degree in History. Martha’s thesis sheds light on how several winter freezes affected the citrus industry in Mount Dora. The information contained in her thesis is due to a number of interviews with members of the Dillard, Hurley, Simpson, Sellers and Stokley families who owned citrus groves. Martha writes, “The first freeze to confront the citrus growers in Mount Dora came in the winter of 1885-86. It was the first hazard the infant citrus industry had faced, to that time, and it came suddenly. The freeze caught the citrus growers completely off their guard. A diary entry of the time by Mr. Cornelius H. Longstreet expressed the citrus grower’s dismay: January 10 – The freeze came…We fear that everything is ruined. Dr. Gilbert has just been saying “This is Florida’s funeral’ and we all feel about that way.” The second freeze the citrus growers encountered is known as the “Big Freeze of 1894-95.” “In the winter of 1894-95, one of the worst disasters ever to hit the citrus industry in the entire state of Florida struck… The Mount Dora citrus growers suffered greatly. Mr. C.E. Longstreet described the first part of the destructive double freeze in Mount Dora in the following diary entry: December 29 – The weather grew cold fast and this morning every orange was frozen solid and we know that most of the trees are ruined. 5 ¼ degrees colder than in ’86. The disaster is overwhelming. Everyone feels about as blue as can be. One of our neighbors at sight of his ruined grove took a chill and went to bed sick.” Both Photos from the 1895 freeze The Freeze of 1898-99 “The last years of this period had yet another freeze to confront the remaining citrus growers. The effect on Mount Dora citrus growers was recorded in Mr. O.R. Longstreet’s diary. February 13 - Our trees are gone again. What are poor Floridians to do, I don’t know. In a letter, he expressed his disappointment, as well as the grief the other citrus growers felt over this third freezing winter in a matter of twelve years: Seems too bad that in this most charming of all places for a home, the terrible freezes should have made it so near impossible to get a living here. So, many are leaving on that account, abandoning good homes and where were once fine orange groves. A few are going to try again…. But Mount Dora survived, and the orange business survived. It would be nearly sixty years before a freeze resembling that of 1894-95 would again strike in the state. Of the men who believed in the citrus industry only a few remained. They had foresight and energy and they continued to believe that citrus could be grown in Mount Dora, and sold for a profit.”
More citrus photos and memorabilia can be found online.
Other Mount Dora Citrus Growers Association Labels
Most packers had several labels they could use. The primary color of the label indicated the grade of the citrus in the box. Blue was US #1, the best quality from the packer. Red was US #2, a step down and occasionally another color was used for fruit not making US#1 or US #2. It should be noted that almost all the Florida fruit that did not meet US#1 standard was due to external appearance. The internal quality was the same! Florida conditions, namely a hot wet summer, produced a large number of pests that would damage the surface of the fruit. The primary one is very small mite, specifically the rust mite. This pest can produce a dark brown or russet blemish on the surface of the fruit. Several fungal organisms also can cause damage to the peal. Melanose produces small raised spots producing a fine “sand paper’ feel. When heavy these lesions can cover a large portion of the fruit surface as well. Windy conditions during spring when the fruit are small cause surface damage as well (this is known as wind scar – the small fruit would rub against leaves producing a superficial blemish to the peel).
Florida growers have to deal with these superficial blemishes because the consumer is looking for a perfect looking piece of fruit. Sugar content can not be determined by looking the fruit, so don’t be quick to decide that if an orange is not perfect on the outside that does not mean it will not taste good. Florida citrus might not be the prettiest in the bin, but they can not be beat for taste.
The Packing House
Mount Dora Citrus Growers packing house was located Hwy 441 on the East end of town.