PIECES OF THE PAST: Welcome to Waverly

Tacy CalliesHistory

By Brenda Eubanks Burnette

I was driving from Winter Haven to Palm Beach Gardens recently, taking the “back” way on Waverly Road. Once called Kissimmee Road, it was originally used to get from Florida’s west coast to the Kissimmee River. As I drove by the old office, packinghouse and welcome house of Waverly Growers Cooperative, I remembered what a beautiful old building it was and how the town of Waverly grew up around it.

W.C. Pedersen, former general manager for the co-op, wrote an article for Waverly’s 40th anniversary booklet and described how the town started: “The village of Waverly and the citrus industry that surrounds it might be said to have been started by the Indians,” he noted. “This crossing place attracted scouts, hunters, turpentiners, lumbermen, pioneer homesteaders and cattlemen” due in part to its location on the way to the Kissimmee River between Highway 17 and Highway 27.

Waverly was started in 1882 by Asa Gibbons, 16 years before the town of Lake Wales was incorporated. After the devastating Florida freeze of 1895, orange groves were replanted. In 1914, a small packing shed was built by the railroad tracks, eventually becoming one of the most modernized packinghouses in the state.

Almost everyone in Waverly worked for Pedersen, and he treated them like family, creating ballfields and parks for the children and giving them Christmas gifts every year that local teens helped wrap. He provided recreation programs in the summer, and the co-op even had a softball team that went all the way to state one year.

Numerous postcards were made that featured the welcome house, the packinghouse and the offices of Waverly Growers’ Cooperative — inviting tourists visiting Florida to see how the fruit was packed. In its heyday, the co-op hosted thousands of visitors who came to tour the packinghouse and grounds. They visited the Waverly welcome house first, where pretty women dressed as Southern belles, like those at nearby Cypress Gardens, greeted them.

In 2005, Haines City Citrus Growers Association took over the packinghouse operations. Today, the old buildings sit idle, waiting for the next chapter of its storied history to be written.

As the property passed out of sight, I couldn’t help but think what a wonderful museum it would make for the Florida citrus industry — bringing visitors through its doors once more and helping to preserve the memories of when citrus was king and Southern belles were indeed a welcome sight!

Share Your Stories

If you have any stories you’d like to share or industry history you’d like to donate to the Citrus Archives, please contact Brenda Eubanks Burnette atBBurne1003@aol.com or (561) 351-4314. Visit www.FloridaCitrusHallofFame.com to see the online collections.florida citrus

Brenda Eubanks Burnette is executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Pieces of the Past is presented in partnership with Florida Southern College’s McKay Archives Center in Lakeland.

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