PIECES OF THE PAST: Paying Tribute to Pioneers

Tacy CalliesPieces of the Past

A.F. Camp

Recently, I came across an old letter A.F. Camp wrote to John T. Lesley in 1979. I thought it was so interesting that I shared it with the members of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame Selection Committee. I wanted them to think about how hard things were “back in the day” in considering the contributions of some of the early citrus pioneers. It must have hit home with the committee, because this year we are inducting three members posthumously, including one whose name was first submitted in the inaugural class of 1962!  

Lesley asked Camp to submit names of deceased people he thought should be in the hall of fame. Following are excerpts from his letter:

“The younger people on the committee don’t seem to realize that we have a citrus industry because a lot of tough minded people ahead of us fought and bled and suffered freezes long before the present group came along. These people had to face the problems of poor transportation, uncertain profit from their fruit and a lot of other problems that were really tough…

“The information that I am sending is mostly gleaned from the Proceedings of the Florida Horticultural Society, which may occur to you to be a rather strange thing, but in the early days the Horticultural Society was the main meeting place for citrus people because the Station was then located at Lake City, Florida, and did little on citrus matters, but everybody that was important in citrus belonged to the Horticultural Society and took part in their proceedings even though they sometimes had to take part or all the trip on horseback. These were the tough people who started the industry and got it on its feet…

“We haven’t much conception today of transport in those early days, but it was pretty bad when I came in 1923 and stayed that way for quite a long time. I remember in those early days I had a laboratory in Madison, which was north of Gainesville, and had to go there frequently. I could leave at five o’clock in the morning and be there for lunch or I could be there in two or three days later depending on the weather. You never left an exact date for arrival because you never knew when the arrival would take place … getting to those meetings of the Board of Control and Plant Board was not an easy matter and there was no payment to the member except their expenses for hotel and transportation. They received no salary whatever and most of them did it because they were tremendously interested in the development of Florida and very proud of what was going on…”

The Plant Board was authorized by the legislature in 1915 with the same membership as the Board of Control, which controlled the University of Florida. There was usually only one key person representing citrus matters at their meetings due to transportation challenges at the time.

The letter continues: “I remember, after the 1894 and ’95 freeze in Citra they said that growers came down to the railroad station and traded the deeds for their properties for tickets to New York, Boston or wherever they came from; but it was the people who stayed and either moved south or readjusted their operations in their locality who brought the industry back to its feet and put it on the road that it has followed to the present day.”

Of the names that Camp submitted in his six-page letter to Lesley, two are now in the Citrus Hall of Fame, but there are seven who are still not members. Therefore, when you nominate someone to the Hall of Fame, don’t get discouraged if they don’t make it in the first time or even the sixth time. Keep working on it! There are many pioneers who probably should be inducted but have long since been forgotten in the pages of an old letter. Please join us on March 6 at 11:30 a.m. at Florida Southern College to pay tribute to those who paved the way for our industry.

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.