By Brenda Eubanks Burnette
2020 is the 93rd anniversary of Flamingo Groves, the forerunner of Flamingo Gardens. The founders, Floyd L. and Jane Wray, moved to Florida in 1925 where he sold real estate. The following year, on Sept. 19, a devastating hurricane decimated the area and changed their lives. D.L. Gregory was staying with the Wrays during the hurricane and wrote a letter* describing the ferocity of the storm:
“The wind blew so hard that it would make the lights go on and off in this car, so I called Floyd and as I did one of the iron rods on the awning gave way and started to rip a hole in the front screen … Then the other rod broke, and when Floyd reached out to the screen, the wind pulled him, screen, rod, and all, out. I grabbed him around the knees, and he got straightened, but the awning went, then the other one. Then the rain, which had been coming down in torrents, started down the chimney, and I started to mop. The tile was flying everywhere, and … We would see a half of a house go down the street then a whole garage. Twice we saw garages lifted completely off of cars … All this time, I was wiping water, and taking up rugs, and trying to fasten windows more securely, and Floyd was holding the front door shut.”
That hurricane moved Wray to a new direction — citrus. He had noticed the shortage of oranges during the summer, which made for high prices, and had heard about a new variety of citrus which matured in late summer — the Lue Gim Gong Valencia orange.
So, he bought inexpensive land in the drained Everglades west of Davie and founded Flamingo Groves in January of 1927 with his wife, Jane, and Frank Stirling, a member of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Florida State Plant Board. On Feb. 22, 1927, they planted the first tree and put in 40 acres that first year. The next year, Wray began planting a botanical garden with exotic plants and seeds provided by the USDA.
During the depression, he sold 5-acre parcels with a five-year contract during which Flamingo Groves would care for the trees and the buyers could return the land at a previously specified price or receive the profits for sale of the fruit.
By the early 1930s, Wray had fruit to sell and ship. He became the first elected chairman of Port Everglades and acquired federal funds to widen the entrance and deepen the basin at the port. This allowed large freighters and cruise ships to dock at Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami for the first time, thus allowing convenient shipping of fruit to the north.
By 1936, 470 acres were planted with a variety of citrus and tropical fruit trees. On the Flamingo Gardens website, the history page notes that “At its height, Flamingo Groves covered 2,000 acres, about three-square miles, and grew almost 80 varieties of citrus.” It became a South Florida showplace that hosted guests from around the world.
Other growers began to plant citrus and western Davie became “almost a continuous citrus grove.” Wray built retail outlets for his fruit and other citrus-related items, as well as the first modern packing and shipping plant in Broward County.
When he passed, Jane Wray decided to create a foundation in honor of Floyd to preserve the 60 acres surrounding their home, and Flamingo Groves is now known as Flamingo Gardens. Although there are few citrus trees left, the botanical gardens, native wildlife exhibits and the historic Wray Home Museum preserve Floyd and Jane’s history and share their legacy.
So, although the Hurricane of 1926 was a devastating disaster to many in South Florida, it proved to be a fortuitous wind of change for Floyd L. Wray.
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.
*For a full account of the hurricane letter written by D.L. Gregory, visit http://flamingogardensorg.blogspot.com/2017/06/eye-witness-account-of-great-hurricane.html