PIECES OF THE PAST: Of Men and Measures

Josh McGillPieces of the Past

By Brenda Eubanks Burnette

I recently came across a paper by P.H. Rolfs in the 1935 Florida State Horticultural Society’s Annual Proceedings. It gave credit to J.A. Stevens for the first Florida Citrus Seminar in 1910 or 1911. It was held in “the old dormitory, Thomas Hall. There were no set lectures, simply laboratory demonstrations and explanations. The first call was for 15, our seating capacity; 29 enrolled with an average attendance of 23 per session.

P.H. Rolfs (Photo courtesy of Find a Grave website)

“The next year we had moved into the new Experiment Station building. The attendance was more than doubled. The good reciprocal effect of these laboratory exercises cannot easily be over­estimated. They brought out many of the citrus growers who rarely attended the Horticultural Society meetings. The Experiment Station staff was put on its mettle to provide instruction that would fit in with the knowledge of the citrus growers. Really a one-week laboratory course.

“Classes were held from eight in the morning to five in the afternoon with two hours for lunch. In five years, the attendance had so increased that even the commodious laboratories of the Experiment Station Building were inadequate. Formal lecturing had to be resorted to. Splendid help came to us from Tallahassee and from Washington.

“By 1920 the attendance reached some 250, rivaling the Horticultural Society. It more than justified J. A. Stevens’ concept; but had lost its original basis — a meeting of a small group of citricultural scientists.”

Although Rolfs went on to note that the seminars eventually ended, he also included men who helped create the citrus industry in those early years with this paragraph:

Fate and Men. She drew her cards, located Dudley W. Adams at Tangerine; Rev. Lyman Phelps at Sanford; the Reasoner Brothers at Oneco; E. H. Hart and E. S. Hubbard at Federal Point. They were the strength and builders in the citrus industry. Taber at Glen St. Mary to propagate deciduous fruits. They were all strong individualists — had to be, to carve a competence out of a wilderness. Their names are luminous in the annals of our Horticultural Society. Scores of others, more able, wealthier, became luminous and then faded. Not these.”

He listed numerous men of the time who were influential in the early beginnings of the Florida citrus industry, many of whom are in the Hall of Fame. However, one of my favorite descriptions was of F.G. Sampson:

“A strong individualist; that was why he could go into the wilds twenty miles from railroad before there was a citrus industry, 1874; convert wild trees half a century old into a prolific orange grove. His grove at Boardman remained remunerative to the end of his days. Through all the changing vicissitudes, Sampson was always ahead in the game. He was the one citrus grower who could not be bluffed, brow­beaten, domineered over or bribed. When the transportation company abused his fruit in transit or delayed it in delivery, they had to pay the damage, full damages or no settlement. The same with the buyers of his fruit. He demanded only what was just and accepted nothing less. He told the railway attorneys they might as well pay up at once because he would keep after them until it was finally settled and they learned that he was not bluffing. When the railroad proposed to abandon the station at Boardman, he informed them he would charge rent for the right of way, which was given in consideration of a depot at Boardman. He had been astute enough to have the letters recorded in the Marion County courthouse. The railway station continues to function. He adhered to the good old Quaker adage, ‘If thou cheatest me once, that is thy fault; if thou cheatest me twice, that is my fault.’”

A true measure of a man to remember!

Read the Rolfs paper, titled “Founders and Foundations of Florida Agriculture,A Serious and Frivolous Study of Men and Measures,” in its entirety here.

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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