By Brenda Eubanks Burnette
I was recently conducting an oral history interview with cousins John D’Albora and Frank Sullivan in Cocoa, Florida. They took me to see the historic home of Edward Postell Porcher, one of the 17 original Florida Citrus Hall of Fame inductees in 1962. (Note: Sullivan does tours of the Porcher home for special events; see a video of him on the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame website talking about the house and Porcher.)
The house was designed by Porcher’s wife and built in 1916 out of native coquina rock, with the interior finished in teak, oak and cedar. The packinghouse, which was behind the home, hung out over the river so fruit could be taken by boat up to Jacksonville and shipped north. The family lived in the home until Porcher’s death in 1939 after a long illness.
In the 1950s, the city of Cocoa purchased the Porcher house and turned it into the City Hall, before restoring the house and using it for special events and business offices. In 1986, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and is known as “the grandest house in Cocoa.”
Porcher moved to Florida in June 1884 and stayed temporarily in Sharpes, until acquiring land for a citrus grove in Courteney a few months later. He established the Porcher groves and Deerfield Grove Brand Citrus there and would eventually become the largest grower in Brevard County. He was a pioneer in citrus packing and is known as the first packer to wash, inspect, grade and stamp his fruit. He also holds many industry-related patents, such as the first fruit-stamping machine, a citrus washing machine and a clamp truck to haul packed boxes of fruit. He served as a general agent for the Indian River and Lake Worth Pineapple and Orange Growers Association, Florida’s first citrus cooperative.
Porcher’s granddaughter, Norris Porcher Andrews, was interviewed by Nancy Yasecko at the Porcher House in 1994 for the Brevard County Historical Commission’s Oral History Video Project. Andrews had some interesting memories to share about her family and the citrus industry.
“We did a lot of things we weren’t supposed to do. We used to play in the packinghouse here all the time. My grandfather’s packinghouse went out over the river, and we used to play there and ride the machinery. The boxes were built up on the third floor in the packinghouse and they were sent down a chute … We used to ride the machinery all the way to the packing bins, all the way through the washer and everything.”
After the freezes, she noted: “All of the trees were killed. So, they cut them back and literally started over again. It takes seven years, so that’s when they started growing alternate crops, and they started with pineapples. They grew a lot of pineapples because it only takes two years for a pineapple … and that became quite a crop for us here. They also grew cabbages and shipped them.”
She also recalled her mother saying: “‘In the citrus business, it was either feast or famine.’ You’d either be going to Europe one year, or you’d be eating mullet and grits the next. Yes, I ate a lot of mullet. We’d eat it fried and have it with grits or hominy, as it was called in my family, but it was actually grits and greens and that was awfully good.”
There are so many more recollections from Andrews that there will definitely be another article on the Porcher family, because if walls could talk, they would be quite entertaining!
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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