The history of Sanford’s agriculture roots is a story of trials and tribulations.  People, who overcame logistical, natural and economic disasters, were the true pioneers that helped shape Sanford, Florida today.  The citrus and later celery industries are stories that were written by seasoned and often times bankrupt people.  These industries are directly tied to each other in how they came into prominence for Sanford.

    The annexation of Florida to the United States opened up vast ranges of “wilderness” territory.  The availability of land offered new opportunities to early settlers wishing to explore and establish new livelihoods.  The post Civil War era also marked a time period when immigration and migrations of people came to Florida in large numbers.  By the late 1860’s, Florida was the most advertised state in the Union.  Florida’s mild and often balmy weather attracted many people, particularly farmers.  “Orange Fever” was a term often associated with Florida due to the news of its wild orange groves.  People contracted this phenomenon and migrated to Florida hoping for new opportunities and profits. 

    Henry S. Sanford was one such early settler whose dreams of orange bliss fueled his desire to establish an orange producing business and the development of a town.  Sanford had heard of the opportunities Florida offered in citrus and sought to partake in this endeavor.  His travels up the St. Johns River brought him to Lake Monroe where he fell in love with the native flora and fauna.  Lake Monroe’s low riverbanks and wide area on the St. Johns provided the perfect location for transportation and settlement.  Lake Monroe also offered an ideal location to start an orange grove for Sanford and would be ideal for shipping his produce. 

    Henry Sanford established his Belair Grove of 145-acres, consisting of oranges and lemon trees that he imported from England.  Sanford was fascinated with orange cultivation.  His fascination and cultivation of citrus produced many new cultivars of oranges and lemons, most notably the Valencia orange.  Many historians and agriculturists have credited Sanford’s development of the Valencia orange as the basis for Florida’s concentrate juice industry today.  The Valencia is one of the most widely grown oranges in Florida and other parts of the world.

    The orange industry also attracted other people to the Sanford area.  Sydney O. Chase of Germantown, Pennsylvania, came to Florida in hopes of learning and becoming involved in the citrus industry.  Sydney Chase worked at Sanford’s Belair grove learning the trade and techniques of orange cultivation.  Chase would later become involved in the railroad industry.  Sydney’s brother Joshua would later move to Sanford, Florida and the two brothers would establish Chase and Company.  This business originally started out in the fertilizer and insurance business.  Later, Chase and Company would expand into citrus growing and brokering.

    By the year of 1894, Sanford, Florida had become the largest citrus shipping point in Florida.  Over 500,000 boxes of oranges and other citrus were being shipped out of Sanford by way of steamboat and railcars.  The winter of 1894 and early 1895 would be a disastrous turning point in the citrus industry in Florida.  Blizzard-like freezes nearly wiped out all of the citrus groves in and around the city of Sanford as well as throughout most of Florida.  Many farmers were reluctant to replant.  Some citrus growers did replant trees such as the Chases, while others moved further south to replant.  However, many farmers switched to growing other field crops that would be more cold hardy, such as celery.

    “Celery City” would be the nickname of Sanford, Florida until the 1970’s.  Sanford’s climate, soil conditions and natural flowing artesian wells provided the resources needed for growing celery.  Many farmers utilized the artesian wells in developing one of the first underground irrigation systems in Florida.  The Sanford System was developed using tile pipes in a grid pattern 16-24 inches below the surface.  This early form of irrigation would prove vital to growing celery.  Farmers could water specific areas of their fields by capping pipes in other areas forcing water from the artesian wells to flow directly to the root systems of the celery.  In the event of rain, the system could be capped to stop water flow.  Today, earth grading and developing vacant lands occasionally reveal these old tile pipes and systems.
    The Chases were also instrumental in the celery industry.  Chase and Company is also credited with being one of the first people to grow and market celery on a large scale.  Sydney Chase would be instrumental in helping develop one of Sanford’s first rail systems reaching the celery fields.  Later, Atlantic Coast Systems railroad would incorporate Sanford’s small rail lines and increase the ability to ship more celery out of the area.  Chase and Company later became known as Sunniland Corporation, which is still in existence in Sanford today, although the Chase family does not have any ownership in the corporation.

    The production of celery brought other industries to the area such as ice companies, packinghouses, and other rail lines.  The city of Sanford would be home to the second largest ice company plant and rail switchyards in the southeastern United States.  Cypress mill companies would also provide the necessary wood boards used to “board up the celery”.  This boarding up of the celery would be used to block out sunlight on the stalks of the celery creating a “blanching” of the plant to increase its tenderness of the stalks.
    Other names involved in the celery industry would be that of Charlie Carlson, who wrote When Celery Was King, chronicling the rise and establishment of celery in Sanford, Florida and Seminole County.  Andrew Duda would also be another name involved in the industry in the Oviedo area.  A. Duda and Sons still operate in Oviedo and are heavily involved in the agriculture industry in Florida.

    Today, Sanford is no longer the “Celery City”.  With the draining of Everglades’s lands, many celery growers moved their operations to south Florida, just like the citrus.  Each industry relied on the other.  Citrus’ loss was celery’s gain.  Today Sanford still has remnants of its citrus and celery past.  The importance of these agriculture crops is arguably two of the most important factors that have shaped the historic city of Sanford, Florida.

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