Crate labels share W.O. County's citrus history

The Winter Garden Heritage Foundation wll celebrate West Orange's rich agricultural history this weekend with its annual Florida Citrus Crate Label Show.

  • West Orange Times & Observer
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Much could be determined by studying the details on the thousands of orange crate labels that were created during their 60-year reign in the land of citrus.

The images on the labels represented the packinghouse’s family or pets or local flora and fauna or the company’s different fruit brands, and the colors on labels printed after 1937 symbolized the grade and quality of fruit inside the crate.

The Florida Citrus Commission, established in 1937, required all labels to be registered. Labels with mostly blue backgrounds represented Grade A fruit, those with red backgrounds were Grade B, and ones with yellow or green backgrounds were Grade C. Sometimes the image, such as a happy or sad dog, could indicate a good or bad crop.

Most labels for Florida fruit were printed at Florida Grower Press, in Tampa.

Labels were produced in various dimensions, depending on the size of the crates used for shipping. They were nine by nine inches, seven by seven or 3.5 by nine.

They were pasted to wooden packing crates, and their colorful distinctions attracted buyers in the northern markets. Brand names also gave a clue to product quality: “Duchess” or “Trublu” indicated a better grade of fruit over something called “Midnight Bargain.”

In early packinghouse operations, when all family members worked together to prepare fruit for shipment, younger children were often charged with pasting the labels to the wooden boxes.

The Schmidt Lithograph Company issued in the 1920s or ’30s the “Proper Method of Labeling Shipping Containers,” which gave detailed step-by-step instructions on how to soak the labels in a trough for no more than 24 hours and how to paste a wrinkle-free label onto a crate.

The instructions concluded with this statement: “We appreciate the value of fine labels and the necessity for applying them in a manner that will not mar their beauty nor detract from their label value.”

The Schmidt company also produced a catalog of generic “stock” citrus and vegetable labels that packinghouses could use to promote their product. They could stamp their own name and company information to personalize the labels.

Crate labels were eliminated in the 1950s with the advent of cardboard boxes. Thousands of these labels were destroyed or lost in packinghouse fires. The highly collectible labels now often fetch high prices.

Jerry Chicone Jr., a local grower; Jim Ellis, a Polk County packinghouse manager; and Brenda Eubanks Burnette, a 1981 Citrus Queen, got together to form the Florida Citrus Label Collectors Association, which is dedicated to preserving the history of citrus labels.


South Lake Apopka Citrus Growers Association

The large operation of the South Lake Apopka Citrus Growers Association, organized in 1909 as a cooperative of West Orange County citrus growers, operated on Tildenville School Road. The complex included offices, a packinghouse, a power plant and cooling rooms, all served by the Tavares & Gulf and Atlantic Coast Line railroads. Approximately 150 growers affiliated with the association shared the costs of grove caretaking and harvesting services, equipment ownership, joint marketing and the packing and shipping of citrus.

The large main building, the cooling rooms, and the adjacent office building still stand at the site and are now rented by various small businesses.


R.D. Keene, Inc.

Growing up in an Orange County log house, R.D. “Dolph” Keene (1885-1973) was advised by his father to “give it the best and you’ll get the best it has to offer.” At the age of 10, he began his life-long commitment to citrus, laboring in his father’s Kissimmee grove. By 1907, he was working groves for Dr. P. Phillips. While performing his duties there, he seeded a small grove of his own and, in 1922, built his own Eustis packinghouse with partner Barney Dillard Jr. After an industry setback in 1933, he sold his Eustis interests and relocated to Winter Garden. Eventually he opened the packinghouse on the north side of East Plant Street (where the Winter Garden Library is now located), shipping fruit under the Pheasant, Wren, Kildee, Carillon and Dipper labels.

As president of the Winter Garden Citrus Products Cooperative, he oversaw the retooling of the plant from single-strength juice production to become one of the largest producers of frozen concentrate in Florida.


M. C. Britt Produce Company

Morgan C. Britt (1887-1943) came to Winter Garden from Stone Mountain, Georgia, in 1909. Beginning with a two-acre truck farm, Britt steadily increased his agricultural holdings until he became one of the most successful farmers in Florida. Originally planting lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and other vegetables, he gradually expanded his operation to include citrus. By 1920, his enterprise was large enough to warrant the construction of this large packinghouse at the northwest corner of Hennis and East Plant streets. During the prosperous 1920s, Britt shipped a record 103 rail cars of lettuce

during the 1921-22 growing season, and by 1927, he was cultivating almost 400 acres of vegetables and 175 acres of citrus. In 1929, as the centerpiece of his vast acreage, Britt built the grand home that still stands at the intersection of East Crown Point Road and Plant Street. The packinghouse was sold to Philip Caruso of Southern Fruit Distributors in 1927.


Roper and Winter Garden Citrus Growers Association Packinghouses

Two citrus packinghouses stood along the north side of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad tracks, where today’s police station and downtown post office branch are located. Both of these packinghouses burned in a 1922 fire.

One of the packinghouses belonged to Emmett Oscar Roper, grandson of early pioneers William C. and Caroline Roper, who arrived in the Winter Garden area in 1859. Emmett was one of many Roper offspring who entered the citrus industry.

He began shipping citrus in 1909 when he leased two of A.B. Newton’s downtown packinghouses.

He left the citrus industry in 1926 after serving as owner or manager of various packinghouses in the area. The Winter Garden Citrus Growers Association owned the other packinghouse. WGCGA was a cooperative of citrus farmers who banded together to share the costs of grove caretaking and harvesting, equipment ownership, marketing and the packing and shipping of fruit.


Roper Brothers, Inc.

The Roper Brothers packinghouse was located on the south side of the Tavares & Gulf Railroad tracks between Dillard and Woodland streets. Two of the labels featured the Boss and Diamond R Roper brands. The building started life belonging to J.L. Dillard, then the Joiner family, before being purchased by brothers Bert, Fred and Frank Roper. Roper Brothers formed in the early 1920s and grew into one of West Orange County’s largest citrus operations. The packinghouse was eventually expanded and joined by a number of other buildings, becoming part of the Roper Growers complex that occupied both sides of South Dillard Street.


Winter Garden Citrus Growers Association

The two Winter Garden Citrus Growers Association packinghouses were located between Second and Third streets, on the north side of the T&G Railroad tracks. They were constructed after an original packinghouse on West Plant Street burned in 1922. Both of these buildings were also destroyed by fire (in 1971) and were replaced by new facilities.

WGCGA members also benefitted from the business’ part-ownership in the nearby juice plant, the Winter Garden Citrus Products Cooperative.

At one time, the Citrus Products Cooperative concentrate plant was the world’s second largest citrus concentrate plant. It was home to the famous “WHOLE-SUN” orange juice.


W.D. Pease / Indian Lake Fruit Company

Entrepreneur William D. Pease served as the postmaster and “Pease Brothers China, Glass and Crockery” storeowner in Illinois. Family vacations were enjoyed in the warm climate of Ocoee, where Pease invested in land and planted orange groves. In 1922, the family moved to Florida permanently so William could tend his groves in retirement with his son, Bill, who acted as grove manager.

The Pease family shipped their citrus out of Ocoee from the small packinghouse located next to the railroad station on Taylor Street. In 1951, the Broadaway family, operating as the Indian Lake Fruit Company, purchased the building from Pease.

Both the packinghouse and the adjacent railroad depot eventually comprised the Broadaway complex. After a 1974 fire, the second floor of the packinghouse was reconstructed and the facility continued operating until 1977, when the family built a much larger facility at Fuller’s Cross Road. The Broadaway operation shipped under three labels: Indian Pride, Indian Lake and Broadway, spelled differently from the family surname. The railroad station and packinghouse buildings still stand today. The depot is now occupied by the Ocoee Lions Club, and the packinghouse hosts a variety of other businesses.

The Fuller’s Cross Road packinghouse was sold in 1984 after a devastating freeze destroyed Indian Lake’s 600 acres of citrus.

(Source: Winter Garden Heritage Foundation)


Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].


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