Changing the Landscape One Tree at a Time

picking oranges in leesburg florida.jpg
Picking oranges in Leesburg, Florida. Via Florida Memory.

Orange Groves and Settlements – Spring Garden.

It seems Chicago enterprise is accomplishing most wonderful results in Florida. The following article, taken from the Florida Agriculturist, of De Land, Fla., shows how a Chicago citizen can make a Florida wilderness both inviting and exceedingly productive.  

Seven years ago, Maj. George H. Norris, of Chicago, perceiving at once the valuable advantages of the locality, purchased a tract of 7,000 acres, a goodly portion of which is as fertile land as was ever turned by plow. A large part, too, consisted of dense hammock, – so thick with a luxuriant growth of majestic oaks, with cedar, cypress, hickory, and shrubbery of all kinds, gracefully festooned with the beautiful gray Spanish moss, as to obscure the sun while walking underneath. Scattered through this hammock here and there are acres of orange-trees in countless numbers, from the lofty tree, hoary with age, to the youthful sapling, and down to the little tender shoot, so thickly growing under the shade of the surrounding growth as to form a carpet of verdure like a field of young grain.

changing the landscape. thick with a luxuriant growth of majestic oaks, with cedar, cypress, hickory, and shrubbery of all kinds

With the ready instinct and courage of a thorough business man, Maj. Norris cut at once into the heart of this hammock, and opened up these different patches of wild orange groves, and, selecting the best trees for budding, thinned out the rest to give them room to grow. The work was Titanic, and the expense great, but the reward is already being realized, and before long will be most ample. Seven years ago he purchased a trackless, virgin hammock; now he has vigorous, thrifty orange groves, numbered from one to eleven, with roads and paths cut from one to the other. A large number of these trees, twenty or more feet high, not one older than a seven-year’s bud, are as fine a grove as we have ever seen, and are yielding remarkably well. Three years ago his four-year-old buds began to bear, and from these comparatively recent beginnings he last year shipped over 100,000 oranges. His lemon trees, too, are rapidly maturing, and for the many he has already shipped he has received handsome returns.        

One of his most successful experiments was to remove to a better location, and in grove form, 130 large and old trees, some just ready to bloom and bear. But very few seemed even wilted, and he maintains many will bear well in two years. With incredible toil and cost he has had cleared and fenced some 300 acres, and has had budded, with the choicest varieties of oranges and lemons, thousands of trees. This is going on annually; every year more acres cleared, more thousands of trees budded. Maj. Norris is an enthusiastic and sturdy advocate for budding on sour stock, and his remarkable success seems to warrant his belief. Scattered all through the hammock are vast numbers of old sour orange trees, twenty-five to fifty feet high, still loaded, as indeed they are the year round, with their acceptable fruit.          

In the midst of these eleven groves on the shore of Spring Garden Lake, a beautiful sheet of water, Maj. Norris has erected a large drying and packing house, capable of holding 50,000 oranges at one time. A novel and we should think a useful feature connected with this establishment is the new way of having the drying racks work on pivots, so as to bring the fruit into more easy access for handling and drying.

changing the landscape. a beautiful sheet of water       

The settlement proper of Spring Garden is a cluster of some score or more houses, extending over quite an area, each surrounded by its thrifty orange-grove, and nearly every one showing evidence of taste and no small architectural skill. The main avenue is five and three-quarters miles long and a hundred feet broad, along the centre of which is planted a row of oak and magnolia trees that in time will make it one of the finest boulevards in the country. Another runs parallel to this of equal length; and five others cross these, sixty-six feet wide. It is estimated that an entire homestead (160 acres) is taken up in these different avenues.        

To accommodate tourists, casual visitors, and permanent boarders, a pretty and picturesque as well as commodious hotel, with a fine, vigorous orange-grove in front, has been completed and opened for guests by Mr. E. M. Turner, of Chicago, fitted up most tastefully, and replete with home accommodations and comfort. Every effort seems to be made by the host and his hospitable wife to supply the wants of their guests. Some of the many attractions for visitors may be found in the hunting and fishing, and also in a magnificent natural medicinal spring, so large as to afford a volume of water, escaping in a strong stream of several feet [fall], or sufficient power to run a large mill or factory. Our time was too limited to explore this famous spring, so its description must be left for a future number.       

Seven years ago this settlement was a forest; now the following are some of the families of respectability, education, and refinement, who have made it their residence or have invested in groves, each having their grove in a more or less stage of development: Prof. Stone, Massachusetts, twenty-five acres: J.G. Shapley, Chicago, fourteen acres; the Rev. Mr. Bardwell, Des Moines, la., six acres; Mr. Bliss, American Publishing House, Hartford, Conn., six acres; Mr. Greggy Homer, Mich., five acres; Messrs. Hall & Hammond, Chicago, fives acres; Maj. Norris, six acres, and ten more clearing on his house-lot; Col. Weikiser, Chicago, ten acres; Mr. Haynes, Illinois, a very fine grove of twenty-two acres, coming into bearing; Mr. Maynard, Massachusetts, ten acres; Mr. Dyer, Massachusetts, five acres; Mr. Lyman, ten acres; Mr. Buell, Utica, Ill., ten acres; Mr. Bredow, Michigan, five acres; Mr. Drury, Massachusetts, seven acres; Mrs. Boutell, Michigan, five acres; Mr. Wheeton, Massachusetts, seven acres; Messrs. Barnett & Kimball, Massachusetts, ten acres; Mr. Delano, Chicago, twenty acres; Mr. Hart Norris, Chicago, five acres; Norris, Kelly & Co., forty acres; Mr. Hyman, Canada, thirty-two acres in oranges and give in choice lemons; Fred Norris’ five acres; McKee & Co., New York, six acres; Mr. Morse, Massachusetts, five acres; Mr. Clark, Massachusetts, five acres , – making a total over 400 acres in orange-groves, every acre of which, in a few years, will be in full bearing. Of great assistance to the progress of this settlement is the time saw-mill on Mr. Mekeel’s lot, under the efficient management of Mr. Conkling.

changing the landscape. Seven years ago this settlement was a forest     

On our return we could not refrain from passing through the groves of Hart Norris and Mr. Hyman. The stupendous work that has been done on Mr. Hyman’s rich hammock place, particularly in clearing away the enormous oaks and dense underbrush, required a pluck and industry of no ordinary kind.          

All over the State are just such prosperous settlements and beautiful orange and lemon groves as well as profitable fields of smaller fruits.

marsanneMarsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]

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